Posts Tagged ‘imported’

Beer Review: Oranjeboom Imported Strong Beer

23 September, 2011

IN late 2010, a new category of lager started appearing in London. Sandwiched between the Premium Lagers and the Super Strength Lagers, the Very Strong category sought a new sweet spot. At around eight and a half percent alcoholic volume, could you enjoy the potency of a Super with the drinkability of a Premium? Here’s what I discovered.

If you like playing along at home, you’ll be wondering which products I’m describing. They are:

Kolson SuperKolson Super

Kolson Super 8.6% by Royal Unibrew from Poland. I bought this one from a convenience store on Old Street in Shoreditch, east London.

Oranjeboom Imported Strong Beer front of can

Oranjeboom Imported Strong Beer 8.5% by, Oranjeboom from the Netherlands. I bought this one from a convenience store on Bethnal Green Road, east London.

Good luck finding them. They both disappeared from shop shelves a matter of months after appearing, thus rendering this review useless. Nevertheless, I shall press on by telling you that of the two, Oranjeboom Imported Strong Beer was the best. That’s why the rest of this post is about Oranjeboom Imported Strong Beer and not it’s slightly stronger and less pleasant rival.

What can I say about the can? Well, it’s not as cool as the Kolson Super. The Kolson can is minimalist and elegant. The Oranjeboom effort looks like the designer couldn’t stop designing.

On the plus side, everything you need to know about it is right there in front of you. The strength, where it’s from and who manufactured it. The Oranjeboom logo is there, featuring an orange tree. Of course. Well it is from the Netherlands. And there’s the date that, presumably, the Oranjeboom brewery dates back to. 1671 was a very long time ago, even by continental beer standards.

Incidentally, I spent two minutes researching Oranjeboom Imported Strong Beer, by which I mean I used Google. They do have a UK website at http://oranjeboomlager.co.uk/ which is very interesting. Apart from the lack of explanation for the orange tree logo, and the mention of this particular Strong Beer. It’s almost as if they’re doing a Carlsberg and are embarrassed by it.

If you’re the sort of person who likes to know how their sausages are made, you can discover a few more facts about this beer. They describe it as being an “Original Dutch Recipe” that includes “Pure Natural: Choice Hops, Finest Malts and Grains, Clear Water”. Notice the absence of syrup. Carlsberg Special Brew this is not. On one of the sides crammed with multilingual text, there is an official ingredients list. Astoundingly, this is less informative than the list on the front I quoted from.

Oranjeboom Imported Strong Beer ingredients side of can

Let’s see if the other side of the can is any less useful.

Oranjeboom Imported Strong Beer barcode side of can

Nope, just a barcode and another impenetrable block of multilingual text. Nothing to see here. So there we have it. A can covered in text that only conveys the basic details. Now there’s no excuse for not pouring it into a glass, and trying to write words to describe it to you. This is why you can now see a photograph of this can, poured into a mismatched pint glass.

Oranjeboom Imported Strong Beer poured into a glass

Pouring was a doddle. There was very little head, and what little there was, quickly dissipated. Right now, there’s a thing, white, patchy layer of foam. The lager colour is gold, and is bubby with carbonation.

What does Oranjeboom Imported Strong Beer smell of? This is easier to describe if you’ve already smelt the generic malted barley of premium lager and the strong whiff of a super strength. That’s because Oranjeboom Imported Strong Beer smells part way between the two. Not as off-putting as the 9% super-strengths, but getting there. Honestly, the smell lets it down. It’s too close to super smell for my liking.

What does Oranjeboom Imported Strong Beer taste like? Coming straight from the fridge, the first gulp isn’t bad. Much better than the smell would suggest it is. The second gulp confirms it. At fridge cold temperature, Oranjeboom Strong tastes more like a normal, everyday premium lager, and only marginally like a super-strength monster. From the third, pleasantly painless gulp, I can start to make sense of the taste. First, as you’d expect from most lagers, there’s no flavour to speak of. Normal lagers give you a mild, bitter aftertaste. Supers give you an overpowering, synthetic aftertaste. Oranjeboom Strong gives you, guess what? Something half-way between the two. What you feel is a moderate bitterness, followed by a moderate wave of strong, thick super-style aftertaste. Not overpowering, mind you. Just a moderate wave of that sensation that, surprisingly, does not linger.

What do I like about Oranjeboom Imported Strong Beer? As you can probably tell, I’m impressed by the combination of strength and drinkability. As long as you don’t breath in while sipping or gulping it down, you could convince yourself you’re drinking a regular premium lager. The short-lasting aftertaste even gives it a hint of refreshment. At least while cold. Also likeable is that it’s not over carbonated, so you don’t suddenly start burping. Another big plus is how well it warms up. Even at near room temperature, it is sill drinkable. Other lagers would have given up and become revolting by this point. From the outside, it looks like a normal lager, helping you hide your alcoholism. And, being somewhat hard to find, it earns you one hipster point for drinking it.

What don’t I like about Oranjeboom Imported Strong Beer? The smell. It’s much too near to the odour of the ghastly super-strength lagers. We all know how smell triggers memory, so as soon as some people smell this, they’ll be put right off and not even try it. The aftertaste, until you get used to it, will be too much for some timid drinkers. And to nit-pick, the design of the can lets it down. If you just want a nice tasting beer however, then you can easily find ale much much more delicious than this.

All in all, Oranjeboom Imported Strong Beer is a very easy way to get lamp-shaded quickly. It is barely less drinkable than most premium lagers, yet nearly as strong as the horrifying super strength lagers. If you like lagers, strong beer or Dutch brews, it is worth trying. If you can find it.

In fact, I was so impressed by Oranjeboom Imported Strong Beer, I decided to up the stakes it put it to the biggest test of the year; celebrating the start of 2011 on the Embankment near Big Ben and the London Eye.

The night would involve many hours of standing in a humungous crowd of people, armed only with the food and drink you could carry and limited access to disgusting public porta-loos. New Year in London calls for drink that tastes good and is strong. That second point is very important. First because it’s bitterly cold outdoors at night in the middle of winter. Second, because you don’t want to lug around heavy bags of drink. And, most importantly, you want to get drunk without constantly needing to use the filthy porta-loos.

How did I and my Oranjeboom Imported Strong Beer fare on the night? Outstandingly well.

To surmise, Oranjeboom Imported Strong Beer is an affordable (if you can find it) lager that hits the right spot between drinkability and strength. Think of it as two ordinary Dutch lagers in one can.

Have you tried Oranjeboom Imported Strong Beer? What did you think? What reputation does it have in the Netherlands? Where is this beer available to buy? Leave your comments, corrections, advice to others and other nonsense here in the comments section.

Beer Review: Budweiser Budvar Imported Dark Lager

4 February, 2010

REGULAR Budweiser Budvar lager turned out well in the end. Especially after discovering that it needs to be cooled to Arctic temperatures to taste good. So it’s with lots of optimism and some trepidation for the comments section that I face a bottle of Budvar’s cousin; Budweiser Budvar Imported Dark Lager. From one of a growing number of London shops that sells it, for a price I can’t remember. It’s also my first dark lager.

Budweiser Budvar Imported Dark Lager bottle

So far, so similar. It looks just like ordinary Budvar, but with a black bottle and matching neck foil and labels.

Budweiser Budvar Imported Dark Lager neck foil

The front label is little changed either. Apart from the colour scheme and words “Imported Dark Lager”.

Budweiser Budvar Imported Dark Lager front label

All of which is good news, because it means I don’t have to describe every little detail again. And again. Instead, we can go straight to the back label.

Budweiser Budvar Imported Dark Lager back label

Same layout as common Budvar, but this time with enough changes to warrant a little more of your time until we get to the interesting bit.  That’s because this one has a completely different story behind it. This one talks about “finest available ingredients”, “devotion to the brewers art” and “an inimiatable flavour straight from the heart of darkness”.

Down on the ingredients list, and here’s the first sign of what the alcoholic volume is. At 4.7%, it’s nothing to be embarrassed about. Why are they hiding it?

The ingredients, which if you bought this kind of beer, you’re probably interested in, do indeed look good. They are “water from artesian wells, barley malt (Pale, Munich, Caramel, Roasted), Saaz hops.” That’s the sort of ingredients list you’d expect of ale. Not a lager. So I’m guessing this will take the route of being a lager that wants to be ale. Like the sublime Pilsner Urquell or Samuel Adams Boston Lager.

For the detail fanatics, this Budvar has the same EU Protected Geographical Indication as the other Budvar. It has the same UK importer. And the same web address, which is www.original-budweiser.cz. It’s in the same 500ml bottle. Surprisingly, it is a little weaker at 4.7% alcoholic volume instead of 5%. And like its cousin, the label shouts at you to “Serve Cold!” After last time, I intend to do just that.

So here’s the interesting bit. What does it look like? What does it smell like? How does it compare to normal Budvar and to the other best lagers the world has to offer? I can’t wait to find out.

Budweiser Budvar Imported Dark Lager poured into a glass

First impressions leave me speechless. It’s by far the darkest lager I’ve ever seen. It’s dark ale, porter or stout darkness. I thought the bottle was brown or black, but it wasn’t. It’s a normal green Budvar bottle that happens to contain the only lager I’ve seen that you could mistake for the famous Irish brew. Apart from the head. It’s a patchy, creamy white. Nothing to worry you during pouring.

What does Budweiser Budvar Imported Dark Lager smell like? A quick sniff promptly reveals that familiar odour of roasted barley. Again, just like a dark ale, porter or stout. Incredible for a lager. Though I should have seen this coming. The ingredients list did say it had roasted barley malt. It goes to show what an immense difference that little fact makes.

So, what does this cold, nearly full pint of Budweiser Budvar Imported Dark Lager taste like? The first gulp is a very satisfying one. And one that seems a million miles from any over lager experience. Is this really a lager? It tastes like a dark ale, porter or stout. Which shouldn’t be a surprise seeing as it looks and smells like one.

What can I taste exactly? A few more gulps in, and I’m beginning to make some sense of it. On the flavour side of the equation, you’re reminded that this is indeed still a lager. There’s little more than a slight savoury bitterness. Quite light, clean and refreshing. Then, smoothly arriving, is the aftertaste. This goes into a mixture of lagery bitterness and long lasting ale, porter or stout style roasted flavour and taste combo. It’s dry and mildly bitter, but without the sharp “bite” you get with lots of lagers. It also tastes much more full bodied and heavier and more syrupy than most lagers. More like, you guessed it, a porter.

What am I enjoying about Budweiser Budvar Imported Dark Lager? As already worked out, I’m thoroughly enjoying this perplexing brew. Partly because it is such a mystery. If you insist on calling it a lager, it is the most un-lager like I’ve ever tasted. You could give it to an ale pan, tell them it’s a porter and most probably wouldn’t argue. With that potential for mischief and the originality and distinctiveness, Budvar Dark is off to a flying start.

I love how it’s got some of the best of ale and lager. It’s crisp and refreshing but also rich, tasty and satisfying. I like very much how smooth and easy to drink it is. It’s not too gassy. And you can just tell it’s well made with excellent ingredients.

What aren’t I enjoying about Budweiser Budvar Imported Dark Lager? Not much. What little I can find is mostly nitpicking. Because it feels so much like ale, I’m left wishing it had more interesting and unusual flavours. Like an ale. If you really like ale, why not buy a real one with the complexity you get with it? Also, that roasted taste is going to quickly stop feeling refreshing, and it’s still expensive and hard to find here.

How can one possibly sum up Budweiser Budvar Imported Dark Lager after just one bottle? Which reminds me, I better buy some more. So far, Budweiser Budvar Imported Dark Lager is possibly the most intriguing, distinctive and delicious lagers I’ve ever tried. It’s firmly up there with the favourites. It’s also a great stepping stone for you to wean your friends off big name lager and onto proper beer. Outstanding lager action. But if you love this stuff, why not just get dark ale, porter or stout instead?

Rating: 4.3

Have you tried Budweiser Budvar Imported Dark Lager? What did you think of it? Leave your opinions, corrections, translations, recommendations and places to buy, here in the comments.

Beer Review: Birra Moretti Imported

13 December, 2008

AFTER moving to a cold, rodent infested flat. And after going without an Internet connection for weeks on end, I’m back. The bottle of beer with the monumental task of cheering me up is this little bottle of Birra Moretti Imported from Italy. Remembering how lacklustre Peroni, Peroni Nastro Azzurro and Castello Premium were, I’m expecting it to be competent and not much more.

Imported Birra Moretti bottle

The bottle doesn’t look bad. But then style was never the weak link with Italian beer. This stumpy brown glass bottle has the “Moretti” logo embossed around the shoulder.

The front of the neck label says pretty much everything you need to know. That it’s imported. That quality and tradition feature somewhere within, assuming that’s what “Qualità e Tradizione” mean. I’m also guessing that “Dal 1859” means “Est.” or “Since” 1859. And that’s not bad at all. Castello Premium didn’t give a date at all.

Birra Moretti Imported front of neck label

In case you were in any doubt about the origins of Birra Moretti, the wrap-around neck-label gives you an answer.

Birra Moretti Imported rest of neck label

“Birra Italiana”. Even I can understand that. And I’ve never studied Italian.

The front of the front-label takes the approach of an illustration of a traditional countryman about to enjoy a big frothing glass of beer.

Imported Birra Moretti front of front label

No points for originality. Bottles of beer all over the world have illustrations of jolly men about to enjoy a big, frothy glass. The thing is, this man doesn’t look jolly at all. In fact, he looks jolly miserable. As we all know, everyone in Italy is either a Communist or member of the Mafia. Since this miserable man is wearing a smart suit and hat, that must mean he’s just finished a hard day collecting money from local shopkeepers for the entirely legitimate protection operation which in no way obliges participation.

The rest of the front-label roundel is a bigger version of what’s on the neck-label. It’s all very tasteful and informative. It doesn’t stop there, however. Instead, it wraps around very slightly at either side. Why they didn’t just make the back label bigger is beyond me. Nevertheless, here’s the left-side of the front-label.

Birra Moretti Imported left of front label

This side helpfully says, in English, “Imported from Italy”. Under that are lots of words I can’t understand. Therefore, I make plea to any Italians reading. If you can translate anything from the label, do please leave a comment at the end of this post.

Not all the words are a mystery though. “Heiniken Italia” must mean that this comes from the Italian branch of the Heineken mega-brewer. “Milano, Italy” must mean that it comes from Italy’s spectacular Northern city of Milan.

Birra Moretti Imported right of front label

Over on the other side of the front label, and there are some more words that I can’t understand. What I can understand are this beer’s vital statistics. It has a perfectly respectable 4.6% volume, and it comes in the typical 33cl bottle size. It also has an Italian language list of ingredients. Some of which look familiar, others do not. Fortunately, the back label steps in to help.

Imported Birra Moretti back label

I doesn’t have much. There’s an impenetrable block of multi-lingual text and a repeat of many of the details from the front. But, it does have an English language list of ingredients. And that list includes “water, malted barley, corn, hops”.

But, what will it be like? Will it be better than other Italian beer? What will it taste like? It’s time to find out.

Imported Birra Moretti poured into a glass

Anyone hoping for a dark, frothing glass as in the front-label illustration will be disappointed. It’s just the most pale lager I’ve seen in a long time. And it’s lacking much in the way of froth. There’s a patchy layer of bubbles, but calling it a ‘head’ is a stretch.

Despite these drawbacks, it smells good. Not original. It has much the same smell as other good lagers. But that blend of malted barley and other ingredients in lager-ish proportions is just the right strength. Not so weak as to be almost invisible. And not too overpowering.

Of course, I’ve been here before. Smelling right is one thing. It’s how it tastes that matters. So let’s try this fridge cooled glass of Birra Moretti.

First couple of gulps, and first impressions are okay. It tastes the way most lager does. That is, it tastes of a blend of malted barley and other beer ingredients. No flavour. Then a smooth, gentle introduction of a mild lagery bitterness. Not so much a “bite”. More a nibble. A couple more sips confirms it. Birra Moretti is another competent, yet bland lager.

What is there to enjoy about Birra Moretti? If you like (or at least don’t mind) lager, then you’re in luck. There’s little to put you off it. There’s no unpleasant “bite” to the aftertaste. In fact, it’s one of the smoothest and gentlest out there. All of which make it easy to drink.

What of the downsides to Birra Moretti? Well, it is a lager. And that dooms you to flavour boredom. It doesn’t even attempt to push the boundaries within the confines of being a lager. And that doesn’t score it points of originality. It’s also on the gassy side.

Does it compare better than any other Italian bottled beers? No. They’re all okay.

How can I sum up this imported bottle of Birra Moretti? It’s a perfectly competent lager. When I visit Italy, I’ll happily drink this. But on a shop shelf next to considerably more interesting bottles, choose something better instead.

Rating: 2.25

Have you tried Imported Birra Moretti? What did you think of it?

Can you translate anything on the labels?

Do please leave your translations, corrections, opinions, requests, recommendations and places to buy in the box below.

Bottled Beer Review: Guinness Draught vs. Guinness Original vs. Guinness Foreign Extra vs. Guinness Foreign Extra Imported

10 October, 2008

GUINNESS. I had to get around to looking at this world-famous, Irish mega-brand eventually. But, I’ve never been a huge fan of stout, or dark ale, or whatever you care to call it. Just look at my posts on Murphy’s Draught Irish Stout, Jamaican Dragon Stout and Orkney Dark Island. This left me with something of a dilemma. You see, I could get away with criticising something that only twelve people have heard of. But if I go into a one of my uninformed ‘reviews’ of Guinness, there would be no end of people writing in from all corners of the globe telling me that I was wrong, and that I’m a useless, ill-informed piece of chewing gum stuck to the sole of society. Regular readers will know all this to be true. But it would make passionate Guinness drinkers the world over unnecessarily angry.

What could I do? Could I manage to test nearly all the big name bottled beers on the market with the exception of Guinness? Or could I find an angle where my indifference to stout would be less of an issue? We’re about to find out as I put every variation of Guinness in a bottle to the test. What is the question I’m going to try and answer? Simple. What the heck is the difference between them all? Will all four of them be identical? Will I find a favourite from the bunch? And will there be one to avoid? And, most importantly, which is the real Guinness?

Here’s the line-up. From left to right, they are Guinness Draught, Guinness Original, Guinness Foreign Extra and Guinness Foreign Extra Imported.

Starting on the left, the tall, curvy one with the white neck is Guinness Draught. It is, I think, the bottled equivalent of the ubiquitous Guinness Draught in a can. The can that I very nearly put in its place, until discovering this bottle hidden away in an off-licence in Brick Lane. See the similarity?

If there’s demand out there, I’ll give the can a test drive next time, to discover the differences. If there are any. For now, all I can see is that both of them have widgets in them, and that the bottle has 0.1% more alcohol in it.

The neck label certainly doesn’t tell us much. In fact, it doesn’t say anything. It’s a white band of colour on top of the black around the rest of the bottle. But then, that’s probably all they need to say. If their message is “this is a glass of Guinness right here in the bottle”, then they’ve succeeded. In exactly the same way as they have with the can.

The front label does much the same thing as the can, too. In fact, it isn’t even like a normal bottle label. That’s because it’s repeated over on the other side, the same way that cans do.

Like the can and unlike the bottles, there’s no big cream coloured Guinness roundel. Instead, the harp takes centre stage. With all that black, grey, gold and white, it’s immensely tasteful. It’s minimalist too. The whole thing looks classy. And, thanks to decades of brand building, it’s all as familiar rain. The harp is familiar. The red Arthur Guinness signature is familiar. The “Guinness” stamp style logo is familiar. The year 1759 is familiar, not least because of their latest advertising campaign.

There are a few other differences besides the absence of the Guinness roundel. The bottle is nearly as curvy as Nigella Lawson. Quite a departure from the traditional shape adopted by all the other bottles in the Guinness range. At the bottom they urge you to “Serve Extra Cold”. Which, I think, is colder than with the can. Also down there is the news that this is the typical 330 ml size.

As with cans, the disparate bits of information are grouped together into two thin strips. Here’s the one that doesn’t have the barcode.

The most noticeable thing is the alcoholic volume. Which is a reasonable 4.2%. At a smidgeon higher than the can, the UK units of alcohol is no different. This bottle has 1.4 of those.

Also on this side are some instructions. And they are considerably more involved than with most other bottles. Here, they inform us that “For Best Results Chill For At Least 2 Hours And Remove Bottle Top In One Quick Movement”. This is the first time I’ve read advice about how to remove the bottle top. What will happen if you don’t remove it in one quick movement? With only a single bottle at my disposal, I can’t find out.

They go on to say that it includes a patented widget. Which will rattle. And, that no settling time is required. This is the most can-like bottle I’ve ever seen.

The side of the bottle with the barcode has yet more information.

At the top is a big, prominent symbol telling you to “Drink Straight From The Bottle”. Not only does that cement it as the most can-like bottle ever, it’s also hugely unusual. It also poses a problem. You see, I like to pour beers into a glass so that you can see what it looks like. I also like to give everything a fair chance by following the instructions. So, here’s the plan. Later on, I’ll pour a little bit into a glass to see what it looks like. I’ll then drink the rest from the bottle and describe how it tastes. That way everyone wins.

Next to the barcode, they describe it as “Guinness Draught Stout”. And, unhelpfully, that it’s “Brewed in Dublin And London”. Gaaa! Which city did this bottle come from? Dublin or London? I’d like to know that sort of thing.

Lastly, at the bottom of this ‘side’, is the web address. Something that we’ll probably see on all the bottles to come. The address they give is www.guinness.com. It’s another Flash heavy, corporate website where you first have to enter your date of birth. Cleverly though, it figured out that I was visiting it from Great Britain, so it immediately served up the right language and matching promotions. In all, a perfectly adequate big-name, international brewery website.

That’s Guinness Draught covered. On the outside, at least. The next one up is the considerably more traditional Guinness Original.

Not only does it look like a normal bottle of ale. But it has a proper neck label. It has a proper front label with a roundel. And it has a back label too. All of which are reassuringly traditional. Take the neck label.

It has all the big Guinness imagery. And a cream colour scheme. Very nice. It’s much the same with the front label.

There is nothing on it that you wouldn’t expect when you buy a bottle of Guinness wanting the real thing. It has the iconic, cream coloured roundel. Upon which is all the Guinness imagery that is so familiar. The only thing worth mentioning about it, are the words around the border of the roundel. “Genuine Quality” sits at the top. And “St. James’s Gate Dublin” proudly announces where it comes from. It’s almost like the label is nodding and winking, knowing that you know what it’s all about.

The back label has lots of juicy details. All very easy to read. And all very well laid out.

Could Guinness Original be the real Guinness? Yes, according to the back label, which describes it as “The one that started it all”. They go on to describe the drink itself as having a “deep-dark colour”. And that it has a “crisp hint of roasted barley, the fresh breeze of hops. The refreshing bite. The bittersweet reward”. Not short of confidence, are they? And “refreshing bite”? Isn’t that a lager trait? I’d never have associated it with a Guinness, but I’m expecting some surprises with this test.

What other facts are on there? A lot. To summarise, they describe it as “Guinness Original Stout”. The address is from North-West London, but they also say “Brewed in Dublin”. Which is good to know. The web address is unchanged, at www.guinness.com. The bottle is the regular 330ml size. The alcoholic volume is the same 4.2% as the Draught bottle. Which brings it to a moderate 1.4 UK units of alcohol. There’s a consumer helpline telephone number. And they even have a table breaking down the nutritional information. Female readers will be interested to know that Guinness Original has 0 grams of fat.

Guinness Original does look very appetizing. But there are two more to go. Next up is Guinness Foreign Extra. The Foreign Extra that wasn’t imported.

You won’t confuse it with Draught or Original that easily. The bottle has more curves than Original, bit not as outrageously so as Draught. If you look at it very carefully, you’ll also spot harps embossed around the shoulder, and the “Guinness” name embossed around the bottom. But both are hard to see. If it were a person, it would be someone wearing flared trousers.

What can we say about the neck label?

Nothing. It looks almost identical to Original. Hopefully the front label will say something helpful.

No. It doesn’t really. The only thing separating it from Original are the words “Foreign Extra” in place of the word “Original”. To be fair though, it is prominent. Unless you’ve got the carelessness of a pre-credit crunch mortgage salesman, you won’t confuse it with much else.

Helpfully, there’s more than enough detail on a huge back label to clear up any confusion. It really is packed with information.

They open the description with the intriguing assertion that “Foreign Extra Stout is a beer like no other”. To learn why, I read on. They describe it as “The most full-flavoured of all. Singular and striking. Uniquely satisfying. Brewed with extra hops and roasted barley for a natural bite. Bitter and sweet. Refreshingly crisp. Always rewarding.” Before ending with the tag line they used on the other bottle: “Pure beauty. Pure Guinness”. What will all this mean? It looks to me like they’ve done the same thing they did to make Original. Only more so. They’re trying to make a good thing better by doing more of it. A bit like King Size chocolate bars.

As usual, there’s a whole pile of detail, also on the back label. To summarise, it was “Brewed In Ireland”, but imported by Guinness & Co. in North-West London. Their address is on there again if you want to write them a letter. The web address is unchanged at www.guinness.com. There’s a telephone helpline if you want to call them. The nutritional information is broken down in a nice table. Which again indicates no grams of fat. If you’re an overweight Guinness drinker, it won’t be because of the fat in the drink.

All very boring. The really interesting bit is the alcoholic volume. By upping the ante, they’ve upped the volume considerably. Instead of hovering around the 4% mark like the others, this comes in at sizeable 7.5% alcoholic volume. For this small 330ml bottle, that weighs in at 2.5 UK units of alcohol. If the bottle were much bigger, you’d exceed your daily units in just one drink. Correspondingly, if you notice bad spelling and grammar in this post after I’ve done the taste test, you’ll know why.

The last bottle in this little round-up is possibly the most intriguing of all: Guinness Foreign Extra Imported.

On the face of it, there’s little difference between it and regular Foreign Extra. The bottle is the same size and shape. The harps around the shoulder and the “Guinness” name around the bottom are embossed with better definition this time around. Yet again, the neck label doesn’t give anything away.

In fact, you’d be hard pressed to find anything to distinguish it from the others. To find any difference, you need to look at the front label. And even there, it holds its mystery.

It’s a different design to the others. Subtle is may be, but is it lighter. And it’s somehow more up to date looking than the roundel on Original and Foreign Extra. Look hard enough and you’ll start to see signs of what makes this one different. Around the top border, they describe it as “Foreign Extra Stout”. And, in red, at the bottom of the roundel, is the all important word “Imported”. But from where?

As usual, the back label is the place to look for clues. But this one looks entirely different to either Original or Foreign Extra.

The big round thing dominating most of the back label is unusually vague. Instead of answers, it witters on in marketing speak about how Guinness is enjoyed all over the world. And how the “finest quality barley, hops and malt” give Guinness its “rich and satisfying good taste”. One thing that isn’t satisfying is that description.

Reading on for more clues quickly reveals the answers I demand. Written vertically on one side, we learn that Foreign Extra Imported was “Brewed under licence by Guinness Nigeria Plc, 24 Oba Akaran Avenue, Ikeja”. Yes, you read that correctly. This comes from the same country as all those people who kindly try to relieve you of all your money through Internet scams. A fact that’s confirmed elsewhere on the label with the line “Stout: Imported from Nigeria for its unique taste”. This then, is a bottle of Nigerian Guinness. What do you think of that? Comments at the end of this post please.

Reading on, and the ingredients are “water, malt, sorghum, wheat, barley” and “hops”. What is sorghum? And why is it in this bottle? Over on the other side of the label, we learn that this bottle was imported to the UK by Kato Enterprises Ltd from Surrey.

There’s no big table breaking down the nutritional information this time. But the details are still on there. And there’s still no fat.

What about the vital statistics? Well, the alcoholic volume is the same as regular Foreign Extra at a strong 7.5%. Oddly, the bottle is a tiny bit smaller, at 325ml instead of the ordinary 330ml. And there’s no UK units of alcohol. But there doesn’t need to be. You know it’s going to be a big number.

With all the tattle about bottles and labels done, it’s time now for the fun bit. What will they taste like? Will they all be different or all the same? Which will I like most? And which is the real Guinness? Time for me to get pouring.

First thing that struck me was that they don’t look the same. They didn’t respond the same way either. First, the widget powered bottle of Draught started frothing up. Pouring the small amount into the glass was tricky because all that came out was froth.

As they went from left to right passing through Original, Foreign Extra and Foreign Extra Imported, the heads became darker and darker. Draught has a thin white head. It looks the like an actual pint of Guinness. Which is exactly what it’s supposed to do.

Original had a cream coloured head. And both of the Foreign Extra’s had dark brown heads. One or two of them frothed right up, but died down after a few minutes. Of them, Foreign Extra had the wackiest head. All of them became quite reasonable after a couple of minutes.

They had different consistencies too. Draught poured and feels fairly light. Thick for a beer, but lighter than the rest. Original poured slightly slower and seems a little bit thicker. As for Foreign Extra and Foreign Extra Imported, they have the consistency of tar. It was like pouring treacle.

How do they smell? Broadly the same. It’s the strength of that smell that changes. They all have that rich smell of roasted barley. And it smells rich, full and delicious no matter which variety you sniff. Draught is the most delicate and lightest. As well as the roasted barley, there was something vanilla-like about it. Original has a stronger, yet balanced smell of roasted barley, combined with the other ingredients. Foreign Extra and Foreign Extra Imported smell almost identical. They both have the richest, strongest, most full-on smell of roasted barley I’ve ever witnessed. Of the two, the regular, non-imported Foreign Extra seemed a little stronger. I quite like it, but I can see the smell of the stronger brews putting some people off.

Right, what do they taste like? Let’s start with Guinness Draught.

Okay, so I poured some when they said drink from the bottle. But that was only to satisfy my curiosity about what it looked like. So, I’m trying this one from the bottle. First impressions are that it seems like it’s trying to escape the bottle. Which would be the widget doing its thing. It tastes of roasted barley. That’s the flavour. And it’s there in the aftertaste too. The aftertaste leaves you with a lingering bitterness. But you can taste the ingredients through it all. The whole thing is lighter than and not as strong as I feared. Guinness Draught could be the stout for the lager drinker. It really is that light and drinkable.

Does it taste any different from the glass than from the bottle? I’ve just taken a sip from the glass, and, I didn’t expect to say this, but it does taste different. I don’t know what that widget is doing or what effect the bottle is having, but it tastes much better from the bottle. From the glass, it tastes sort-of vinegary. Like bad red wine. From the bottle, it tastes a bit sweeter. And definitely fizzier. All of which makes drinking Guinness Draught from the bottle seem perfectly acceptable to me. If a little gassy.

Then again, I haven’t compared it to anything yet. So, here is Guinness Original. Poured into a glass and drank from a glass.

I’ve just taken a sip, and the experience is quite a lot different. A gulp seemed entirely the wrong way to take this one, so sips are the way to go. It’s much thicker than Draught. And considerably less fizzy. This makes Original a much more sedate experience. The taste profile is balanced a little differently too. You get a flavour of roasted barley. Not a particularly strong flavour. Maybe just a notch higher than with Draught. That’s followed by a bitter “bite”. It’s a stronger “bite” than I was expecting. It feels more like a lagery “bite”, and it leaves a bitter aftertaste behind. That bitter aftertaste lingers too. You can still taste some of the roasted barley, but this is a strange experience. It’s like drinking an ale-lager hybrid.

How can I explain it? Draught had the Guinness flavour I expected, but in a light and fizzy lager style drink. Original has more of a bitter lager style “bite” and aftertaste, but in something that feels like a rich, thick ale. My stomach is telling me that it isn’t enjoying Orignal as much. And I have to agree. It might be the “one that started it all”, but it will need some time to grow on me.

How do the Foreign Extra’s fair? Let’s turn the dial up to eleven with Foreign Extra.

First sip and it takes a few of seconds to realise that Guinness Foreign Extra is Guinness in a whole new gear. The roasted barley and bitter taste I had in my mouth from Original is swept away in a tidal wave of flavour. This has flavour. Masses of it. It tastes of barley that has been thoroughly roasted. It’s fuller, richer and stronger than almost anything else on the shop shelf. Only Marmite gets anywhere near. And that’s not even a beer. Somehow, they’ve made it so that the flavour holds its place in your mouth for a couple of seconds before the aftertaste appears. An experience a bit like jumping in the air, and then waiting a couple of seconds before gravity pulls you back to the ground.

The aftertaste that does come along is much less of the lager-style “bite” than Draught, and particularly Original have. It’s more like a crisp bitterness. And it’s a lingering bitterness that can do nothing to shift the strong flavours from the back of your tongue.

My stomach is no longer complaining. And therefore neither am I. Guinness Foreign Extra is strong, crisp and full of Guinness flavour. I rather like it.

Last is our most quirky Guinness. What will Guinness Foreign Extra Imported be like? Time to find out.

One sip in, and Foreign Extra Imported tastes different to every one of the above. I expected it to taste like Foreign Extra, but it doesn’t. For one thing, the flavour phase of the sip is different. It still tastes, strongly, of well roasted barley. But different somehow. As if the flavour mellows and changes before going. I’m going to say that is has complexity.

Oddly, those strong and interesting flavours aren’t replaced by much of an aftertaste. I couldn’t detect any “bite” at all this time. Just a strangely tangy bitterness that rolls into your mouth. All of which leaves you with a mouth that tastes bitter and still has a strong taste of roasted barley.

If Foreign Extra Imported was a track of music, is would be Foreign Extra, the Imported mix. Different things are emphasised in it. It’s very strong. But not too difficult to drink. And that complexity, taste and balance are fantastic. I like it.

Where does all of this leave my questions? The answer to the question of how similar or different they are is simple. They’re all different. Sometimes, very different to each other. Even Foreign Extra was quite a different drink to Foreign Extra Imported. That’s great news. I’d hate to think that they were just tweaking the brew around the edges. What you get instead are four different mixes of Guinness. It also gives you a great excuse to go out and try them all to find your personal favourite.

Which do I like most? That’s tricky. Guinness Original might be the original, but I didn’t get on well with it. That “bite” was just too lager-like for me. It even made me feel queasy. With it being the “Original”, I’m sure that there will be bazillions of readers complaining of my stultifying lack of taste. But this is my blog and my opinion. Original is down in last place as my least favourite. It’s just too awkward, especially compared to its cousins.

In third place, I’m going to put Draught. It’s light and drinkable, but still tastes the way I think Guinness should. If I were out and about one night, I’d happily choose a bottle of this stuff. And another. And another. This is your night out bottled Guinness option.

That means my first and second choice is going to be one of the Foreign Extras. But which one? That’s a tough call to make. As bottles of beer go, they are both excellent choices. There’s no doubt that either will give you much to savour on a cold, autumn evening. But which one is best?

After extensive sipping, I’m going to put Foreign Extra in second place and Foreign Extra Imported from Nigeria as my favourite Guinness. I’m as surprised as you are.

Why did I make this decision? They’re both terrific stouts. I may as well have flipped a coin to decide. But Foreign Extra Imported just had the edge. It’s got a more interesting flavour. The balance of bitterness and other qualities makes it easier to drink than the non-imported stuff. And it’s from Nigeria and therefore a total mystery.

The last big question is, which is the “real” Guinness? That’s simple. Going by the labels, Guinness Original is the real thing. It’s the only one that boasts the more than 200 year heritage. Frustratingly then, it’s my least favourite. I wish I could report that it and not the Nigerian Foreign Extra Imported was my favourite. But I can’t. What I will do is ask for pints of Guinness while out and about until I get used to it. Surely it’s only a matter of time before I get used to that taste?

How can I sum up this massive experiment? It has been an eye-opener. Before the round-up, I thought they would all be the same. They weren’t. Not by a long shot. Sure, they all tasted of roasted barley in that uniquely Guinness way. But the product itself was so utterly different each time. If you’re as curious as I was about Guinness, there is no substitute for trying them all until you find your favourite.

Did I get comprehensively sloshed? A little. But not as much as I expected. Most of them are just too thick and syrupy to drink quickly. Lots of them are too difficult to drink easily. Which is why, as I write this, a lot of them are still in their glasses and bottles, waiting for me to finish drinking them. Honestly, it’s all made me feel more queasy than inebriated.

Have I learned to love Guinness? Not yet. Although I can see why it’s one of the most popular stouts out there. All of them were distinctive, tasty and very high-quality.

Have you tried Guinness Draught, Guinness Original, Guinness Foreign Extra or Guinness Foreign Extra Imported? What did you think of it or them?

What did you think of my first group comparison?

Do please leave your opinions, corrections, thoughts, requests and recommendations here.

Beer Review: Beck’s Imported

6 July, 2008

NEXT up in my look at big-name beers in little green bottles that all seem to come from north-west Europe is Beck’s Imported. Now, I’ve tried some Beck’s before. It was alright, but quickly became lousy. That however, was probably not the imported stuff. So it’s with… not an open mind. More a mind that is slightly ajar that I approach this small green bottle of Beck’s Imported.

Becks Imported bottle

First impression is that this little green bottle looks almost identical to its competitors. The glass is green. The bottle is the same shape. And the front label all ensures that you confuse it with every other bottle of premium continental lager.

But this bottle has a secret weapon. Neck foil.

Becks Imported neck label

Not the sort of gold foil that wraps all the way up to the bottle top. This one is solver and simply wraps around the neck. It doesn’t say much either. Simply have the “Beck’s” name; the unusual logo featuring a key on a red shield; and the all important word, “Imported”. Not fancy, but it achieves its goal.

The front label looks familiar. Haven’t we seen a roundel like this before?

Beck's Imported front label

Yes we have. Heineken and Stella Artois are just two that you’ll confuse this bottle of Beck’s with. Sticking to tradition or being unoriginal? Leave your thoughts in the comments at the end of this post.

As for what the label itself says, the borders are always the best place to start. The top gives the name of the brewery as “Brauerei Beck & Co”. With the bottom giving the place of origin as “Bremen Germany”. We get a proper look at their “Reg Tm” which is unusual indeed. Does anyone out there know what the key on the red shield means?

This beer also appears to be an award winner. Something about Bremmen in 1874. And an award from the International Exhibition at Philidelphia in the USA from 1876. That’s a reasonable heritage. But should we be worried by their lack of competitive success over the intervening 130 years?

Over on the back label, the restraint from the front is replaced by the multi-lingual blocks of text that we’ve become familiar with, with exported beers.

Beck's Imported back label

Just underneath a dozen different languages for the word “beer”, is something unusual. And German. In a little box entitled “Beck’s Quality”, we learn that this has been “Brewed Under the German Purity Law of 1516”. Because in Germany, even the concept of purity has order and rules.

The ingredients that we’re told about are “water, malted barley, hops”. Oddly, the vital statistics for this bottle are almost hidden away. You need to go looking for them in order to discover that this is a 33 centilitre bottle with an alcoholic volume of 5%. On the other hand, you probably already guessed both of those details.

For the curious, there are addresses on this label too. There a the full German postal address. And a website address, which is www.becks.com.

So, is Beck’s Imported going to be another indistinctive yet well-made lager? Probably. But I better check to make sure. Time to crack open this bottle.

Becks Imported poured into a glass

As has been the case with most of these lagers, this one comes with an excellent head. Not too frothy or uncontrollable. Yet it leaves a good, fairly consistent layer of foam on top of your drink.

This colour is little surprise either. It’s a pale yellow. Maybe a shade darker than its near competitors. It’s a similar story with the smell. There is the slightest of aromas of malted barley. Very lagery. But somehow fuller than either Carlsberg or Heineken. Not as much as Stella Artois however.

The taste, regrettably, is on the cheap and horrid side of average. It might not say “lager” anywhere on the bottle, but that’s definitely what I’m tasting. And it’s below par. The flavour is surprisingly strong and full-on. Unlike the few I’ve tried recently. It tastes of a blend of malted barley and hops. But all you end up noticing is the ‘sharp’ and lingering bitterness.

After a few gulps, I can see a few reasons why you should consider trying Beck’s Imported . It has flavour. More so than some of the watery lagers I’ve tried recently. Even if that bitter lagery taste isn’t to my taste, it will be for some of you out there. The quality of the product is roughly where I expected it to be. All of which gives it a clean and fairly drinkable character.

Predictably though, there’s a lot to put you off. I found the taste vile. Something you will too, if you don’t much like lager anyway. If you drink a lot of these on a night out and forget to brush your teeth before going to bed, you are going to have monumentally toxic breath the next morning. And it will make you burp.

How can I sum up Beck’s Imported? Or for that matter, the domestically produced Beck’s? Well, it’s adequate. Barely. But ultimately, not something you drink by choice. This is something you drink because it’s the only beer the bar serves, or because your local supermarket or off-license has a good deal on the caseload. In other words, it’s what you drink because you have to. If, however, you get a choice in the matter, then choose something better.

Rating: 2.35

Have you tried Beck’s Imported? Or ordinary Beck’s? What did you think of it?
Leave your corrections, opinions, thoughts, ideas, suggestions, recommendations and requests here please.

Beer Review: Heineken Imported Lager Beer

4 July, 2008

NEXT in my look at little green bottles of cheap beers from the north-west corner of the continent is another big name. If you’ve ever looked at a shelf of beers in a shop, you’ve probably seen the name Heineken. Well, here’s a little green bottle of Heineken Imported Lager Beer.

Heineken Imported Lager Beer bottle

The neck label says everything you need to choose this bottle over the domestically produced equivalent.

Heineken Imported Lager Beer neck label

The most prominent word on it is “Imported”. It is perhaps the best word ever to be printed on any beer bottle, as you know you’ll be getting the genuine article. Apart from with ales. We definitely make the best ales in the world.

Back to the neck label, and it holds other positive information too. The Heineken red star name and logo help you recognise it. But I must be totally honest with you; the green-ness of the colour scheme always makes me confuse it with Carlsberg.

Again I digress. Back to the welcome information on the neck label. The date 1873 gives it some heritage. The alcoholic volume is that publicised continental 5%. But with so many other beers being at least that, this one hardly stands out from the crowd any longer.

Down to the front label, and we get a traditional green roundel.

Heineken Imported Lager Beer front label

Starting from the outside and working in, the outer-outer-outer border has some tiny words written on it. And those words are “The Original Quality” and “Brewed with Natural Ingredients”. The border inside that describes it as “Heineken Lager Beer” and “Premium Quality”. Inside that, is another border formed, I think, of French language text. This being a Dutch lager, that threw me at first. Until I realised that the text, medals and other bits of writing were referring to some awards won in Paris. Apparently, it won the “Medaille D’or Paris 1875” and the “Grans Prix Paris 1889”. Plus some other things I can’t quite interpret in 1883 and 1900. A prize is still a prize, but nothing for the last century?

The back label keeps things simple.

Heineken Imported Lager Beer back label

Around the outside is much welcome confirmation of this bottle’s origins: “Brewed and Bottled by Heineken Brouwerijen B.V., Amsterdam, Holland”. Besides the barcode, logo and 5% volume, one of the most prominent things on this side is their sponsorship deal. If you already enjoy watching a few men running up and down a field, trying not to dirty their haircuts, you probably already know that Heineken are the “Proud Sponsor of” the “UEFA Champions League”.

Also fairly prominent are this bottle’s vital statistics. This little bottle is the typical 330 millilitres in size. And because of it’s 5% volume, it has 1.7 UK units of alcohol. Thoroughly unremarkable.

The ingredients list mentions water, malted barley and hops. Little unusual there. What is unusual is that they give two different web addresses. The most prominent, and one that say “Please visit:” is at enjoyheinekenresponsibly.com“. An address that re-directs you to Heineken International homepage at http://www.heinekeninternational.com/homepage.aspx. The other address on the label, www.heineken.co.uk re-directs you to the homepage of their draught keg product at http://draughtkeg.co.uk/.

At this point, I would normally say “that’s everything on the label, now time to open it”. But something caught my eye on the Heineken International homepage. That is because, it’s big industry news. With Belgian brewing giant InBev making moves on American brewing giant Anheuser-Busch, this one slipped under the radar. It appears that Heineken recently made a successful offer on our on big brewer, Scottish & Newcastle plc. It’ll be interesting to see how this consolidation plays out. As far as I know, S&N spend most of their time making licensed versions of foreign beers. It would be nice if this deal brings more innovation to the market place. Sadly, all this consolidation can’t be good news for out numerous favourite little breweries up and down the land. How do you think it will work out?

A paragraph later than normal, it’s time now to get to the fun bit. To open this bottle and discover what Heineken Imported Lager is like. Is it better than Carlsberg or will I find their tastes as identical as their branding?

Heineken Imported Lager Beer poured into a glass

In the glass, you get a good, controllable head. No uncontrollable frothing, nor patchy bubbles here. And because it’s lager, it has a weak yellow hue. There is however, next to no smell at all. This has possibly the weakest smell of any beer of lager I’ve tried.

And the taste isn’t much stronger. It has a light tasting blend of malted barley and hops, leaving a slight, lingering hoppy bitterness. It is all very mild stuff.

There are things to like about Heineken Imported Lager. I liked how mild and inoffensive the flavours were when compared to the cheaper and nastier lagers. I liked how easy to drink it is, and how crisp and refreshing it is.

But that is all the usual faint praise you can give a premium lager. That’s because this, like every other premium quality continental lager can only ever be an average beer. The taste, though drinkable, is not one many people, myself included, would choose over something better. And, over the course of a few drinks, it would quickly stop being refreshing and start leaving a nasty taste in my mouth. It’s rather gassy too. Then there’s the question of what makes Heineken stand out. Not much as far as I can tell.

Rating: 2.55

A good quality premium lager. But barely distinguishable from other premium quality continental lagers. And distinctly average as a beer.

Have you tried Heineken Imported Lager? How does it compare to regular Heineken?
Leave your corrections, opinions, thoughts, ideas, suggestions and recommendations with the world here please.


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