Posts Tagged ‘Luton’

Beer Review: Eiken Artois Oak Aged Lager

17 September, 2008

Innis & Gunn Oak Aged Beer was one of the first, and most interesting bottled beers I have ever tried. Being oak aged by a Scotch whisky producer made it different and delicious. Because of this, I leapt at the chance to snap up a four-pack of Eiken Artois Oak Aged Lager from Tesco at the discounted price of £1.99.

Eiken Artois Oak Aged Lager 4 pack

This though, is a completely different kettle of bananas to Innis & Gunn. That’s because this isn’t from a tiny, Scottish whisky producer at all. Far from it. This is from the massive Artois family. Or as they call it on the cardboard, “La Famille Artois”. The same Artois behind the infamous Stella Artois lager. This then, is one of they’re attempts to distance the Artois brand from Stella’s bad reputation. All of which begs the question… what do the Belgians know about whisky or oak aged anything?

Whatever the case, they certainly know how to make a good looking product. The cardboard bottle holder looks very classy indeed. Probably because most of it is just blank space. About the only thing you’ll find besides the logos are a small picture of a glass and bottle, and description of this beer as “A Refreshing 4.6% ABV Oak Aged Beer”. They also say something about the Artois horn being the symbol of the Den Hoorn brewery in Leuven, Belgium. It’s so minimalistic and good looking, I had no idea it was related to Stella Artois until I got it home.

Sadly, things don’t continue that way after you’ve prized a bottle out from the cardboard holder. Things start to look familiar. It looks like a Stella again.

The neck label must have received about two minutes of thought before being slapped on the bottle.

The front label doesn’t add much sophistication either. It looks like much the other Artois roundels. But I do like the oak tinged colour scheme. It hints at oaky-ness without being cheesy.

Eiken Artois Oak Aged Lager front label

It’s all very straightforward. The familiar Artois horn logo and “Anno 1366” are present. As are the descriptions that it’s an “Oak Aged Lager” and “Premium Lager”, from “Leuven” The alcoholic volume is perfectly clear too. This one is a reasonably 4.6%. Strong enough to be worthwhile. Mild enough to distance it from Stella.

Just like the neck label, the back label is hardly a masterpiece. From such a big name, you expect a little more presentational polish. This is just a plain white label with some writing on it.

Eiken Artois Oak Aged Lager back label

The bulk of what’s on there is the Eiken Artois story. A story that manages to connect their “six centuries of brewing” to their very recently “crafted Eiken Artois”. They then expand on their description of the beer as being “a deliciously refreshing yet full flavoured lager”. I really hope they’ve pulled that feat off. Not least because coming from a four-pack, I have three other bottles of the stuff now waiting to be drank.

They’re rather keen on you serving it cold. Hence the “Serve Cold” in capital letters. The next detail is their web address which is Yet again, it’s a totally Flash dominated experience. Why can’t brewers create proper web sites for us? Slow loading sound and animation may sound like a good idea in marketing brainstorming sessions, but it stops the rest of us finding information quickly and easily.

After the responsibility and messages, we’re get down to the small print. This 4.6% drink is in the standard 33 centilitre bottle. That makes it a modest 1.5 UK units of alcohol.

On the other side of the best before date is a very welcome little detail. And one I didn’t expect. That this was “Brewed in Belgium”. I must be getting cynical. Without the word “Imported” anywhere, I full expected this to be another Bedfordshire beer putting on an imitation accent. Instead it was only distributed by InBev UK of Luton. The last two details that could be remotely of interest are the UK “Consumer Helpline” and the list of ingredients. Which isn’t a list at all as it only mentions “Malted Barley”.

If you like a good read from your bottle while you drink, you won’t find one here. And, with nothing else to describe, we’ve reached the fun part of the review. It’s time to see what Eiken Artois Oak Aged Lager is like. Will it match Innis & Gunn? Should you try it? Let’s find out.

Try to pour it, and you’re rewarded by a big head. Which promptly disappears into a thin and disappointing patchwork of bubbles. The colour isn’t bad though. It’s a darker shade of amber than the usual lagery colour. Which is exactly what I was hoping for. I think it looks a bit like ginger beer.

It smells better than most lagers do, too. Not as oaky as I had hoped for. More like a richer version of the smell you usually get from a lager. In other words, it smells of a blend of malted barley and hops and things, only richer and more interesting than with most other lagers.

It’s much the same story with the taste. It does have a mild, oaky flavour. Which briskly blends into a tangy, oak tasting but ultimately ordinary lagery aftertaste. As usual with lager, you’ll struggle to find much flavour. It’s the tangy, mildly oaky and lagery aftertaste that you notice most. And, to its credit, isn’t bad. Nothing about it is strong, and it doesn’t linger anything like as badly as some lagers.

What is there to enjoy about Eiken Artois Oak Aged Lager? If you’re main complaint about lagers is that they’re all the same and have a boring taste, this could be the answer. It’s got a bit of flavour. It’s got some taste. And that taste happens to be a little unusual. The whole thing is very easy to drink and refreshing, too. As well as the rich taste, for a lager, it’s also quite smooth. And as I haven’t burped yet, not too gassy either.

What won’t you like about Eiken Artois Oak Aged Lager? It’s got some nice taste, and its drinkable, but that comes at a price. There’s not nearly enough flavour and taste because it’s so light and watery. A few gulps of this, and you’ll forget what you’ve been drinking. I’m nearly at the end of the bottle, and I’m having trouble remembering if I’ve been writing a post about beer, or drinking diet ginger beer. But then, it is a lager, so all of that could be by design.

So what is Eiken Artois Oak Aged Lager all about? It’s no Innis & Gunn, that’s for sure. It simply can’t match it for flavour and strength of taste. They don’t say how long they left this stuff to mature in oak, but I’m guessing it was more like minutes than days. What it is, is an above average lager. If you like lager, you might have found a new favourite in Eiken Artois Oak Aged Lager? It certainly fixes some of my big complaints about lager. If you don’t like lager, but have no choice but a shop shelf full of them, this is a good compromise choice.

Rating: 3

Have you tried Eiken Artois Oak Aged Lager? What did you think of it?

Leave your corrections, opinions, thoughts, requests and recommendations in the little boxes below and I’ll think about them.

Beer Review: Brahma Premium Lager

6 September, 2008

THE next big-name bottled lager falls into the Latin-world category. That’s because this stunningly good looking bottle is Brahma, all the way from Brazil.

Being what it is, it’s immediately in competition with the likes of Sol and Corona Extra. It looks a bit like them too. Does anyone know if there’s a reason why beer from South-America all seem to have clear glass and a bright, cheerful look?

Brahma goes a step further. If Cola-Cola bottles look like women, this bottle of Brahma is so curvy, it looks like a woman dancing. This is one curvy, and stylish looking bottle.

Enough salivating over the looks. It’s substance that matters. And this one has all the details in a wrap-around neck label.

Brahama neck label 1Brahama neck label 2Brahama neck label 3

It’s hard to know where to look first. Everything is in a good looking jumble. In the absence of any order, I’ll call out the details as I see them.

“Desde 1888” probably means “Est” or “Since” 1888. So the Brahma name has some history to it. They describe it as “Premium Lager” which puts it firmly in the mainstream. And Brahma seems to come from Rio De Janeiro. Since it has that printed on the label. I must say, this is one of the hardest to read labels out there. The microscopic text printed in various combinations of shiny on matt and vice-versa makes it almost impossible.

Persevering, I can tell you that this is the ever popular 33 centilitre bottle. And that the lager within is a nearly strong 4.8%. It also contains malted barley. But then I discover some disappointing news. Brahma Premium Lager wasn’t imported from Brazil at all. Instead, it was “brewed in the UK to the authentic Brasilian recipe” by brewing giant InBev in Luton. Yes, Luton is Britain’s answer to Rio De Janeiro. It’s where I would have picked, too.

If there is any more information written on the label, I can’t see it. The way this one was printed and designed, there could well be more to read. I just don’t have a magnifying glass to hand. So without further ado, it’s time to crack open this bottle. What will it taste like? And how will it compare to its competitors? Keep your expectations low.

There is absolutely no head. Something that makes pouring it very easy. Not that you’ll want to. At 330 millilitres, it will be a little too much for just a half-pint glass like mine. In the glass, it’s a nice shade of amber. It certainly looks better than the anaemic yellow you find with lots of other lagers.

How does it smell? Does it even have a smell? Yes it does. Just about. You can barely make out the same blend of malted barley and hops that you get with virtually every other lager. It’s ok for a lager I suppose. Just don’t compare it to an ale.

How does it taste? A couple of gulps in, and this is a lot like its South-American competitors. There’s barely any malted barley flavour before that familiar lagery “bite” kicks in. That aftertaste “bite” is about the only thing you’ll notice.

Is there anything to like about Brahma Premium Lager? There is. But only if you like lager. Lager fans will enjoy how light and easy to drink it is. They will also relish that lagery “bite”. It’s also possible that they will like how few different flavours and tastes there are in Brahma. It is smooth though. I’ll give it that.

As you’ve probably guessed, there’s a lot I’m not enjoying here. A lot of which is down to it being a lager. A fact which renders my criticisms unfair. But which I intend to vent nonetheless. To start with, there’s no flavour to speak of. Then there’s the bitter “bite” that is simply too rough.

To sum up, Brahma Premium Lager is a lager. If you like big-name lagers, this is a perfectly good example. By all means, try it. If, however, you like flavour and some level of depth, look elsewhere. If you accidentally pick up a bottle of this instead of Sol or Corona Extra, well, then you probably won’t notice any difference.

Rating: 2.25

Have you tried Brahma Premium Lager? What did you think of it?

Leave your corrections, translations, opinions, thoughts, requests and recommendations here.

Beer Review: Gold Label Very Strong Special Beer

19 March, 2008

AFTER my faultering start looking at super-extra-high-strength beers and lagers with Duvel, it’s time to move to my next target. Keeping up the theme of increasingly hardcore brews, this time it’s Gold Label Very Strong Special Beer.
Gold Label can
Gold Label Barley Wine Special Beer 4 pack

I chose this as my next foray into super-strong beers and lagers because it looked to be classier than the tall and notorious cans. Yet rougher than the elegant and European Duvel. We’ll see soon enough whether I’m right with that guess or not.

These are available in four-packs from Tesco or individually from some corner shops. At between £4-5 for the four-pack, they’re not cheap. They’re also not big. One of the reasons these cans stand out, is for their size. They’re the same as ordinary soft-drink cans. Here’s a regular Dr. Pepper next to them for scale…
Gold Label Barley Wine Special Beer compared to another can

The gold colour helps these cans to stand out too. Though oddly, the Gold Label typeface is white, and on a red banner label. Maybe it should be called Red Label On A Gold Background instead?
Gold Label Barley Wine Special Beer front logo

The front is puzzling. It says “The No. 1 Barley Wine”. Yet doesn’t say anywhere on it what it is “No. 1” for. The Number one most confusing label perhaps? And barley wine. What the hell is that? It says right above it “strong beer”. If you know the answer behind this mystery, do please leave a comment.

Rotating the can around doesn’t answer many questions. But it does give you the basic facts. The “Alcohol 8.5% vol.” for instance is very clear. It’s also fractionally less than Duvel‘s 8.6%, but less than the ASBO inducing tall cans of lager.
Gold Label Barley Wine Special Beer info side of can

Also on that ‘side’ of the label, we learn where this came from. And that place is InBev UK brewery in Luton. Not somewhere you usually associate with fine beverages. But an excellent place to catch an Easyjet flight to Spain. Back to the can, just above the labels warning you to drink responsibly, the ingredients are given as including malted barley and wheat.
Gold Label Barley Wine Special Beer barcode side of can

Over on the barcode side of the can, things are kept equally simple. The can is recyclable. It crams in 2.8 UK units of alcohol. It is best stored in a cool dry place. And…. That’s it. No lengthy articles about awards won or tales from the head brewer. Clearly this is a beer to be drank, not read. So let’s not delay that any further.

Gold Label Barley Wine Special Beer in a glass
I should have learnt this by now… 330 millilitres does not fit a half-pint glass. Not that this will bother most buyers of this drink who are likely to swig from the can before pestering passers by for change.

The colour is where the “Gold” of the name makes its appearance. It reminded me somewhat of Irn-Bru. Or a light bitter. Not much head on it though.

Normally when I do these, the smell doesn’t warrant much of a description. But in this case, it does. Gold Label has the strongest barley smell I’ve yet witnessed. And it’s not pleasant. It is almost like a warning of what is to come.

The taste is strong. There was no false advertising on this can. This is a strong beer in every sense. The pungent barley and wheat smell carries straight over to the taste. And the sour aftertaste is the sourest and strongest I’ve had so far.

As I worked through the small but powerful can, I found myself wincing and cringing. In the way you do after you’ve had a drink that’s stronger than you’re used to. The whole experience reminded me of what it was like trying beers as a youngster. When everything you try is the strongest and most revolting thing you’ve ever tried. Yet, you keep coming back to it. That is what it was like for me with Gold Label.

This is not an easily drinkable drink. I was glad the cans weren’t the normal gigantic size. But I liked being reminded of what it was like trying beers years ago.

I’m not far into this test of the strongest beers and lagers, so I don’t have much to compare it too. But right now, if I wanted something potent, I’d want either the beautifully drinkable Duvel or a strong Scottish ale. Gold Label is strong. But my hypothesis was right. It’s a rough, tough drink. Not for the faint hearted.

Rating: 2.25 but higher if I were an alcoholic or used to strong beers and lagers.

Have you tried Gold Label? What did you think?
Any recommendations of your own? Or suggestions for anything you would like me to review next?
Comments, compliments and insults in the usual place…

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