Posts Tagged ‘lager’

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.

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Beer Review: St. George Beer

24 September, 2010

MONTHS ago, I vowed not to ‘review’ the national beers of hot countries anymore. Inevitably, once away from their home country, those beers lose what makes them special. Then I compare it to high quality ale and lager, and then people from the beer’s country of origin take it as an insult, and express their disgust in the comments section.

Sometimes however, curiosity gets the better of me. That’s exactly what happened when I found an Ethiopian shop in central London (WC1) near King’s Cross. There was no way I could miss the opportunity to try an Ethiopian beer. So, cast your eyes upon St. George Beer.

St. George Beer bottle

The bottle is generic and brown. There is only one label; the yellow one on the front. And I don’t care about those things, because it’s come all the way from East Africa and it still only cost £1.29 pence.

St. George Beer front label

The label has just enough English language for you to guess what you’re getting. The top corners for instance give the alcoholic volume as 4.5% and the contents as being 33cl. They describe it as a “Premium Lager Beer”. And, best of all, it is “Ethiopian Beer Brewed & Bottled by BGI Ethiopia”. I’m just glad it is genuinely imported.

The most confusing thing about the label is the name and logo. It has a Medieval knight, apparently engaged in dragon slaying. And it’s called St. George Beer. Why is this? None of that imagery is African. Nor is it a colonial remnant, because Ethiopia was, according to this website, never colonised.

The rest of the writing is, I assume, in the Amharic language. Translators, if you can translate what it says, leave a comment at the end of this post.

There is not, it seems any official website for this beer. But I did find a lot of questions answered about Ethiopian beer at http://www.ethiopianrestaurant.com/ethiopian_beers.html. The most shocking fact of all, being that Ethiopia has a well established brewing industry. I’m truly impressed.

With no more labels to write about, it’s time for the taste test. It doesn’t say “serve cold” anywhere, but I’m going to guess that if you’re in Ethiopia, you’d want your beer to be a touch chilly. With that in mind, this one has been in the fridge. Now let’s crack it open and try some Ethiopian beer.

St. George Beer poured into a glass

Even with the rough ride home I gave the bottle, it didn’t froth up. In fact, it was easy-peasy to pour. In my half-pint glass (which wasn’t big enough for the full 33cl), this fridge-cold St. George Beer is clear, carbonated and yellow. A thin, patchy layer of which foam sits atop the liquid.

What does St. George Beer smell like? A variation on the same malted barley formula that all Pilsner style lagers smell off. This one however, does seem to have a richness and intensity to the smell that is uncommon.

For the taste, because it’s a lager, I’m looking for a clean, crisp and refreshing character. A distinctive hoppy finish is an optional bonus. So, what does St. George Beer taste like? The first gulp went down without problem. So did the second. First impressions are that it’s going to be a solid, normal lager.

Being a lager, there’s nothing on the flavour side of the equation, but there is on the taste and aftertaste finish. With St. George Beer, the transition is smooth, but prompt and definite. You know you’ve reached the aftertaste by the malted barley taste. A taste that starts mild, but keeps on building, somehow becoming more evident with each gulp.

What am I enjoying about St. George Beer? I like how it seems to be a perfectly acceptable, honest, well made lager. Why do I think it’s well made? Because, at least whilst cold, it is pretty clean, crisp and refreshing. And it wouldn’t be those things with good ingredients. It also scores points for being all the way from Ethopia.

What don’t I like about St. George Beer? It did make me burp a lot, but that could be down to the bottle riding in my back pack on the walk and bus ride home. The main grips is that taste. It’s not quite a love it or hate it lager, but it’s nearly there. That rather intense malted barley taste won’t be for everybody. A few more touches like a hint of hoppiness would be nice too.  Still, St. George Beer is all the way from Ethopia.

How can I sum up St. George Beer? Ethopia has produced a lager and it’s perfectly fine! So it’s lacking in sophistication and you could lump it with other hot country lager beers. But come on.  It’s not from South-East Asia or South America. It’s from Ethopia in East Africa, on the doorsteps of one of the world trouble spots. It’s like Luxembourg starting a space program. I’m just impressed that it exists and that it’s perfectly drinkable.

Rating: 3

Have you tried St. George Beer? What did you think of it? Can you translate anything from the label?

Do please leave your comments, translations, recommendations and places to buy, here in the comments.

Beer Review: Pacifico Clara

14 September, 2010

YES, I do read your comments. That’s why, whilst browsing the shelves of the Bethnal Green Food Center, the name Pacifico rang a bell. That means I open this post with a thank you to the people who recommended Pacifico in the comments section of my reviews of Mexico’s lack-lustre big-name beers. For those of you, like me, who’d never heard of it before, here’s what it looks like. At least in its export version, Pacifico Clara form.

Pacifico Clara bottle

It’s a svelte, un-fussy, brown bottle. The big yellow label is equally straight forward.

Pacifico Clara front label

It’s yellow. So you can guess that it comes from a hot country. The only graphics are an illustration of a life ring with an anchor and what looks like a silhouette of land in the background. This compact square inch of nautical imagery leaves me baffled until I realise that Pacifico refers to the Pacific ocean.

That same poor grasp of Spanish comes in handy with the rest of the label. I’ve done enough of these labels now, to know that “Cerveza” means “beer”. That “Clara” means “clear”, hinting that there might be a dark version of this beer out there. And the slogan “La cerveza del pacific” means “The beer of the Pacific”. Unless, of course, I’m wrong, in which case, leave your correct translation in the comments section.

The vital statistics are clear enough for even me to read easily. This is a 35.5 cl, 355 ml bottle, and the alcoholic volume is an unremarkable 4.5%. Under all of this, it quickly becomes a dense block of multi-lingual small print and symbols. Because of the gold on yellow colours, this is nearly unreadable.

Fortunately, I can make out the main facts. First, it really is “Imported Beer from Mexico”. Not some domestic imitation of a Mexican beer (I can’t think of anything worse). Lastly it has 1.6 UK units of alcohol.

What;s on the back label? This is what’s on the back.

Pacifico Clara back of bottle

With that out of the way, we can get to the interesting part. Will Pacifico Clara be the best Mexican beer that I’ve tried? Let’s find out. For this test, I’ve cooled it to fridge temperature and I won’t be adding any lemon or lime. Because Pacifico Clara will almost certainly be a pilsner style lager beer, I’ll be looking for clean, crisp refreshment and ease of drinking.

Pacifico Clara poured into a glass

If you do what I did and try and pour it into a half-pint glass, the first thing you’ll notice is that 355ml won’t go. Seeing as most people will probably be swigging it from the bottle, that won’t be a problem.

In the glass, it looks like any other pilsner style lager: yellow and fizzy. This one does lack a head though with just the odd patch of white foam. Pacifico Clara doesn’t smell surprising either. The only odour I could detect was a variation of the same malted barley blend that all lagers have. Quite strong smelling too, I must say.

What does Pacifico Clara taste like? The first gulp was a, easy one. So was the second. No surprises and so far, everything much as you’d hope for from a lager from a hot country. If you’ve ever tried a pilsner style lager (you’re reading this blog, therefore you have), then you’ll know what to expect from the taste and flavour. That frees me up to focus on the minutiae that pleases the detail freaks so much.

There is no flavour. No surprise there. There’s almost no taste and aftertaste either. The transition from where the flavour would be to where the aftertaste is, is so gentle as to make you think you missed it. There’s a gentle, slight bitterness. That mild bitterness fades away to almost nothing. Then a barley-malt powered, mild bitterness pops up out of nowhere, leaving a surprisingly long finish. This is the most noticeable part of the entire gulp.

What am I enjoying about Pacifico Clara? Well it is clean, crisp and refreshing. It’s also very easy to drink. These are undeniable facts. It possesses all the qualities that a hot country lager is usually judged by. I like the straightforward honesty of the beer and the bottle. And I like the reports that it’s what the locals would probably choose.

What don’t I like about Pacifico Clara? The cleanness, crispness, refreshment and drinkability come at a price. And that price is watery-ness and lack of taste and character. If you want a thirst quenching, refreshing and drinkable beverage, tap water is an option you may want to consider instead. It would have the added benefit of being less gassy than Pacifico Clara.

To sum up, Pacifico Clara is different to the big-name Mexican beers by being a trade-off. It trades taste for drinkability. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t dislike it for that. On a hot day, no one would complain about a cold bottle of Pacifico Clara. In a rainy, autumnal London however, there’s something seriously lacking. All of which means that Pacifico Clara is pretty good and doing what it does. Even if few of us love it for that.

The closest competitor I can think of is Aguila from nearby Colombia. That too, opted for the watery drinkability compromise. And I’m sure you can think of others.

Is Pacifico Clara my favourite Mexican beer? On a hot day in Mexico, probably. At least until I try one that I can really love. When that happens, you’ll read about it here.

Rating: 3.3

Have you tried Pacifico Clara? What did you think? Leave your translations, opinions, recommendations and places to buy, here in the comments.

Beer Review: Ursus Premium

29 July, 2010

AFTER the disappointment of Timişoreana, can Romania redeem itself? Hopes are high for this promising looking green bottle of Ursus Premium. Again, bought for about £1.59 pence from the Romanian shop in Edgware, North London.

Ursus Premium bottle

It’s called Ursus Premium, but how premium is it? Well, it has neck-foil. The beer bottle equivalent of pleasing, melodic front door bell.

Ursus Premium neck foil

Down on the front label, and Ursus Premium sports a conventional roundel.

Ursus Premium front label

The bottom border say “King of Beer in Romania”. Whilst the top border has “Regele Berii In Romania”, which, I think, both mean exactly the same thing. In the middle, “Foundat 1878”, making a wild guess, could possibly mean “Founded 1978”.

Elsewhere, things are kept clear and uncluttered. In the bottom half, there are what look like medals. Squinting closely, it looks like they won the prestigious Monde Selection, international silver medal in 2005. I can tell you, having seen that sort of award on bottles before, that only the good ones get it. Expectations are rising then, for Ursus Premium.

The top half of the roundel has a picture of a bear, for some reason wearing a crown. Head-wear aside, two seconds of Googling reveals a Wikipedia page here, enlightening us that “Ursus” is Latin for “bear”. We can only speculate if either the “King of Beer in Romania” or the Ursus bear was crowned, only after a typo.

Over on the back-label, things are the way I like them. Impossible to understand. Translators, I need your help again. What does it all say?

Ursus Premium back label

There are however, a few things even I can pick out from the label. It’s pasteurised, not draught, for instance. The official Romanian website for Ursus is at www.regeleberii.ro. Which doesn’t work. So go to http://www.ursus.ro/ instead. It’s a 0.5L bottle, and the alcoholic volume is the usual 5%. Lastly, Ursus Breweries is part of the South-African beer monster, SAB Miller.

In short, there’s nowhere near enough understandable detail on the label to quench my curiosity. So I spent a couple of minutes doing research. By which I mean Googling to read what strangers had to say. A process which quickly led me to the Wikipedia page at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ursus_%28beer%29. Upon which we learn that Ursus comes from the city of Cluj, and that they do make beers I want to try but can’t. Ursus Black, dark lager and Stejar strong beer, for example.

Until those beers turn up in a London Romanian shop, it looks like the medal winning Ursus Premium will be the best we can get. Which returns to my original question… How good is Ursus Premium? What is it like and should you buy it? This is probably a Pilsner style lager, so I’ll be looking for clean, crisp, refreshing, hop tinged, easy to drink beer. So let’s crack it open and see if it is…

Ursus Premium poured

Fridge cold, my bottle of Ursus Premium was easy to pour. The white froth, filling my pint glass to the brim perfectly.

In the glass, the yellow, gold coloured liquid looks clear. And it would be, were it not for the massive carbonation. In the time it’s taken to get this far in the description, that full, white head of froth is already half what it started out as. Hopefully it won’t decay any further. I think it looks good. For a lager.

What does Ursus Premium smell of? Lager. Predictably, it has that familiar odour of blended malted barley, that most big-name lagers suffer from. Living up to its Premium billing, that smell is more delicate and ever-so-slightly more hoppily tinged than it’s cousin, Timişoreana.

Finally, you’ve reached the part of this review that you skipped the rest for. What does Ursus Premium taste like? The first couple of gulps were uneventful. So uneventful, it may be difficult to think up words to describe it. First impressions are that it’s lagery.

To elaborate, my fridge chilled Ursus Premium has a neutral, tasteless impression on the palate. But that’s ok. Most lagers don’t try and do anything there. Instead, it hinges on the all important aftertaste and finish. And Ursus Premium’s aftertaste rolls onto the tongue smoothly, but with increasing intensity. You can feel the carbonation, and you’re left with a long-lasting lagery bitterness.

Where Timişoreana was like being hit in the face with a brick made of taste. Ursus Premium is like that first big drop on a rollercoaster. It starts off slowly and smoothly, but a moment later everything’s intense, and you’re either loving it or wanting to stop.

What am I enjoying about Ursus Premium? A premium Pilsner style lager is usually supposed to be clean, crisp and refreshing. Bonus points if it’s also easy to drink and has some distinctiveness like hoppiness. Ursus Premium, to its credit is pretty clean, crisp, refreshing and easy to drink. At least while cold. Lager boys will like it’s lagery taste, an might even call it distinctive, compared to the big-name lagers. I’m just pleased to have found a drinkable Romanian lager. And that will earn you social points for originality, should you decide to bring it to a social gathering or family occasion.

What don’t I like about Ursus Premium? Not everyone is going to like that taste. I can’t imagine many girls enjoying that intense, bitter taste. That strange ‘taste curve’ it has probably won’t go well with curry, although leave a comment if you’ve tried it. It is one of the fizziest beers I’ve ever tried, so it will make you burp. And, if you’re not in Romania, it’s going to be imported, hard to find and very expensive. For the premium you’ll pay, there will be much better tasting ales to buy instead.

To sum up, Ursus Premium is a perfectly drinkable, strangely tasting lager that I’ve warmed to over the course of this review. Nearly at the bottom of the glass now, and I’ve gotten over that unusual bitterness rush. If you’re in Romania, I have no problem recommending it. If you’re anywhere else though, there are much better beers and ales for the price. And that makes it one mostly for the beer explorers and Romanian ex-pats.

Rating: 3.7

Have you tried Ursus Premium? What did you think of it? Can you translate anything from the labels? Got and recommendations of your own, or places to buy? Then leave a comment here.

Beer Review: Timişoreana

22 July, 2010

HAVE you tried Romainian beer? Neither have I. To remedy that, I brought back two interesting looking bottles from the Romanian shop in Edgware, North London. This is the first one, Timişoreana.

Timişoreana bottle

Breaking with Big Log tradition, I did some research first. And by research, I mean spending a couple of minutes Googling what strangers have to say. The net result is that the official Romanian language website is at http://www.serbariletimisoreana.ro/. And the best English language summary is on the Real Beer Blog; on which we learn that this is probably Romania’s oldest beer (or “bere” as they prefer to call it). And that it’s now owned and run by the makers of the Romanian beer that I’ll post about next. Everything else, we can glean from the bottle labels themselves. I hope.

Timişoreana neck label

The neck label has a picture of a frothy tankard and some writing. Correct me if I’m wrong, but “Anno 1718” means that’s the date the brewery dates from. Quite impressive for the region.

Down on the main front label, they’ve opted for a big roundel with an even bigger letter “T” in the middle.

Timişoreana front label

In the middle of it all are what look like medals. The one of the left looks like a prize from “1891”. The big middle one is a “Grand Prix” from 1908. And the one of the right is un-readably small.

I learnt somewhere that the Romanian language is much like the Latin world languages of Italian, French, Spanish and Portuguese. Let’s put that, and my limited knowledge of Latin Indo-European linguistics to the test by attempting to make sense of the words around the edges of the label. The bottom one, I think, means something like “Best” or “First” “Made Beer in Romania”. The top border might mean something about “Very” and “Traditional”. Translators, help me out. What does it all mean?

If the front label left me struggling, I might as well give up on the back one.

Timişoreana back label

Translators, I need your help again.

Ignoring the writing, there are things even I can understand. The 5% alcoholic volume for instance. The web address of www.serbariletimisoreana.ro and telephone number. The best before date. That this is a 0.5 litre bottle. And that it’s owned by Ursus Breweries and brew-zilla, SAB Miller.

Digging a little deeper into the Romanian language, I spot the words “Bere Blondă Pasteurisată”. So, it’s pasteurised, not draught. Fine, but “Blondă”? Is this going to impress me by being a blonde ale and not a Pilsner style lager?

Next comes the address of the brewery. Timişoara must inspiration behind the name Timişoreana. Then comes the list of ingredients, and I’m all out of linguistic talent again.

So, big thank you to the translators out there who’ve done most of the describing for me, this time around. Now it’s on to the fun bit. What does Timişoreana taste like?

Timişoreana poured into a glass

I take a chance on it being a lager, and wait until it’s fridge-cold until opening. Pouring is a doddle. That big frothy head is as controllable as any, so no counter tops to wipe down afterwards.

In the glass, it’s a very fizzy looking yellow, gold colour. The head is snow white. On the nose, you get a big whiff of that malted-barley formula that most big-name Pilsner style lagers deliver. Quite grainy and ever so slightly hoppy. I’d describe it as lagery.

What does Timişoreana taste like? The first gulp was easy enough. So I promptly took another swig. Then the aftertaste hit me. First impressions are that Timişoreana is going to be a lager as subtle as Mel Gibson.

On the flavour and taste side of the equation, you get a reasonable sourness and initial bitterness. This you can skip by gulping it down, if that’s your style. On the feel and aftertaste side of the equation, you get hit by just a block of lagery, malted barley bitterness. No quirks or flourishes. Just a block of simple, lagery bitterness. So brute force is it, that it’s a long lasting finish. No hoppiness as far as I can tell. Just that another twist on that familiar malted barley formula.

What am I enjoying about Timişoreana? Cold from the fridge, it’s easy enough to drink. It’s an honest, simple, down to earth lager. That taste is distinctive. And if you judge your beers by quantity, Timişoreana could easily be your friend over the course of a football match or night out.

What don’t I like about Timişoreana? It’s not the most sophisticated lager I’ve tried. That taste is as enjoyable as meningitis, and only gets worse as it reaches room temperature. A good lager is clean, crisp and refreshing. Even while cold, it is barely refreshing. After a couple of bottles, your mouth would quickly feel like a muddy puddle. It’s a little on the gassy side, too.

How can I sum up Timişoreana? If you’re in Romania, where, hopefully, it’s much cheaper than it is here in Britain, and you want a sub-standard lager, this is the one for you. If you have no choice and you prefer quantity over quality, Timişoreana is adequate. For the premium you pay in this country, and even in the depths of Romania, it’s hard to think of a reason to choose Timişoreana over something better. If you can think of a good reason to buy Timişoreana, leave a comment. Otherwise, treat yourself to something less ghastly.

Rating: 2.1

Have you tried Timişoreana? What did you think of it? Can you translate the labels? Then leave a comment here!

Beer Review: Taj Mahal Premium Lager Beer

26 April, 2010

A NEW beer turned up in the Brick Lane off-license a few months ago. Taking the spotlight from, but not replacing the colourful, mock-Bengali curry beer, Bangla Premium Beer, is another beer designed to compliment your curry. Costing a national deficit creating £2.95 pence, here is a bottle Taj Mahal Premium Lager Beer.

Taj Mahal Premium Lager Beer bottle

Nowhere near as bright as Bangla, there’s no mistaking the India and curry connection. It might say “Premium” on the label, but it looks economy. Even so, we know better than to judge a beer by its bottle.

Taj Mahal Premium Lager Beer neck label

The neck-label hints at why it really is “Premium”. “Slow brewed in India” is why I hope it’s going to be worth your time.

Taj Mahal Premium Lager Beer front label

It’s called “Taj Mahal” and has a photo of said Indian landmark to prove it. To hammer home the point of this beer, the label background seems to be taken from the wallpaper from a curry-house.

Cosmetics aside, it does say everything you need it to say. It has the word “lager”, so you’ll know where to align your expectations. It’s a big 650ML bottle and the alcoholic volume is 4.5%. Normally I’d be moaning about it not being very high, but this is a curry beer. Trust me, the last thing you want to cool your mouth down with is Robinson’s Old Tom Strong Ale.

Then there’s the few more hints about why I’m hoping that Taj Mahal is going to turn out well. “Slow brewed in India from the finest malt & hops”. First, it’s brewed in India. Not a deceptive pretend-foreign beer like so many others. Second, fine ingredients are always good. There are still a lot of questions though. Let’s see what the back label has to say…

Taj Mahal Premium Lager Beer back label

Quite a lot, apparently. All of which I’d class as small-print. I know you love details so, (takes a deep breath), here goes…

Ingredients are “barley malt, adjuncts, hops for bitterness”. Some hoppiness is good for a lager. But what the heck are “adjuncts”? Leave a comment if you know.

It’s “best served chilled” and you need to “consume within day of opening”. Whether that means it’ll still be good to top-up your hangover with your Pot Noodle breakfast the next morning is unclear.

It is, I’m utterly delighted to report, “Produce of India for export”. It was even “Brewed under license from United Breweries Limited, Bangalore, India by Blossom Industries Ltd., Village Jani Vankad Nani Daman 396 210”.

Also on there are the details of the imported and exporter. The Hertfordshire based importer is SOP International Ltd, with a website at www.sopinternational.com and a homepage at http://www.sopinternational.com/d-chi467-taj-mahal-taj-mahal-premium-lager-beer/. The Indian exporter is UB Global with a website at www.ub-global.com and an interesting beer page at http://www.ub-global.com/beer.html.

And that’s all the small-print. So, what does Taj Mahal Premium Lager Beer taste like? How does it compare to the other curry beers? Not just the against specialists like Bangla, Cobra and Kingfisher, but the ones that get it spot-on by accident, like Grolsch and Holsten Pils. It’s time to find out.

Taj Mahal Premium Lager Beer poured into a glass

This fridge cold bottle poured so easily, not even I made it glug. Much. For those of you, like me, who don’t do Euro measuring, 650 millilitres (the size of this bottle) is more than a Pint glass can hold. As I discovered.

What does Taj Mahal look like? In the glass, it’s predictably Pilsner lager yellow. Very carbonated, yet it only manages a thin, patchy layer of foam. It really is very fizzy. So much so, the fizzing is audible.

What does Taj Mahal smell like? If you’ve ever sniffed a Pilsner lager before, you’ll have a good idea. It has that familiar whiff of malted barley. At this stage, I was hoping to smell at least a some hoppiness. But alas, I can detect none.

What does Taj Mahal taste like? The first two gulps are easy ones. Being a lager, especially one for your curry, you might not expect it to have flavour. And… it doesn’t.

A good curry beer needs to be refreshing, clean and crisp, ideally with a mild, bitterness. And a few gulps in, that seems to be what Taj Mahal is. While it’s cold, it feels refreshing, clean and crisp. But does it have the bitter, hoppy finish? It is slow brewed and even mentions “hops for bitterness” on the label. Apparently, they didn’t add all that many hops. You just can’t taste them. You do get one of the gentlest, mildest bitter finishes of any lager, ever. Will that be enough to soothe your mouth from chilli agony? Only partly, I suspect.

What am I liking about Taj Mahal Premium Lager Beer? While it’s cold, it is supremely easy to drink. Even not beer drinkers will be fine. It is very accessible to the curry munching masses that frequent Brick Lane every evening. If you like your lagers to be clean, crisp and refreshing, Taj Mahal fits the bill nicely. Rather surprisingly, it’s not gassy. And it’s one of the few that comes in bigger-than-a-pint 650ml bottles.

What am I disliking about Taj Mahal? That drinkability and refreshment comes at the expense of watery-ness. It is very light and watery. Normally I like that in a lager. But for something that’s “slow brewed” and so bloody expensive, you expect more than fizzy water. And that leads onto the next issue. The price. I wouldn’t mind so much if it was exclusive ale brewed with myrrh. But it’s a curry beer, to be drunk in vast quantities because your mouth is on fire. With so little in the flavour and taste department, it’s also lacking anything to differentiate it, or to add any charm. And, as it gradually reaches room temperature, which it inevitably will, it loses some of the crisp, refreshing-ness.

How can I sum up Taj Mahal Premium Lager Beer? I would like to try it with a curry because it would probably do rather well. At least while it’s cold, it is crisp and refreshing enough to extinguish the inferno raging in your mouth during a curry.

Compared to my other curry favourites, it’s no failure. But neither does it win. It’s just lacking something in the taste department that the others have. Something hoppy. If you’re having a night out, need a beer for your curry and have the money to spend, Taj Mahal is perfectly fine.

Normally, I like simple, cheap, watery lagers. They’re honest and drinkable, so I rate them highly. Taj Mahal Premium Lager Beer though is slow brewed and expensive. Sure, Taj Mahal is fine, but cheap lagers a third of the price are at least as good. For that, I’m rating it low.

Rating: 2.3

Have you tried Taj Mahal Premium Lager Beer? What did you think of it?

Leave your comments and recommendations down here.

Beer Review: Starij Melnik Gold

1 April, 2010

BAD news for fans of high-brow British and European ale. I’ve got my hands on another obscure Russian lager. Still, that’s good news for fans of unusual East-European beers. It’s also a chance to re-try something I haven’t had since my gap-year travels when it looked like this…

Old Starij Melnik bottle in Siberia, Russia

From local East-European wonderland, Russkij Bazar, here is a bottle of what I think is called Starij Melnik Gold. Self-evidently priced at £1.65 pence.

Starij Melnik Gold bottle

First impressions are of how different it looks to the one I had in Siberia. If you know the difference between the Gold I have here and the other one I tried, do please leave a message in the comments section at the end of this post.

Second impressions are that they’ve put effort into it. Have a look at these grips. Should your bottle be wet, or your drunkenness highly advanced, it won’t slip from your grasp as easily.

Starij Melnik Gold bottle grips

The side-effect is that the back label small-print has been squished into a crowded neck-label.

Starij Melnik Gold  left neck labelStarij Melnik Gold middle neck labelStarij Melnik Gold right neck label

After pouring over it with an electron microscope, I’ve been able to glean some facts. The ingredients are “water, barley malt, glucose syrup with malt sugar (wheat, maize), hops” and it is “pasturized”. It has an alcoholic volume of 5.2%. And, unhelpfully, it has the web-address of www.monolith-gruppe.eu. Unhelpful because it’s no longer obvious where Starij Melnik Gold comes from. The Italian language section mentions a Moscow based Efes Moscow Brewery, but the word “imported” is proving elusive. Leave a comment if you can shed some light on this mystery.

Starij Melnik Gold front label

Translators, do you thing in the comments section! As labels go, this one is basic. The imitation stamp in the corner says something about tradition. And I’m not entirely sure that the name translation on the label is correct. On the neck label, it translates the name as Starij Melnik Gold. But the first word, I’m nearly fairly sure, it more like “Smarij”, not “Starij”. Translators, what is going on here?

And because that’s all I can translate, it’s the end the boring description bit. What does Starij Melnik Gold taste like? How does it compare to other lagery beers and should you bother buying it? Let’s twist open the bottle top and write some opinionated hyperbole.

In a pint glass, this fridge cooled bottle of Starij Melnik Gold looks much like any other lager. The long neck of the bottle makes it almost impossible to pour without glugging, so you end up with a head that somehow completely fills but doesn’t overflow a pint glass. Now that’s foresight.

The liquid itself is yellow and fizzy. The head is white. Even a few minutes after pouring, it’s still topped by a thick layer of foam. Not bad at all.

Have you ever sniffed a cold glass of any mainstream lager? Then you’ll know what to expect from the smell. An unremarkable blend of malted barley.

What does Starij Melnik Gold taste like? Two easy gulps in prove it to be a perfectly acceptable pilsner style lager. First impressions are that it’s going to be unremarkable, but hard to fault.

At least at fridge temperature, there’s no flavour and virtually no taste whatsoever. Taking a few more gulps to investigate, reveals only the most delicate of lagery tastes. In a very smooth introduction, your tongue will barely notice the savoury, bittersweet finish. I’m struggling to taste anything at all here.

What am I enjoying about Starij Melnik Gold? It is ridiculously easy to drink. There is nothing to deter even the most timid drinker. It’s very clean and refreshing. That means it would probably go well with a hot curry. Just make sure your Starij Melnik Gold is well chilled.

What aren’t I enjoying about Starij Melnik Gold? In the taste department, it’s in the same league as Tesco Value Lager. Even most mainstream lagers manage a hint of hoppiness or a taste of malted barley. This has almost no identifiable taste. The lightness and drinkability come at the cost of making it watery. The quibbles are that the labels aren’t at all clear, it’s expensive and a little gassy.

How can I sum up Starij Melnik Gold? If you want a bottle of water but only have this, then don’t worry. Starij Melnik Gold will do fine. It’ll also go down well with spicy food. If you actually want to taste something however, then buy almost anything else.

Rating: 2.7

Have you tried Starij Melnik Gold? What did you think? Can you translate anything or resolve the mystery surrounding this bottle? Then leave a comment below. Every one of which I read and will bear in mind next time I buy a bottle of Russian beer.

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: Švyturys Švyturio

15 December, 2009

GOOD news! I’ve ‘discovered’ a new East European shop in London’s East-End. Called Russkiye or Russkija or something similar (I’ll have to check), they are on Bethnal Green’s Cambridge Heath Road. Expect some fun oddities to appear on these pages over the next few months.

As a start, I picked up a £1.45 pence bottle of Švyturys Švyturio. Why did I choose this, when the same Lithuanian brewers’ Ekstra and Ekstra Draught were so unmemorable? Curiosity. And I like the people from the Baltic states. So it would be useful if I could find something from there that I like, besides Estonia’s excellent Viru.

So here it is. A bottle of Švyturys Švyturio. It’s a brown bottle.

Is there anything worth mentioning on the neck-label?

No. It has the familiar (to anyone who has had a Švyturys before) crest, and the rather impressive date of 1784. The big, sort-of-roundel front-label is the real place to case your eyes.

The middle has the big “Švyturys” name and crest logo. Under it, the words “Alus” and “Beer” provide us with a useful translation for that all important word, should one ever be thirsty in Lithuania. There’s a picture of the barley and hops. And, under the Švyturio name, are words which must surely translate into the vital statistics. This must mean that this is your regular 0.5L bottle, and the beer is your Continental standard of 5.0% alcoholic volume.

There’s a red border. Which is important because in Lithuania, they know this beer simply as “Red”. The last little detail you notice is the very welcome “Lietuva”. Welcome because it must be the Lithuanian for ‘Lithuania’. And that’s good, because it means that it wasn’t produced here before being dressed up to look imported, like some big name brands.

So the front-label didn’t say much about what it will taste like. Will the back-label have much to say?

No. There’s almost nothing worth reading on this side of the bottle. We discover that it’s been “pasteurized”. There’s what looks like some sort of description in Lithuanian. In English, there’s the very briefest of ingredients lists. There’s what looks like the name and address of the brewer. A Švyturys-Utenos alus, from a city called Utena.

There’s an incomprehensible formulae to contend with. “Storage Conditions: +2 ÷ +20 °C” is the first time I’ve seen an equation on a beer bottle. Finally, there’s a web address of www.svyturys.lt. To save you time, the English language homepage for Švyturio is at http://www.svyturys.lt/en/main/info/production/svyturio. According to which, Švyturio will have a taste somewhere in between that of the rich Ekstra and of light and watery Gintarinis; which I haven’t yet tried.

What am I hoping for with Švyturys Švyturio. Not much. I’m keeping those expectations low, in the hope of being impressed. It is, I presume, Pilsner style lager beer, so the hopes are for some taste of hoppiness and a light, refreshing and drinkable beer that isn’t watery. Will it manage that? There’s only one way to find out.

In my pint glass, my fridge cooled Švyturys Švyturio looks much like any other lager. Carbonated and pale yellow, with a thin white head.

What does Švyturys Švyturio smell of? Not a lot. You’d be hard-pressed to notice the slight whiff of hops.

What does Švyturys Švyturio taste like? The first couple of gulps are easy enough. The website described it as having a “rich taste and bitter freshness of hops”. That seems as good a description as any. I think I can reduce it even more. It’s a lager, and one of the most lagery lagers I’ve tried.

With no flavour, it’s all in the taste. This one has a mild take on the familiar malted barley theme. Where it really delivers is in that familiar lagery “bite”, so beloved of lager heads. And it’s a bitterness that lasts, long after the gulp.

What am I like about Švyturys Švyturio? I admire its straightforward lagery-ness. Instead of taking the full-taste or light route of its cousins, it is instead hitting the lager mainstream right in the face. It is light and crisp. It tastes like they used good quality ingredients. All of which make it fairly drinkable.

What aren’t I enjoying about Švyturys Švyturio? The same thing I admire it for. That most lagery of lagery-ness. Just personal taste mind. Bear that in mind before you fire off an angry comment. I’ve never liked that lagery “bite” that this, and others have. Compared to the great lagers, it doesn’t have the hoppy character. And that “bite” makes it less drinkable, and less refreshing than other lagers.

I’m not a fan of Švyturys Švyturio. But I’m sure a lot of you lager heads will love it. As a lager, it’s good. But I’ll have to keep looking for that favourite Lithuanian beer.

Rating: 3

Have you tried Švyturys Švyturio? What did you think of it? Leave your translations, corrections, opinions, recommendations and places to buy, here, in the comments.

Beer Review: Cusqueña Premium Beer

26 November, 2009

SOUTH AMERICANS are interesting and passionate folk. They make beer, too. But for some reason, the ones I’ve tried so far aren’t good. Or memorable. Brahma Premium Lager, Aguila, even Club Colombia Extra Fine and Corona Extra aren’t bad, just unmemorable. Excellent on holiday to South America, but just don’t work here in cold, rainy, London. That said, I’m an optimist, so maybe this offering from Peru will fare better. From the Bethnal Green Food Center, I’ve finally gotten around to this bottle of Cusqueña Premium Beer.

From a distance, it looks like your typical brown beer bottle. But look closer at the middle. All around the middle is a textured Inca style pattern. It looks good, and it feels good to hold. I don’t know where they got the idea from to do this, but I like it. Why don’t all bottles have unusual surfaces. An added benefit would be that you could tell one beer bottle from another just by touch. Useful in poorly lit nightclubs.

The label is a beg neck-label. The front of which gets my hopes up that this might be the best South American beer yet.

In the background, which doesn’t show up in photographs, there’s a stylised picture of what must be the Andes, with some settlements. Starting from the top, there’s some tiny writing saying that this was brewed by the convolutedly named Union De Cervecerias Peruanas Backus Y Johnston S.A.A. from Lima, Peru.

Under that is a very helpful pronunciation. Apparently it’s not “Cu-kwen-iya” like I thought, but “Cus-Ken-Ya”. Whatever it’s called, it’s “The Gold Of The Incas”. Presumably the only bit that the Conquistadores didn’t take. Incidentally, why can’t we get similar pronunciation help  on Polish beers?

Next, I’ve read enough beer bottle labels to know that “Cerveza Premium” means “Premium Beer”. But, if you know your Spanish and want to correct me, or translate anything, please do so in the comments at the end of the post.

Under the logo is more good news. This is “Imported Beer”. Not a local knock-off. Always a good sign. It’s a “100% Malt Lager”. Something I’m not sure what to read into. And the vital statistics are plain for all to see. This is your worldwide standard 33cl bottle containing a 5% volume beer. You couldn’t make it any more middle of the road.

There isn’t a back label. Rather there’s some small-print either side of the join. And it looks like this. Well not exactly like that. Without a camera, it’s actually quite readable.

On one side is the ‘story’. And strangely for a lager that isn’t European, it makes my mouth water. Admittedly, it’s mostly marketing mumbo-jumbo, but the imagery works for me. The main facts are that Cusqueña goes back to 1911. From the “the foothills of Macchu Picchu, it’s supposed to be “crisp, pure & totally refreshing”. Then they really pique my interest with this: “It is truly the finest premium lager from Latin America”. We’ll see about that.

The ingredients list is on there. No surprises. As is the UK distributor’s details. This came via Chilli Marketing Promotions Limited. They have a telephone number and a website at www.cusquena.co.uk.

A quick look at the website reveals why I’ve seen Cusqueña being promoted where I live, so often. The Vibe Bar on Brick Lane, for example. They’re aiming it squarely at trendy Hox-ditch people. Like me. On the front page, there are a handful of promotional pieces, and literally one is for a place in Shoreditch and the other is for a place in Hoxton.

The rest of the label truly is small-print. This bottle has 1.65 UK units of alcohol. If you bother to keep count of such things.

So, what does Cusqueña Premium Beer taste like? Will it be my new favourite South American beer? Does it deserve a place in the clutched hands of those of us who call Shoreditch our home and playground? There’s only one way to find out. To stop being pretentious and to get to the fun part.

In the glass, my room temperature Cusqueña frothed up nicely. And collapsed almost as quickly. If you’ve ever drank a big-name Pilsner style lager before, you’ll know what it looks like. White head, and yellow, gold liquid.

Will Cusqueña hold any odorous surprises instead? A quick sniff reveals not. It smells exactly like every other unremarkable lager. That is to say, it smells of the familiar blend of malted barley.

So it looks and smells ordinary enough. But what does Cusqueña taste of? A quick swig proves that it tastes much like others as well. But a couple more gulps and it does redeem itself from mediocrity. Okay, I should probably have it chilled, instead of room temperature. Even so, I can tell that it would be clean and crisp if it was colder. As for refreshment, I think it needs to be cold for it to be that. But that’s ok. It’s not bad in those departments, even at the wrong temperature.

It’s a lager. That means it has no flavour. That’s okay too.  Especially with Cusqueña’s aftertaste. A little like Colombia’s Aguila, it is very smooth and drinkable. But unlike Aguila, it’s not too watery. What you get instead is a gently taste of malted barley and a soft and inoffensive bitter finish. At least at room temperature, it has a richer-and-smoother-than-expected malted barley taste. There’s something almost warming about it. I’m not sure what would happen to that when it’s cold.

What am I enjoying about Cusqueña Premium Beer? I like that taste. Usually, your beer would be a darker hue, with a different smell to manage it. So it was a pleasant surprise. Trying a chilled bottle is now on my to-do list. I want to see just how clean, crisp and refreshing it is. My guess is that it would do well. And that’s important, because that’s what a good lager should achieve. I like how smooth and easy to drink it is. Both of which hint at how well made it is and how good the ingredients are. And I like the bottle with the funny, textured middle.

What am I not enjoying about Cusqueña? The last beer I tried was a strong ale. So I’m missing the flavour and quirkiness. Although that’s a bit like comparing an I-MAX cinema to a hot dog. They’re not even attempting to achieve the same things. Comparing it to other lagers then, and Samuel Adams Boston Lager and Pilsner Urquell come out on top. It’s doesn’t have the same class, heritage or distinctive taste.  It’s expensive and not that easy to find, too.

To sum up, Cusqueña Premium Beer is above average, easy to drink and my new favourite South American beer. Possibly even my new favourite Latin World beer. Compared to what most trendy galleries and bars around Shoreditch serve, this competes well.  Good, solid and drinkable if indistinctive.

Rating: 3.75

Have you tried Cusqueña Premium Beer? What did you think of it?
Leave your opinions, recommendations and places to buy, here in the comments.

Beer Review: Samuel Adams Boston Lager

12 November, 2009

AMERICANS are brilliant. They leave some of the best comments on this blog. And they keep mentioning a beer that they like called ‘Samuel Adams’. At long last, that beer has started turning up in British shops. It’s great that they finally sorted out distribution in this country. But it leaves me with a problem. If I ‘review’ it and like it, my Sam Adams loving friends will be delighted. If I try it and hate it, then my polite and informative American readers will be somewhat irked. Still, it’ll be fun to see what happens. So, for an expensive £1.19 pence, on a very fine line, here is a bottle of Samuel Adams Boston Lager.

Samuel Adams Boston Lager bottle

As bottle’s go, it’s brown and fairly plain. For some reason, the stuff you normally read on the back-label is up on the neck label where you wouldn’t normally think to look for it.

Samuel Adams Boston Lager front of neck label

For added quirkiness, they split paragraph with the first half on the left and second half on the right of the “Samuel Adams” logo. But quirkiness is good. I like that.

Samuel Adams Boston Lager left of neck label

It’s good to read the sort of description that you normally find on an ale. About the care, attention to detail and recipe that goes back generations.

Samuel Adams Boston Lager right of neck label

Rotating it around to read the rest, and it keeps getting better. We get the names of hops. And interesting, those aren’t names I remember reading on anything I’ve tried so far. So extra marks for distinctive ingredients.

Then they take the risk. “No other American lager matches this rich robust and complex taste”, finishing with a pretend signature from Jim Koch. The cynic in me says that that means it’s only average because of the dire state of American brewing. The optimist says that there’s plenty I’ve not tried yet, and that Samuel Adams Boston Lager must be something special. Either way. It’s a brave statement.

Down on the front-label, and there’s a big, traditional looking roundel.

Samuel Adams Boston Lager front label

…a label that gives me déjà vu. I’ve seen it before somewhere…

Family Guy Pawucket Patriot Ale

I think it looks good. And so does the Samuel Adams one.

“The Boston Beer Company”, “Product of USA” and “America’s World-Class Beer” all add to the sense that this should be good, and not mass-produced fizz.

Oddly, the small print is tucked into two flappy bits either ride of the roundel. One the left is the address of The Boston Beer Company in Boston, Massachusetts. On the other side is some recycling information for other countries and the all important vital statistics. This is an unusual 355ml bottle. Until you realise that it was designed with fluid ounces in mind, which case one of the numerous online converters brings it to 12 oz. Does that sound normal to you? The alcoholic volume is 4.8% which is unremarkable for a lager. Neither strong nor weak.

Is there a back label? Yes there is. Is it worth reading? Not really.

Samuel Adams Boston Lager back label

It is literally a list of importers. Here in Britain, the rather excellent Shepherd Neame of Kent arranged this bottle’s arrival on the shop shelves.

So, what does Samuel Adams Boston Lager taste like? Will I like it as much as our friends over the pond do? For the sake of the comments at the end of this post, I sure hope so.

Samuel Adams Boston Lager poured into a glass

The fun and quirky touches keep coming. On the underside of the bottle-top, yes, the side that’s inside the bottle, is a proudly displayed “#25 Brussels Gold 2000 International Award Winner”. Well done chaps.

In the glass, it froths up, but the head collapses fairly sharpish into a lumpy layer. Must say, I was surprised at how dark it is. It’s a kind of copper-y amber colour with an almost cream head. It looks well carbonated, but not too fizzy.

What does Samuel Adams Boston Lager smell of? First reaction was “it smells good for a lager”. Almost every pilsner style lager beer I’ve sniffed has some variation on the malted barley formula. Very few stretch that into something distinctive, but Samuel Adams Boston Lager seems to have managed it. Unbelievable, I think it smells of hoppy spiciness and biscuit malt. Normally, you’d only read those words in a review of English ale.

What does Samuel Adams Boston Lager taste like? The first sip is a good one. A very good one in fact. Much like the smell, it’s almost like drinking ale. Some people won’t like that, but I do.

To elaborate a bit, because it is an ale, it still can’t manage much in the flavour department. All I can pick up there is a hint of savoury malty. It’s the aftertaste where Samuel Adams Boston Lager comes to life and where it makes a bold stride away from the crowd. The finish is tingly, tangy, salty, hoppy and spicy and a little bit malty. All this makes it bitter overall, but balanced and with a long and quite smooth finish.

With most of the bottle now gone, what am I enjoying about Samuel Adams Boston Lager? Thankfully, quite a lot. I love how different it is to almost every lager I’ve tried. That scores it serious points for distinctiveness. I love how it’s a lager trying to be an ale. I like the hoppy taste that you normally have to buy an expensive bottle of ale for. I like how it looks and smells different. I like how not many people this side of the pond know about it yet. And I like what a funny size it is, sitting uncomfortably between smaller and bigger Euro bottles on the shop shelf.

What aren’t I like about Samuel Adams Boston Lager? Fortunately for the comments section of the post, not that much. First, I’m burping more than usual, so it’s a gassy drink. It is quite bitter and strong tasting, so I won’t be getting any girls to try it any time soon. Incidentally, if you are a girl who likes Samuel Adams Boston Lager, leave your thoughts in the comments. It’s also unlikely to appeal to the committed lager drinker, unless you’re using this as a stepping stone to real ale. That puts it in an awkward spot between what you think of as lagers and ales. It’s not as crisp and refreshing as other good lagers and not as complex and flavourful as ale. It’s also rather expensive.

How can I sum up Samuel Adams Boston Lager? It is that rare thing. A lager that truly is different. One of those few that thinks it’s an ale. It is better than any of the mass-produced American lagers I’ve tried by miles. I’m going to buy it again.

Rating: 4.15

Have you tried Samuel Adams Boston Lager what did you think of it? Can you correct any of the mistakes that you’ve spotted in my ‘review’? Do please leave your opinions, recommendations and places to buy, here in the comments section.

Beer Review: Tsingtao Beer

20 August, 2009

BETTER late than never, here is my review of Tsingtao Beer. This one is from a convenience store in Shoreditch’s Kingsland Road in London. No, I don’t know why it’s taken me so long to get around to it either. It marks a full-circle for me. When I was gap-year travelling in China during ’06, this stuff weaned me off vodka screwdrivers. In fact, it kick-started my curiosity in beer that led to this very blog. And I haven’t tried Tsingtao Beer since leaving the Middle-Kingdom. So what will I make of it now?

Tsingtao Beer bottle

It looks a lot like other lagers on the shop shelves. Keep your wits about you, or you’ll accidentally pick up a bottle of something run-of-the-mill from the Continent.

Tsingtao Beer neck and shoulder of bottle

Looks a little closer and you’ll spot the name “Tsingtao” embossed on the shoulder. You’ll also see those attractive yet baffling (for Westerners) Chinese characters. Translators, do please leave your translations of these and anything from the labels in the comments at the end of this post. Another thing you might notice is just how transparent it is. Either the glass or the drink within is very clear indeed.

Down on the front-label, and we’re treated to a traditional, yet crowded roundel.

Tsingtao Beer front label

Starting on the outer border and working inwards (you have to start somewhere), the first detail you notice is “Since 1903”. Compared to European beers, that’s nothing. But Asian beers, that’s impressive.

Then there are some very welcome details. This is the genuine article; not a licensed rip-off. It was brewed and bottled by Tsingtao Brewery in Qingdao in China. Very nice Chinese sea-side town, is Qingdao. Go there if you get the chance. But you might be wandering why Tsingtao is spelled differently to Qingdao. Well it’s simple really. The city changed they way its name is spelled in the English alphabet. You say them both in much the same way.

The little logo featuring a pagoda is a good touch. Qingdao has more than it’s fair share if I remember rightly. Just guessing, but I think the red border represents the flame emblem of the city. Can anyone confirm?

Then, for some reason, they cram the ‘story’ onto the front-label in tiny text. Regardless of that, squinting reveals that the classless Communist society has produced a classy beer. It tells of how since 1903, Tsingtao has been “internationally recognised as the finest beer in China” and how their fine ingredients have produced an “award winning beer”.

Under that, in writing so small you need an electron microscope to read it, are details about those awards. First of which it won shortly after birth in 1906, when it won the gold medal at the Munich Beer Expo. Then a gap until 1961-1987 when it was “winner of major American beer competitions”. Sure, it’s not the full picture, but it’s better than vague statements such as “award winning” that you find on some bottles.

Around on the back label, and the awards picture unfurls still further.

Tsingtao Beer back label

Right at the top are two medals not even mentions on the front-label. It seems to have won one of the prestigious Monde Selection awards in 1994. That’s one of the few names I recognise. Can anyone confirm what it won exactly? Whatever it is, I’m impressed.

Besides that, the back label is the usual bare-bones export version label. The ingredients are water, malt, rice and hops. And that’s interesting because of the rice. All the smooth lagers that I enjoy contain rice. It would explain why Tsingtao Beer in China persuaded me to give beer a second look.

4.7% alcoholic volume is middle-of-the-road and a bit shy of the continental standard 5%. In this small 330ml bottle, it weighs in at a light-weight 1.6 UK units of alcohol.

Down in the small-print are a final few nuggets of information. It was imported to the UK by Halewood International. And the UK Tsingtao Beer website is at www.tsingtao-beer.co.uk. To save you time, the most interesting page is at http://www.tsingtao-beer.co.uk/history.

What will I make of Tsingtao Beer after all this time, and after sampling hundreds of others beers from around the world? Will it remind me of backpacking and partying or of being lost and ill? And, the reason why you’re reading this, what will it taste like and should you buy it? Let’s find out.

Tsingtao Beer poured into a glass

Be careful while pouring, but only for about five seconds. After that, the frothy head completely vanishes. What you’re left with is a very fizzy, pale amber, Pilsner lagery looking drink.

Does Tsingtao Beer smell lagery too? Yes it does. It has that light malted barley blend familiar to anyone who’s drank a Pilsner style lager beer before. That said, this is different. You can smell something else. And I think that something else is the rice.

What does Tsingtao Beer taste like? On the first sip, my ever-so-slightly chilled bottle tastes like the sum of its parts. It tastes like a lager smoothed, softened and rounded by rice. Being a lager, there is no flavour to bother the taste buds. What you need to look at is the taste and aftertaste because that’s where Tsingtao Beer impresses.

What you taste is the usual lager blend of malt and hops, plus a hint of rice. Probably because of that rice, there’s no bitter aftertaste “bite” to scare you away. What you get instead is one of the smoothest and easiest to drink lagers around.

What do I like about Tsingtao Beer? I love how smooth and easy to drink it is. No wander I got through so many big bottles of the stuff while I was out there. I like how you can taste the rice more so with this than most other rice-based lagers. That gives it points for distinctiveness. I like that there’s nothing about the taste to offend even the most timid drinkers. And I think it’s produced to a good quality. Particularly for an East Asian beer.

What don’t I like about Tsingtao Beer? The drinkability comes at a price. That price is watery-ness. Sure, that means you can drink it like water, and, in a country where you can’t drink tap water, this is a good alternative. But, if you want something to get your teeth into, look elsewhere. The taste will stop feeling refreshing after a few bottles. And it’s on the gassy side.

How can I sum up Tsingtao Beer? It’s a very drinkable, rice tasting and smooth, if watery lager. Probably excellent with hot food or if you just want to cool down on a hot day. If you’re in China this is your enjoyable default choice. The closest tasting rival I can think of is Cobra Extra Smooth Premium Lager Beer, though you can probably name more. In a sentence, Tsingtao Beer is an Asian lager, but quite a good one.

Have you tried Tsingtao Beer? Can you translate anything from the bottle and labels? Got any extra facts, trivia and corrections? Do please leave your opinions, translations, comments, recommendations and places to buy, here.

Beer Review: Cobra King

4 August, 2009

THE LAST of this batch of three unusual bottles from ASDA is one I’ve wanted to get my hands on for a while. Dressed in different labels, Cobra King turned up in an off-license on Brick Lane last year for a whopping £8 a bottle. So I was thrilled to find this colossal 750ml bottle of Cobra King in ASDA for just £3. And what an imposing bottle it is.

Cobra King bottle

Why was I so keen to get a bottle? First, Cobra Extra Smooth Premium Lager, the lager in a pretty bottle that pretends to be Indian is not bad. For a lager. A fact I put down to it being made with rice. Then there’s the comment left by a reader on my post on that other big, if not biggest Indian beer, Kingfisher Premium Lager. He recommended a few very high alcoholic volume Indian beers. This wasn’t one of them, but it’s the closest I’ve found, this side of Mumbai. Then there’s the curiosity factor. Who else wants to know what the Indian take on the high-strength lager is like?

It has changed a bit since I first caught sight of it. My guess is that they’re changing over from the front label with some colour, to this one which is just sleek gold on black. Something that makes it one of the most premium looking beers that is still just a lager. It even has a cork with Cobra’s trademark elephants.

Careful not to spoil the exquisite look, the details you need to know are around the neck.

King Cobra front of neck labelKing Cobra back of neck label

The front says everything you need to know. At 8%, it’s around the strength of strong ales and strong Polish mocne lagers. Hopefully the “Extra Smooth”-ness and “Double Fermented” brewing will make it more like strong ale than a strong lager.

Getting those hopes up are prizes that Cobra King won at the prestigious Monde Selection. No, I don’t know much about Monde Selection in Brussels either, but I’ve seen their medals on bottles that turned out to contained excellent beer. What’s more, Cobra King won those awards recently. Hopes are getting higher for Cobra King. Something not tempered by the main front label.

King Cobra front label

This is as cool, stylish, simplified, premium and brash as they get. Out with the traditional roundel or shield. It doesn’t even have borders. Just the words “The ultimate expression of our quest for the perfect beer” and the Cobra King logo. Modest, aren’t they? It does look good though.

The necessities of labelling regulations prevent the back from being as pretty as the front. But you must admit, it is still more elegant than most others.

Cobra King back label

They even have a proper description and story on the back. Albeit a marketing-driven one. Nevertheless, there are some interesting and useful fact-letts buried in the marketing-speak.

We learn that it was made with barley malt, hops and, crucially, rice. Just like the smooth and refreshing regular Cobra Extra Smooth Premium Lager and many of the smoother, superior lagers of the world. At least in my opinion. The hops are from the Hallertau region of Bavaria. That gives it breeding, but it makes me wander. What would Indian hops be like?

We also learn that it is “fermented once, then bottled and fermented again to bring out the subtlety and immense character of its ingredients”. Wouldn’t that mean that there’s live, unfiltered yeast in the bottle? Holding the bottle up to the light, it looks perfectly clear. If you can shed some more light on this, do please leave a comment at the end of the post.

Then they describe the taste as “Superbly smooth and balanced”. Expectations are high for “the ultimate expression of our quest for the perfect beer”.

Under that is the small-print. The first chunk of small-print is bad news. This is a faux Asian beer. It was brewed and bottled here in London. The web address is www.cobrabeer.com. You can find the few details they have about King Cobra at http://www.cobrabeer.com/beers/index#king. The only other detail worth mentioning is how many UK units of alcohol it has. At a high 8% volume, and in a huge 750ml bottle, King Cobra weighs in at a massive 6 UK units of alcohol. That means that if you drink the whole bottle, you’re technically binge drinking. Women, you will be after just half.

So what does King Cobra actually taste like? Is it any good? Would you enjoy it? Will it be more super-strength lager than exquisite ale? I’m looking forward to finding out. Not least because it has a champagne style cork to pop. At the very least, opening it will be fun.

Cobra King poured with insane head

That was exciting. Not only for the tension surrounding the velocity of the cork’s exit from the bottle (it was quite tame), but for the pouring. Even with careful pouring, I got an insane head that nearly overwhelmed my big glass. After a few minutes, it settled down to this.

Cobra King poured with less head

So my consumer advice to you is the pour as gently as you possibly can, or to use an enormous tankard.

Once in the glass, it doesn’t look too bad. For a lager. It’s uniform lager colour, being pale amber hue that it is. I can’t help being disappointed that it isn’t the darker colour of certain prestigious European lagers.

What does Cobra King smell of? The website uses words like “fresh”, “distinctive”, “tropical” and “citrus”. I’m not sure about that. I’ll give it “fresh” and describe it as lagery and good. It doesn’t smell like the strong lagers and manages to smell better than most regular strength ones. Which is a feat.

What does Cobra King taste of? The first couple of gulps are good ones. And ones that tell you that it’s not a good idea to try and down a pint in one go. You can taste that strength. Even if it is ten times more refined than a strong lager in a can.

The website describes it as having “malty flavours” that lead to “floral, tropical and citrus fruit notes”. A few gulps in and I’m not so sure. It’s tasting much like a regular, if well made lager to me. I’m getting a mild flavour of malted barley. Which, in the world of pilsner lager, is quite a lot of flavour. What is impressive is that the aftertaste finish is not a bitter “bite”. Possibly thanks to the rice, it’s smooth.

While trying to figure out the taste, it became time to top up the glass with more from the bottle. And this time pouring was somewhat less dramatic. In fact, the remainder of the bottle filled my big glass very well indeed, and topped it off with a splendid, frothy head that looked so good, yet another photo was in order.

Cobra King poured with normal head

So what does Cobra King actually taste of? All I’m getting is a blend of malted barley and hoppiness. Not any of the citrus or tropical qualities the official website talked about. But then not many lagers manage even that. If you’re used to ales, you might pooh-pooh the flavours and tastes of Cobra King. But if you normally have only lager, then this is going to impress you.

What do I like about Cobra King? I love that it manages to find a way of doing things in the formulaic world of lager. It’s smooth and has a distinctive flavour and taste. It’s nearly as strong as the ASBO lagers, yet doesn’t taste like toxic paraffin. Considering how strong it is, it’s surprisingly easy to drink. It’s smooth and not at all gassy. Then there’s the packaging. It must be one of the coolest looking bottles on the shelf. And, being hard to find, it has that exclusive quality.

What don’t I like about Cobra King? It’s as if they were aiming to make an ale, almost did, but missed and accidentally made a lager. It is a jolly good lager. But if they used this expertise to make a proper ale, it would be outstanding. Then there’s the taste. Because I’ve tried the super-strength lagers, I know how much better this does strong than they do. But a newcomer won’t appreciate that. They’ll just complain. And that makes it less than accessible to normal people and to girls.

How can I sum up Cobra King? It is a lager unlike any I have sampled. Nearly as smooth and easy to drink as regular lager, yet nearly as strong as super-strength lager. And it has some flavour and taste to it. No matter if you’re a lager lout or an ale connoisseur, Cobra King is interesting enough to justify your time and money. Especially if you can buy it for £3. Just make sure you have someone to share it with.

Rating: 3.9

Have you tried Cobra King? What did you think of it? Have I made a glaring error that you feel compelled to criticise me for? If so, then leave your opinions, corrections, criticisms, requests, recommendations and places to buy, here in the comments.

Beer Review: Pilsner Urquell

19 May, 2009

YOU are reading my most suicidal post to date. Regular readers will know that I’m not shy about giving uninformed opinions. This upsets some people. So much so, that they feel compelled to leave a multitude of obscenities in the comments section. Duvel Golden Ale and Budvar Czech Lager got so bad that the posts themselves escaped, never to be read and abused again.

With this in mind, diplomacy and tactful genius helped me get away with a Guinness post. Sadly, that Irish luck is about to run out. You see, every angry lager enthusiast, in their passionate critique of my intelligence and taste, would mention something called “Urquell”. So when I found this bottle of Pilsner Urquell at the ExCel exhibition centre in East London’s Docklands, I couldn’t resist the challenge. Would I love it as much as the angry mob? What would happen if I didn’t? I had to find out.

Pilsner Urquell bottle

So. What can I say about the way it looks? Bearing in mind the angry mob reading this, I’ll say it looks magnificent and noble. And that’s not much of an overstatement. The green bottle and classy labelling make it look better than most.

Pilsner Urquell neck label

The neck label, again, does exactly what you want it to do. It tells you a little bit about what’s inside the bottle, so you get an idea before you buy it if you’ll like it. The shield looks intriguing. No idea what all the characters and symbols mean, but no doubt an Urquell fanatic will answer that question in the comments at the end of this post.

The best things about what it says are where it came from and the date. 1842 is a reassuringly long time ago. The words “Imported” and “Brewed in Plzeň Czech” are, as ever, incredibly welcome. The world does not need more licensed beers pretending to be genuine. What’s more, even I can tell that Plzeň bares an eerie resemblance to “Pilsner”. As Pilsner style lagers go, this is genesis.

Pilsner Urquell front label

The front label is similarly elegant and concise. There’s an attractive red seal saying…  something. And it is proudly “The Original Pilsner”.

Pilsner Urquell back label

Over on the back label, and this imported version takes the mysterious approach of having tiny lettering on a big label. That aside, it has an excellently informative description of what the beer will be like.

They describe it as having “a uniquely rewarding taste, intensely hoppy, with a balance of subtle sweetness & velvety bitterness, wrapped in a gloriously crisp body”. Even for someone like me who is not that keen on lager, it sounds appetising.

Under that is the start of the small-print. The full name of the brewer, Plzeňeskŷ Prazdroj, a.s. is on there. The Surrey based Miller Brands imported address is on there. As are the brief list of ingredients which are water, barley, malt and hops.

Under that are the much easier to read vital statistics. This 330ml bottle has a 4.4% alcoholic volume. Which, isn’t that strong frankly. Presumably that has no bearing on the taste, because they label also says “Discover how beer is meant to taste at www.pilsnerurquell.com”.

If you haven’t been to their website, then do so. Positioning themselves as the Bang & Olufsen of beer, their website is all about perfection. Keen not to poke the angry mob reading this review, I studied the pouring instructions carefully.

With a chilled bottle, a rinsed glass and lots of tension, I went for the pour and produced this:

Pilsner Urquell poured into a glass

Okay, I didn’t get the second part of the pour right. I beg for forgiveness from the angry Urquell fans out there.

First impression? Like they mentioned on the website, and like some of the classier lagers, it doesn’t have that cheap, pale yellow hue. I’m going to describe it as copper coloured and delicious looking. It really is quite unlike the big name lager I detest so much.

How does it smell? Unusually for a lager, the smell was one of the first things I noticed about Pilsner Urquell. It is an order of magnitude more pungent than most lagers. Yet it manages not to smell synthetic and horrible. Impressive.

Sniffing closer reveals more unexpected odours. Virtually every lager I’ve smelt has had that familiar malted barley smell. This kind of has a rich and nice variation on that, but topped off with a smell of hops. Lots of lagers boast of hoppiness but fail to deliver, so I’ve stopped believing them. Pilsner Urquell honestly smells more like the mouth watering ales that I love so dearly.

This is the big one. What does it taste like and can it match the stratospheric expectations? The first sip is a very pleasant one indeed. Usually at this point, I say “it’s a lager so it has no flavour”. Not this time. The website describes it as honey, nutty and malty. I can’t disagree. It has a mild flavour of all those things.

Then the aftertaste comes into play. This is what Pilsner Urquell is all about. The gentle hoppy aftertaste dominates the taste. Not least because of how long it lingers. The most remarkable thing about it is that it’s bitter, but not too bitter. I’ll describe it as bittersweet.

What am I genuinely enjoying about Pilsner Urquell? A lot of things. I like how much better it is than nearly every other lager I’ve endured. It receives massive kudos from me for having something called flavour, which the brewers of most lagers have forgotten about. The experience is more like drinking an ale. Which is good if you enjoy ale type beers. There’s no horribly bitter “bite” to the aftertaste. The quality of the brew and ingredients are plain to see with no unpleasant artificial smell or taste to be found. Compare it to a Polish “Mocne” or UK super-strength lager for an entertaining contrast. All of which help make it clean, crisp and refreshing. All qualities a Pilsner style lager should aim for. And together, make Pilsner Urquell a tasty and easy beer to drink.

What don’t I like about Pilsner Urquell? It would be easier to submit to the furious mob and simply say “nothing”. But that would loose the integrity you came to this site for. So, here goes. As outstanding as it as, as one of the pinnacles of lager kind, it is a compromise. If you want intense and interesting flavour, have an ale type of beer. If you want a fizzy, easy to drink brew, then choose a regular lager. Pilsner Urquell sits in a throne, on a pedestal, on a fence.

If you’re still reading and haven’t wrathfully scrolled down to the comments to dispense your disgust, allow me to sum up. Pilsner Urquell, the genesis of Pilsner style lager and favourite of many an angry, and level-headed commentor, deserves its reputation. It is unique. It is the original. And it is an outstanding drink. But will I buy it again? If neither ale nor a regular lager is the right choice, Pilsner Urquell will be perfect.

Have you tried Pilsner Urquell? What did you think of it?

Do please leave your Czech translations, corrections, opinions, recommendations, requests and places to buy here in the comments.

If you take your beer so seriously that you insist on leaving angry comments on the blogs of people who disagree with you, then cheer up.

Beer Review: Obolon Soborne [OБoлoнь CоБорне]

20 April, 2009

REVOLTING Polish alcopop, Karmi, wasn’t the only bottle I picked up from Stoke Newington’s Kołos Supermarket recently. I couldn’t turn down the chance to try a couple more bottles of Ukrainian “Obolon” (OБoлoнь in Cyrillic) beer. The last one I tried was Obolon Premium imported by Gary Magan & Co.. I didn’t like it, but Gary Magan himself left a comment persuading me to try more. So here I am with a couple more bottles. The first of which is a bit of a puzzle.

Obolon Soborne bottle

It isn’t mentioned on Gary Magan’s page of imported Obolon beers at http://www.garymagan.co.uk/obolon/beer_obolon.htm. It’s not mentioned on Obolon’s official website of beer that they produce for export at http://www.obolon.com/en/production/beer/. It doesn’t even have an import sticker on it. Come to think about it, unlike Obolon Premium, there’s not a word of English on it. What’s the story behind this bottle and how did it get here? Leave a comment if you can shed some light on it.

Obolon Soborne neck label

With virtually no web search results to go on, even figuring out the name was a challenge. CоБорне, I think, transliterates to Soborne. If you know who or what a “Soborne” is, then you know where to leave your translations.

As for the rest of the neck label, there’s what look like medals. And the words say something about beer and Ukraine.

Obolon Soborne front label

Just like the neck-label, it’s interesting and un-translated. Unlike the Obolon Premium I tried a while back, there are no English words whatsoever. Luckily, that’s not an issue, because there are hardly any words at all. The most important detail on this intricate and quirky label is the alcoholic volume, which, I think, is 4.9%.

Will the back label clear up any of the mystery surrounding this enigmatic bottle?

Obolon Soborne back label

No. The back label doesn’t provide any answers. At least not English language ones. Ukrainian translators, this is where I need your help most of all.

About the only details I could figure out were the bottle size and the web address. This, as you’ve probably guessed, is your typical 0.5L bottle. And the Ukrainian website they’ve printed on the label is at www.obolon.ua. If however, the website at that address makes as much sense as the labels you’ve just seen, then go to their English language version at http://www.obolon.com/en/.

The upshot of having almost nothing I can understand on the outside of the bottle, is that I get to the fun bit quicker. What sort of beer is Soborn? Will I like it? If you like mysterious Ukrainian beer, should you try it? I’m looking forward to finding out.

Obolon Soborne poured into a glass

It’s a light amber colour. It has a thick layer of foam for a head. And it smells of a pleasant blend of malted barley. Only a suspicion this, but Obolon Soborne might just be a lager.

A couple of gulps in, and I might be right. Obolon Soborne is almost certainly a lager. So what is it like?

As you’d expect from a lager, there is no flavour. But it does have taste. And not a bad one. It’s sister, Obolon Premium put me right off with too much bitterness. But Soborne is so much easier on the tongue. There’s a light, gentle bittersweet aftertaste. It rolls in gently, and leaves your mouth equally gracefully.

A few gulps into Obolon Soborne now, so what am I enjoying about it? More that I expected. This cold glass of lagery style beer is clean, crisp and refreshing. If you’re going to make a lager style beer, make it be all these things. Otherwise, only people who leave angry comments on blogs will like it. Because it is light, clean, crisp and refreshing, and because it has no offensively bitter “bite”, it is very easy to drink. It’s not too gassy. And, at £1.29 pence for this bottle, imported from the other side of Europe, it’s not too bad value either. This has the potential to be an outstanding curry beer.

What of the downsides to Obolon Soborne? If you prefer rustic bottles of ale, there are mostly downsides. If, however, you like lager, there are much fewer. Nit picking though, does reveal a couple of issues. It is light and drinkable to the extent of being watery. In the category of drinkable lagers, there’s not an awful lot to distinguish it from the competition. Why would you choose this over a bottle you can buy in normal shops for less? It’s not even very strong.

How can I sum up the bottle that I think is called Obolon Soborne? If you can’t understand Ukrainian, it is a mystery. If you like a light and drinkable lager, take the risk and crack open this bottle. It is one of the crispest and most refreshing lager style beers I’ve tried. If you’re the sort of person who likes hoppy, bitter “bitey” lagers, you won’t like it. If you like light, crisp, clean and refreshing but mostly tasteless lagers to go with spicy food, you’ll probably like this.

Rating: 3.2

Have you tried Obolon Soborne or OБoлoнь CоБорне or what ever it’s called? Can you help translate? Do please leave your opinions, corrections, translations, requests and recommendations in the comments.

Beer Review: Crest Super 10% Super Strength Premium Lager

14 April, 2009

A YEAR ago, I tried all the super strength lagers I could lay my hands on. This meant subjecting myself to Tennent’s Super Strong Lager, Kestrel Super Strength Lager, Carlsberg Special Brew and Skol Super Strong Lager. They were universally awful means of alcohol consumption. Not surprisingly then, they’re a favourite of homeless alcoholics, which is why they’ve acquired the nick-name “tramp juice”.

Besides being revolting to anyone who drinks less than eight each day, there was one other commonality. They were all 9% alcoholic volume. For whatever reason; fear of regulation, corporate social responsibility or a gentlemen’s agreement, there were none above 9% this side of the English channel. That’s what I thought, until I found this. From an off-license in Kennington, South London, here is a can of Crest Super 10% Super Strength Premium Lager.

Crest Super front of can

At first sight, everything looks promising. For a start, this has a classy purple exterior, unlike the stripy competition. It has pictures of hops and a “Master Brewers” ‘seal, all adding to the sense that this is a real beer.

It even has a proper roundel. With two bears at the top, the upper border says “Brewed With Best Quality Barley Malt”. And the lower border has words continuing with “And The Finest German Aroma Hops”. So this is German is it? If you’re going to have a strong beer, Germany is one of the places you want it to be from. This is shaping up very well indeed.

Crest Super join side of the can

Turning the can around, you won’t find much on this side. There’s a join. And the words “Serve Cool”. Advice I intend to pay heed to when it comes to tasting this mysterious, yet probably explosive beverage.

Crest Super barcode side of can

Ah good. This side has some writing. Lets read it. Maybe it says from where in Germany it came?

No. No it doesn’t say that. Right at the top, it says “Brewed And Canned By: The Crest Brewing Co. A Division of Wells & Young’s Brewing Company Ltd, Havelock Street, Bedford UK, MK40 4LU”. Regular readers will know that any beer that pretends to be imported when it isn’t immediately gets docked points. Would you rather try something from Bavaria or Bedfordshire?

It’s not necessarily bad news though. That is the same Wells & Young’s who brought us Bombardier Burning Gold, Luxury Double Chocolate Stout, Banana Bread Beer and the magnificent Bombardier Satanic Mills bottled ales. Yet they seem intent on hurting their name with licensed beers like Kirin Ichiban and this can of Crest Super.

Back to what the can says, and next up come the vital statistics. This is a big 500ml can. Oddly, for a UK produced can with a 10% alcoholic volume, I can’t find any UK units of alcohol rating. An intentional regulatory and moral dodge? Or an innocent omission? Your opinions at the end of this post please.

Another oddity is that the only English language in that big block of sideways text is telling you to look under the can for the best before end date. It has a full list of ingredients, but in German. Not English. Luckily, our language is similar enough to German for me to make sense of what it says. If you’re expecting the ingredients to be of typical beer ingredients plus some chemicals, you’d be spot-on.

Right then. I was hoping to drag out the descriptive part of this review as long as possible. But I’ve run out of things to read on the can. I’m going to have to drink this stuff and try to describe what it’s like. A task I’ve been putting off for weeks already.

What does Crest Super 10% Super Strength Premium Lager, the strongest beer I’ve ever tried taste like? Will be as drinkable as I’m hoping? Or as vomit inducing as I’m fearing? Curiosity is getting the better of me as it’s time to find out…

Crest Super poured into a glass

There’s some head. But not much. After a few moments, you’re left with a patch of foam. But what get’s me is the colour. That bright orange-amber colour would look more at home on a cider. It looks as natural as Jordan.

Does it smell as synthetic as it looks? The roundel promised the “Finest German Aroma Hops”. I’d say that it smells like the other super strength lagers. But maybe slightly more delicate. Whatever the case, you can’t hide from the distinctly un-beery smell of this and other super strength lagers. It reminds me of the smell of gobstoppers or other such sweets. Not a natural and tasty beer.

How does it taste? I’m going into this with a totally open mind, by the way. No prejudice whatsoever. So what does it taste like?

Two gulps in and I realise that gulps are the wrong way to go. If I’m to avoid seeing my dinner again, sips over the course of the night are the only way to go.

How can I describe it? Not easily. My entire digestive system is currently telling me not to consume any more. The rest of this review might be a bit shorter than normal.

A few minutes later, and I gingerly attempt a few sips. Unusually for a lager, it does have a hit of flavour. A flavour of hops and chemicals and think. It’s hard to pin down because of the massive aftertaste that swamps you. You get hit with a gigantic wave of bitterness, alcohol and chemicals. Unsurprisingly, it lingers for a good long time.

Nearly a quarter of the way through now, so what am I enjoying about Crest Super? I like that does something a little different to the other super strength lagers. I like that it’s 1% stronger. If I were an alcoholic or someone who enjoying drinking many cans of super strength each day, I would be delighted with Crest Super.

What am I not enjoying about Crest Super? Nearly everything. It is the most undrinkable beer I’ve had in more than a year of doing this blog. I doubt I’m going to finish this beer tonight, and it’s the first time that’s ever happened. It’s as if my body is shouting “no more! Please no more!” after every sip. This literally gut wrenching effect means I can’t even start to enjoy the flavour and taste.

How can I sum up Crest Super? It is the most extreme beer I have ever tried. It is the strongest. And the most undrinkable. Slightly different to the other super strength lagers, but not necessarily better. If you are an alcoholic, or if you enjoying drinking many cans of super strength lager each day, then you will love Crest Super. If however, you’re a normal person, then you probably won’t. It will either send you to drunken oblivion or to the toiler to throw up. But maybe I’m looking at it all wrong. Maybe you should treat it not as a beer, but as a spirit. It certainly tastes like one.

Rating: I’ll leave that up to you.

Have you tried Crest Super? Draught or out of a can? What did you think of it?

Do please leave your opinions, corrections, thoughts, requests, recommendations and places to buy.

Update:

Armed with experience from my first can, and from the comments sections from the other super strength lagers, my second can of Crest Super was much better. I can confirm that it’s absolutely essential to drink it only while it’s very very cold. Even if this means leaving the dregs at the bottom, because the contents will have warmed up too much in your hand. And don’t do what I did and pour it out. Drink it from the can to make sure you don’t accidentally smell it.

With this in mind, you can nearly enjoy it. At Arctic temperatures, it really does have a long, hoppy finish. And yes, the can is more solid than others. But there’s still better ways to get wasted than this.

Beer Review: Carib Lager

11 April, 2009

THE CARIBBEAN has given me some interesting beers. The unremarkable yet popular Red Stripe for instance. And what must be nearly the world’s most popular stout, the awesome Dragon Stout. So I’m curious to know. Is Carib Lager from Trinidad and Tobago going to be a Red Stripe or a Dragon Stout of a drink?

Carib Lager bottle

This bottle came from a shop up Dalston way. And I must say, it looks like Summer in bottled-beer form. Like some of those Latin-world beers. I feel an urge to dunk a slice of lemon in it.

The neck-label starts the way it goes on. By keeping things simple.

Carib Lager neck label

Apart from the name “Carib Lager”, it has the words “Premium” and “Caribbean”. Clearly, the brewer, whoever it is, wants to keep things simple. There is almost nothing to read, anywhere on the bottle.

Carib Lager front label

Look the front-label. Nothing but the essentials. Like both Dragon Stout and Red Stripe, the bottle is a diminutive 275ml. Useful if you’ve got a half-pint glass to hand.

The alcoholic volume is a respectable 5.2%. And it was brewed by the Carib Brewery in Champs Fleurs on the island of Trinidad. Maybe the back label has some more information about the beer or where it came from?

Carib Lager back label

No. No it doesn’t have any more information about the beer or where it came from. What it does have is a big list of importers. The importer for the UK is also the only one with a web addressed printed on the label. And they are called Global Brands, with a web site at www.globalbrands.co.uk.

All facts which are as boring as the ingredients. “water, malted barley, sugar, hops” are the order of the day. And it has a modest 1.4 UK units of alcohol.

If you like your bottled beer to have lots of interesting things for you to read, look elsewhere. This is one of the most straightforward, no-nonsense bottles of beer you can find. I kept expecting to discover that it was Australian. But no, it really is a “Product of Trinidad and Tobago”.

So, what does Carib Lager taste like? Will I like it? And do I think you should buy it? I’m looking forward to cracking it open and finding out…

Carib Lager poured into a glass

The looks aren’t a surprise. You could see everything form inside the bottle. It does fit your half-pint glass perfectly though. There’s not even a head to froth over the top.

How does it smell? It’s a lager, so the smell will never be surprising. Carib Lager does somehow manage to be a tiny bit different. There’s something citric and tangy about the way this blend of malted barley smells..

What does it taste like? Well, it’s a lager, so it’s not going to have any flavour. Duly, Carib Lager has no flavour. What of the taste? Most lagers have a bitter aftertaste “bite”. Does Carib Lager? Kind of. It has a bitter “bite”, but a gentle one. A couple of seconds later, it becomes a bit more intense. Then it just goes.

Nearly half-way through now, so what am I enjoying about Carib Lager? Unusually for a lager, this chilled bottle of Carib Lager is not bad. Although that might have something to do with how cold it is. I doubt it would be so good if it were warmer. I like how the taste isn’t as awful as some lagers. I like how clean and refreshing it is. I like how easy to drink it is. I like how it isn’t very gassy. And I think it would be lovely on a hot, sunny day.

What don’t I like about Carib Lager? I don’t like the fact that it’s a lager. If the Carib Brewery turned their hand to a proper beer, and if Carib Lager is anything to go by, I’m sure the results would be very good. As it is, there’s no interesting flavour. And the taste is as uninspired as the average soap-opera plot. If you have your heart set on Carib Lager, you’re in for disappointment. So far, I’ve only seen one shop selling it. There are probably more out there, but you can’t count on it.

How can I sum up Carib Lager? Not bad for a lager. This is what I expected all those Spanish, Italian and South American lagers to be like. Light, crisp and refreshing. Just don’t expect any sophisticated flavour or taste. It’s a rainy day here in London, but I’m guessing it would be great on a sunny day or with a spicy meal.

Rating: 2.8

Have you tried Carib Lager? Do you know what reputation it has, back in the Caribbean? If so, then leave your opinions, corrections, requests, recommendations and places to buy, here in the comments.

Beer Review: Kirin Ichiban

6 April, 2009

Asahi Super Dry was my favourite Japanese beer. Until I discovered that it wasn’t Japanese at all, but was brewed here in Britain. So I was thrilled to find another Japanese-looking beer at a shop in Dalston. Here it is: Kirin Ichiban, “Japan’s Prime Brew”. It must be Japanese. Surely.

Kirin Ichiban bottle

It reminds me of Erdinger Weisbier. What do you think?

It’s almost impossible to read, but the neck-label has writing either side of the “Kirin Ichiban” logo.

Kirin Ichiban neck label leftKirin Ichiban neck label centreKirin Ichiban neck label right

Careful squinting at the left-hand-side of the neck-label has them describe it as a “unique premium beer”. That’s welcome for a couple of reasons. Firstly, they didn’t say “lager”. Secondly, anything that makes a beer unique is very warmly welcome. The last thing the market needs is another generic lager pretending to be Oriental.

What makes it unique? The other side of the neck-label says something about a process and only using “the most flavourful portion of the finest ingredients”. I don’t know about you, but that explained nothing.

The front-label does away with the traditional roundel, yet still manages to be conservative and conventional.

Kirin Ichiban front label

All the important details are there. That this is a regular 330ml bottle. And that it has an equally regular 5% alcoholic volume. As out of the ordinary as rain. But right at the bottom of the label is another mention of “The Authentic Ichiban Shibori Process”. What is a “Shibori Process”? Why is it unique. I’m hoping for some answers on the back label.

Kirin Ichiban back label

First impressions are not good. Shiny golden text is not readable when there’s a light bulb switched on in the room. Or any illumination at all for that matter.

After much squinting, I’ve deciphered this. They describe the character as “pure, crisp and intensely satisfying”. And that the Ichiban Shibori process has something to do with pressing the ingredients once and then throwing them away instead of using them over and over. Sounds interesting. I’m looking forward to trying this one.

Then comes the bad news. This hasn’t been imported from Japan. Instead, it was brewed under license from Kirin Holdings by Wells & Young’s Brewing Co in Bedford. They even have a European web site at www.kirineurope.com. Surprisingly, it’s not bad. There’s lots of history and background if you prefer to read about beer instead of imbibing it.

The last little detail to mention is the UK units of alcohol. It’s nearly impossible to read, but that doesn’t matter. It’s only 1.7 UK units of alcohol.

What does Kirin Ichiban taste like? Is the Ichiban Shibori process just marketing guff? Should you buy it? I can hardly wait to find out…

Kirin Ichiban poured into a glass

Watch out for that head. It froths up a treat. A couple of minutes later, it has settled down, but it’s still bigger than most I’ve seen recently. On the surface at least, it looks like a lager. Fizzy and pale in colour. I was rather hoping that the famed “Ichiban Shibori” process would do something about that. Apparently not.

How does it smell? It smells a bit lagery. Again, I was hoping the “Ichiban Shibori” process would change that too. Don’t get me wrong, it doesn’t smell bad. It smells of a rich blend of malted barley. Not like many lagers out there at all. But still a little lagery.

Does it taste like a lager too? Sort of. But not in a bad way. A couple of gulps in, and I’m liking Kiribn Ichiban. Or at least this Wells & Young’s version. The flavour and taste won’t really impress you. Unless you love lager. It has much the same taste of malted barley that most lager style beers have. It’s the way it does it that impresses me. It is so rich and smooth, it’s like drinking Leslie Philips. The bitter “bite” that lager drinkers seem to love, and that I hate, isn’t there. In it’s place, is a pleasantly mild bitter taste that you barely notice.

What am I enjoying about Kirin Ichiban? I love how easy it is to drink. It is so gentle and so smooth, no one will object if you offer then a bottle. I’ve had a few other good lagers like this, that are this smooth and easy to drink. I’ll happily add Kirin Ichiban to the good lager list for these reasons. The drinkability also speaks about the quality of ingredients. It doesn’t taste like you’re drinking preservatives and flavourings, like with some. It also has that crisp, clean and refreshing quality that this type of beer should have.

What don’t I like about Kirin Ichiban? For a start, I don’t like the whole idea of licensed beers. I’d be much happier if this were a little bit more expensive, but imported from Japan. Beer from Bedford is never going to be as exciting, even when it pretends to be Japanese. Besides that, the head could be a handful. It’s so easy to drink that you could be mistaken for thinking that you’re drinking water. And, disappointingly, it’s not as unique as the label promised. The special process has made a very good lagery style beer, but there are others like it.

To sum up, Kirin Ichiban is a very good lagery style beer. I’m not sure if it really is a pilsner style lager, but it shares a lot in common. As such, there’s no flavour and very little taste. But it is very easy to drink. And I think it would be brilliantly well with a spicy meal. I really would like to try the genuine Japanese version though.

Rating: 3

Have you tried Kirin Ichiban? What did you think of it? Do please leave your opinions, corrections, requests, recommendations and places to buy, here in the comments.

Beer Review: Foster’s

20 March, 2009

UNTIL now, there’s been a Foster’s shaped hole in my blog. Last summer, I endured most of the bigname lagers. And, to the chagrin of dozens of angry commenters, I slammed them all. Foster’s escaped until now, because it took until now to find it in bottled form. Not easy, when most shops sell cans.

Some of you get all huffy when I turn my attention to a lager. So, allow me explain something. If I think your favourite big-name lager is awful, then it probably is. That’s my opinion. It doesn’t mean I despise all lagers. Perła Chmielowa Premium Pils and Leżajsk Beer were lagers, and they were both excellent. What it means is that you could do so much better when you’re next in the off-license or supermarket.

So, what will Foster’s be like? With hopes this low, all it needs to be is adequate to exceed expectations. If you’ve never seen what Foster’s looks like in a bottle instead of a can, here it is.

Foster's bottle

Funny looking little thing, isn’t it? It’s nearly half neck. Look closely and you’ll spot the Foster’s “F” embossed around the shoulder.

Foster's neck label

Yes, it has a neck label. The message is simple. There’s a big Foster’s “F” logo. And the slogan “The Amber Nectar”. When you have branding this good, you don’t need much else.

It’s a similar story with the front label.

Foster's front label

It conveys less information than any other bottle of beer I’ve seen. Even foreign language beers convey more than this. You’ll learn more from a copy of The Star than you will here. But then, do they need to say anything? With a name this well known, they could have stuck on a photocopied address label with the “F” logo, and we’d all immediately recognised what it was.

Fortunately, the back label makes of for the lack of information elsewhere. And they appear to have squished it into a label nearly the size of a Post-It® note.

Foster's back label

On it, we learn that Foster’s is “Australia’s famous award winning quality lager”. Award winning? From whom? When? Was it for their marketing by any chance? Whatever the case, we learn that it’s “enjoyed in over 150 countries”.

They describe as “clean, crisp and refreshing”. No mention of flavour. But then this is a lager. And all those qualities are what a good lager should have. In my opinion. And that’s what I hope Fosters’s will have. To give it the best chance possible, I’ll even try to drink it “Super Chilled at 3 C” like they recommend. Honestly, I’m completely open minded about Foster’s. I sincerely want to enjoy a good lager right now.

Sadly, Foster’s itself isn’t quite so sincere. That’s because it was brewed not in Australia, but here. By Scottish & Newcastle in Edinburgh. That makes it as Australian as bagpipes.

In a tiny space near the barcode are all the vital statistics. This is a small 275ml bottle. The alcoholic volume is a moderate 4%. Both of these facts together give this bottle 1.1 UK units of alcohol. That must be the smallest number of UK units of alcohol of any bottle I’ve ever tried for this blog. Astonishing. There’s a small section advising men not to exceed 4 daily units, and women, 3. But with bottles like this, you’re quite, quite safe.

So, what is the bottle of Foster’s actually like? What does it taste like? And should you buy a bottle? Time to crack it open and find out…

Foster's poured into a glass

At 275ml, it fits your half-pint glass perfectly. And, through the miracle of surface tension, the small layer of foam doesn’t overflow either. Give it a couple of minutes though, and that layer of head turns into a forlorn patch of bubbles.

The colour isn’t as pale as some cheap lagers. But then it’s never going to be Newcastle Brown, is it. All in all, a good amber hue. Just like they said it would be.

What does it smell like? It smells of pilsner style lager. It has much the same blend of malted barley in it’s odour as every other pilsner lager. Compared to some, it doesn’t smell strong. Quite light and inoffensive.

What does it taste like? A couple of gulps into this “Super Chilled” (40 minutes in my freezer ice box) Foster’s reveal a taste that’s identical to the smell. It tastes like most pilsner style lagers. That is to say, that is tastes of a blend of malted barley. And, like the smell, you can barely taste it. That makes it completely inoffensive.

A couple more gulps in, and I’m still struggling to find any tastes and flavour. If you concentrate really hard, you can just about make out a trace of malted barley. Although I could be imagining it.

Foster’s, when it’s very cold, does have some good points. For a start, it is clean, crisp and refreshing. Exactly what it advertised on the label. And those things are exactly what a lager should be. I can go better than that. This very cold bottle of Foster’s is pretty smooth. It’s not gassy. And, best of all, it doesn’t have that bittersweet “bite” that most lagers use to kick you in the throat. Yes, some of you love that “bite”, but I don’t. Which is why I think that Foster’s is easy to drink.

There are, however, one or two drawbacks. Not suffering from lager “bite”. The drinkability. They’ve come at a cost. This is one of the wateriest lagers I’ve had ina long time. It’s also one of the most tasteless. Even other lagers have more malted barley flavour than this. Only Tesco Value Lager can match this for lack of taste. And that had only 2% alcoholic volume.

How can I sum up Foster’s? I’d hate to have tried it warm. I’m guessing that having it “Super Chilled” helped it to be clean, crisp and refreshing. Sure, it has those qualities. But nothing more. This is one of the weakest, blandest lagers on the market. Totally drinkable and inoffensive; because you’re effectively drinking water.

You can buy better lager, so buy better lager. You can buy better beer than lager, so do that too. Buy Foster’s either to not offend anyone or out of habit. There is no compelling reason to drink this pretend Australian water.

Rating: 1.8

Have you tried Foster’s? Do you want to leave an angry comment? Do you agree? Whatever the case, do please leave your opinions, corrections, thoughts, requests, recommendations and places to buy here in the comments.

Beer Review: Club Colombia Premium Extra Fina

25 January, 2009

BEING more famous for exporting kidnaps, assassinations and cocaine, Columbia’s Aguila lager shouldn’t have been much good. Yet it thoroughly impressed me by being excellent. I’m delighted then to introduce another bottle of beer imported to Britain all the way from Colombia: Club Colombia Premium.

Club Colombia Premium Extra Fina bottle

The bottle looks almost exactly the same as that of Aguila. Right down to the “No Retornable” embossed around the shoulder. Could this hint at their shared origins? Or a complete lack of imagination by Colombian brewers?

Just like Aguila, Club Colombia uses the screw top. What is it with Colombian beers and screw tops instead of proper bottle tops? Do they all have them? If you know the answer, leave a comment at the end of this post.

Club Colombia Premium Extra Fina bottle top

The similarities continue with the neck-label. Albeit not with the front of it.

Club Colombia Premium Extra Fina front of neck label

The front of the neck-label is a classy looking thing. Partly down to the gold, partly down to the typeface. Which, of course, is Spanish. I can’t understand it, but I think it’s the usual marketing guff about finest ingredients and dedication. So you haven’t missed anything. If you can translate it though, do please leave a comment at the end of this post.

Two words that I can understand however, are two words that keep popping up all over the labels. “Extra Fina” must mean something along the lines of “Extra Fine”. Even I know that. Or do I? If you know better, you know where to leave your translations.

The back of the wrap-around neck-label is where you’ll find the small-print and barcode. Just like with Aguila.

Club Colombia Premium Extra Fina back of neck label

It’s all in Spanish. But don’t worry. This bottle of Club Colombia was imported by La Casa De Jack Ltd, the same people who imported Aguila. And that means that everything you need to know is printed on the ugly white sticker that they stuck over the original label.

Club Colombia Premium Extra Fina back label

There’s not a lot to say about the big, white sticker stuck on by the importer. Most of it is exactly the same as it was for Aguila. Even the facts about the beer are the same. Take the bottle size and alcoholic volume. Both exactly the same at 330ml and 4%. The same with the ingredients which are “water, barley malt and deputy hops”. Whatever they are.

There’s all the contact information you could possibly want for the importer, whose website is www.lachatica.com. It’s still, and reassuringly so, a product of Colombia. It was “commercialized” by Arcas and even made by Bavaria S.A. Exactly the same brewer as Aguila. And that would explain why everything about it looks the same. Even the Spanish language warning at the bottom of the back label is the same.

Around on the front label, everything looks hunky dory. Not a roundel in sight, which makes it original and stylish too.

Club Colombia Premium Extra Fina front label

You can’t ignore the native South-American-style graphic. I’m not sure which ancient tribe it represents. Or who or what it is. But it looks to me like someone with two steering wheels and boomerangs attached to their head.

The “Club Colombia” name has that native South-American look too. It tells us, in Spanish of course, that it is “Desde 1889”. Something that gives it some decent heritage. At the bottom, under the words “Extra Fina”, I’m informed that it says something along the lines of “Brewed longer for a fine taste”. Translators, do please leave a comment at the end of this post.

So, will Club Colombia Premium taste the same as its Colombian cousin and join it as one of the best Latin American beers? More importantly, should you buy it? There’s only one way to find out. It’s time to unscrew the bottle and sample the contents.

Club Colombia Premium Extra Fina poured into a glass

It looks much the same as Aguila did, just minus the frothy head. The amber is a little deeper. And the head is much smaller and patchier. Altogether unimpressive.

Does it have a smell? Yes, it has the same smell of lagery blended malted barley. That makes it smell not just like its Colombian stable-mate, but like nearly every pilsner style lager in the world. Not strong or unpleasant, just straightforward and uncomplicated.

But what does it taste like? The first couple of gulps of this refrigerated bottle of Club Colombia Premium lager aren’t bad. But they’re not great either. Being a lager, it has no flavour whatsoever. That leaves it fighting every other lager in the world on the basis of aftertaste. Aguila was brilliant by having the least offensive aftertaste since the potato was discovered. Club Colombia Premium however does what almost every other lager in the world does: it has that lagery “bite” with a bitter aftertaste.

It’s not a bad example of lagery aftertaste. Not as unpleasant as some. Not as drinkable as others. Just sitting somewhere around the word “average”, trying not to be noticed.

What am I enjoying about this cool bottle of Club Colombia Premium “Extra Fina”? For starters, it’s refreshing, at least while cold. The bitter aftertaste “bite” is by no means the worst around. And that makes this quite drinkable by lager standards. It’s also quite well made and not a gassy experience.

There are, of course, one or two problems with Club Colombia. The way it tastes makes it almost identical to hundreds of other lagers around the world. That makes it indistinctive, unoriginal and boring. And, at a meagre 4% volume, it’s not strong enough to compete with the world’s other premium lagers.

Where does all this leave Club Colombia Premium “Extra Fina”? This will no doubt enrage the lager purists out there who would happily murder anyone who dislikes the bitter aftertaste “bite”, but, I have to say that I don’t rate it. Aguila was great because it did something different with it. Club Colombia however just did what all the competition does, and it does it weaker than they do. If you’re travelling in Colombia, I’d happily drink this. But, if you have a shop shelf filled with interesting beers from all around the globe, pick something nicer instead.

Rating: 2.8

Have you tried Club Colobia Premium “Extra Fina”? Do you work for Bavaria S.A.? If so, do please leave a comment with any corrections, opinions, requests, recommendations and places to buy.


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