Posts Tagged ‘Newcastle’

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.

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Beer Review: San Miguel

2 August, 2008

WITH few bottled beers on the shelves that I haven’t tried, the options are running thin. Something would have to give. And that something is quality. So, even though I swore I would never bother with it when I rounded off my look at Peroni Nastro Azzurro, here is San Miguel.

San Miguel bottle

Thanks to all the advertising from this international mega-brand, the bottle looks as familiar as Fanta. And first impressions are good. It’s all very tasteful looking.

The neck label sums up much of what you need to know.

San Miguel neck label

The famous “San Miguel” name and logo uses a tasteful red, green and gold colour scheme. They also describe this beer as “International Premium Lager”. Rather vague and unimaginative don’t you think? I suggest “Bland Generic Lager”.

The main front label doesn’t add much more.

San Miguel front label

In fact, it’s virtually a bigger version of the neck label. The main exception to that is the alcoholic volume which is 5%. Which isn’t exceptional at all. There’s also a small red crest in the bottom-right corner. Featuring as it does three castle turrets and an anchor, I’d say that this bottle is subtly hinting at Spain’s past naval might. A fact made laughable when we look at the back label to discover where this “International Premium Lager” was made.

San Miguel back label

Sure, the paragraph on the back label may name Spanish cities such as Seville and Barcelona. And that it’s “uniquely refreshing taste” has made it Spain’s most loved export. But the fact remains that this was “Brewed in the UK” by Scottish & Newcastle in Edinburgh. And that makes this lager as Spanish as Rab C. Nesbitt.

Elsewhere on the back label, and the Spanish equivalent to “Cheers”; “Salud!” is a good addition. Down in the small print, this 330 millilitre bottle of 5% lager weighs in at 1.7 UK units of alcohol.  It, predictably, contains barley and wheat. And the web address hints at the true Spanish origins of this famous lager, because it is at www.sanmiguel.es. And, sure enough, it takes you to a Spanish language website. Why they have that address and not the English language, UK specific www.sanmiguel.co.uk, I don’t know.

With nothing else worth reading, it’s time to open this “International Premium Lager”. Can’t say I’m looking forward to it. But no one said the hobby of reviewing bottled beers would be easy.

San Miguel poured into a glass

In the glass, everything looks very ordinary. It’s a similar pale yellow colour to most other lagers. It has a head. Albeit a patchy one. And it has a weak, bland smell of malted barley.

But, will this be one of those drinks that looks terrible, and then surprises us all? Lets take a couple of gulps to find out. No. No it isn’t. It has exactly the rough, cheap lagery taste I was afraid it would have.

It tastes of the same blend of malted barley and hops that you’ll find in almost any other lager in the world. The difference is the after taste. There’s no smoothing of the lingering bitter after taste here. No rice softening the blow. Instead, you’ll find a rough, lingering bitter after taste.

Digging deep, there is a brief list of points on the plus side. I left this bottle in the freezer for a good few minutes, and I suspect that it has made it that much more drinkable that it would otherwise have been. The label describes it as having a “uniquely refreshing taste”. And served cool enough to dull the flavour, it is fairly refreshing. And that, in turn, makes it begin to be drinkable.

The list of points on the negative side is, as you’d have guessed, substantially bigger. Foremost among them is that taste. Some people who like their strongly flavoured lagers will like it. I don’t. In fact, I hate it. That lingering bitter after taste is about the worst I’ve ever tasted. Worse even than some of the Polish lagers.

And it doesn’t stop there. Putting aside that atrocious after taste for a moment, everything else about the flavour is bland. In fact, there is almost no real flavour. Just a colossally bad after taste. The same goes for the smell and the look.

To sum up, San Miguel is unexceptional in every way apart from the after taste which is exceptionally bad. If you like your lager to be strong tasting, you might like it. Otherwise, choose something different. Even a Polish lager. Because it will be more drinkable than this.

You might be thinking at this point that my prejudices clouded my judgement with this one. That I went in expecting it to be bad, so it was bad. But that’s not the case. You see, this was brewed by Scottish & Newcastle. And I thought other S&N licenses Kronenbourg 1664 and Foster’s Ice were good for what they were. Despite my open mind, I couldn’t find anything to love, or even like about San Miguel.

Rating: 0.3

Have you tried San Miguel? What did you think of it?
Leave your corrections, opinions, thoughts and recommendations here please.

Beer Review: Foster’s Ice

30 July, 2008

AFTER the miserable Bud Ice a few days ago, I’ve foolishly decided to give the ‘Ice‘ themed bottled lager another try. Say hello to this little bottle of Foster’s Ice.

Fosters Ice bottle

First impressions are that it looks a lot like Bud Ice. The glass is transparent. And the logos and labels are slanted and trendy. But this is no Anheuser-Busch mega-brand. No. This mega-brand comes from an entirely different mega-brewer.

As a product, it’s hard to fault the packaging. The top has the Foster’s logo of an ice-skating kangaroo. And that’s a logo you don’t see very prominently in their television commercials these days.

Fosters Ice bottle top

The neck label has the familiar Foster’s “F” logo with the gold, red and blue colour scheme that goes with it. The words “Premium Quality Beer” raise a smile. Will that prove to be ironic? Or will it surprise me?

Foster’s Ice neck label

What I like about the little neck label though, is that they’ve managed to stick it onto the bottle at the same slanted angle as the main front label. And that’s good packaging.

Foster’s Ice front label

It’s hard to fault this label. Sure, it dispenses with the anything remotely traditional. In fact, it makes the whole thing look more like an alcopop. But since it’s probably aiming at the alcopop drinker, that’s forgivable.

Under the gigantic logos and brand name are the facts you need to know. Carefully placed in a little silver bar along the bottom is the description “For A Clean Crisp Taste”. This is a lager then, clearly aiming for the basics. Next to that, in red no less, is the alcoholic volume. Which at 5% isn’t notable in any way.

Because the back label is the size of a postage stamp, they’ve carefully put some of the small-print on the sides of the front label. On one side, we’re informed that this is a 33 centilitre bottle. That it’s a “Premium Quality Ice Brewed Beer” that contains barley and wheat.

Over on the other side are the UK units of alcohol. You probably won’t be interested to know, that this little bottle contains all of 1.7 units. But if you are, they also print the recommended daily units for men and women. Which are four and three respectively in case you are the curious type.

Around on the back of the bottle, and the barcode dominates the Post-It Note sized label.

Foster’s Ice back label

Fortunately, they don’t try to cram much else on  there too. What there is, is a quick description about what this drink is. And the address of where it was made. The description describes it as “Ice Brewed and Superchilled”. And that this is to “Produce a Smooth Refreshing Lager” that has a “Uniquely Clean, Crisp Taste”. All good qualities. And with expectations as low as mine, maybe it won’t disappoint.

Sadly, the address of the place where this was made does. That’s because Foster’s comes from UK brewing giant Scottish & Newcastle in Edinburgh. That makes this bottle of Foster’s Ice as Australian as deep-fried Mars bars.

Still, it’s now time to crack open this bottle. And to sample the lager within. In a London hotter than the Earth’s core, I truly hope this one is as refreshing at it promises.

Fosters Ice poured into a glass

Once in the glass, you won’t be surprised by the colour. Which is pale yellow. But you knew that already from the transparent glass bottle. What I was pleased to see was a proper head. A little patchy, but better than expected.

It has a richer smell than expected, too. You don’t need to sniff hard to get a good whiff of malted barley. I like it.

A couple of gulps in, and I must admit, it is no where near as bad as I had been expecting. It has a solid, lagery taste of malted barley with a lightly lingering, but not unpleasant bitterness. Not very strongly flavoured and not so weak as to be un-noticeable.

I didn’t expect to have any positives to report, yet, here they are. The taste and flavour is as inoffensive as you can get for a lager. And that makes it very easy to drink. If you’ve got a chilled bottle, it should be as “refreshing” and “clean” as promised. It’s also smooth and none too gassy.

Being a lager, there is no chance that it can escape fault. For starters, it tastes of lager. Compared to ale or beer in any other form, this means it tastes cheap and it boring. That’s a fact that is true however good the lager in question is. Then there’s the taste itself. That lingering bitterness will stop Foster’s Ice from being so refreshing after a bottle or two.

In summation, Foster’s Ice is a good example of the “ice brewed” lager phenomenon. Think of it like the whole “white cider” boom. Both this and Bud Ice are lagers stripped of real flavours, apparently designed to be as easy to drink as possible. If you have to make a choice, then choose Foster’s Ice over Bud Ice. Alternatively, choose a real beer instead.

Rating: 2.6

Have you tried Foster’s Ice? What did you think of it?
Leave your corrections, opinions, thoughts and recommendations with the world in the little box below.

Beer Review: Miller Beer

13 June, 2008

GEARS of the brewing industry grinded yesterday, when Belgian brewing giant InBev (home to countless European beer brands) offered to buy American brewing giant Anheuser-Busch (home to Budweiser) for $46.3 billion US Dollars. This, Forbes postulated, was bad news for that other international brewing giant, SABMiller, because no one wanted to buy it. This raised an important question for me. Namely, how good are their respective beers?

InBev have so far provided the highs of Hoegaarden, intriguing Gold Label Barley Wine and lows of that alcoholics choice, Tennent’s Super Strong Lager. And that’s just a microscopic portion of the brands they own. The only brew from the SABMiller stables that I’ve tried so far was the very average Castle Lager from Africa. I’ve not even tried anything bearing the Anheuser-Busch name in the small-print. So the time was right to fill in some gaps.

Whilst visiting my local purveyor of alcohol, I was disappointed to note that Budweiser is a lager. And therefore no better than average from the word go. Furthermore, the Czech Budweiser, Budwar is also a lager. If there is any demand out there for me to give them a try, I will, but most lagers are a waste of time.

I needed to find a beer. And, in the nick of time, one turned up. Here is a can of Miller Beer. An American beer, and part of the SABMiller family.

Miller Beer cab

First impressions are that is looks cool. The silver background is fetching, and makes everything printed on it readable. The “Miller” logo goes for the über-American look. There’s a large bald-headed eagle clutching a bunch of barley and hops. There are stars around the circular border. And the typeface looks as though it belongs on the jerseys of a baseball team. It does have a date on it though. 1855 isn’t at all bad in terms of heritage.

Under the big logo, the origins are proudly displayed for all to see. “Miller Brewing Company Milwaukee U.S.A.” Maybe my American readers can leave a comment saying if being from Milwaukee is something to be proud of. Or not.

At the bottom of the ‘front’ of the can is a big blue band. And in it, we can clearly see that this beer has an alcoholic volume of 4.2%. Not very strong. Barely moderately strong. But above weak. And there’s the ubiquitous advice to “serve chilled”. Don’t worry, I’ll be very relaxed when serving.

The small print is all tucked into a single column. And it begins with some bad news. This can wasn’t imported from Milwaukee. Instead, it was brewed “under license” by Scottish & Newcastle in Edinburgh. There’s a UK customer careline. A S&N email address at miller@scottish-newcastle.co.uk. And their Edinburgh postal address. It’s not the S&N are bad. It’s that I’d love to have more American beers over here that aren’t simply pretending to be so.

Miller Beer side of can

The can size is the homogenous 500 millilitres. Which, at 4.2% volume has 2.1 of your UK units of alcohol. Besides a summary of recommended maximums and the news that this contains barley and wheat is something unexpected. If not often that you find a full breakdown of nutritional information. But this has it. Energy, protein, carbohydrate and fat content are all listed. So if you’re on a calorie controlled diet, or looking for a product to write about for your biology class, this one is for you.

With nothing else to write about, it’s time to answer that all-important questions. Is Miller Beer any good?

Miller Beer poured into a glass

Be careful with the pouring. It has a tendency to froth up. My pint glass was able to cope, but you wouldn’t want a can that had dropped several times. After a couple of minutes the head died down to a thin and patchy layer, so it was time to get a closer look.

The colour is a decent shade of amber. Not to cheap looking and not artificially bright. There’s not much of a smell though. An indistinctive smell of beer ingredients is there. You just need to sniff extra hard.

A few gulps down, and first impressions are okay. The taste is very mildly bitter and sour, with hint of barley, wheat and hops. But not much.

About half-way through now, and there are a few things I like about Miller Beer. It’s very light. It’s very easy to drink as there’s little for the taste-buds to dislike. And it’s refreshing.

But all of those things can’t cover up some gaping holes. For starters, where is the flavour? It is almost tasteless. I’ve had bottled water with more flavour. Then, the taste and flavour it has, is cheap and nasty. Good beers and ales make you feel as though you’re drinking a carefully chosen blend of natural ingredients. This doesn’t. It could easily have something to do with coming out of a can instead of a bottle or keg at the pub. But it’s hard to escape the economy quality and artificial taste it leaves in your mouth.

To sum up, Miller Beer is tragically disappointing. I really wanted to like this one. Or to at least find it to be a quality if indistinctive beer. But it roundly fails to reach even average status. This is bland and low-quality. I’d rather have a lager.

Rating: 1.7

Have you tried Miller Beer?
What reputation does it have in the States? What did you think of it?
Leave your opinions, corrections, thoughts, suggestions and recommendations here please.

Beer Review: Newcastle Brown Ale

30 May, 2008

NEWCASTLE Brown Ale is another beer I’ve been putting off. Like Abbot Ale and Old Speckled Hen, it’s a big-name, high-volume and very popular beer with a place in the nation’s heart. And that means if I don’t like it, there’s be angry mobs with pitchforks leaving comments at the end of the post. I better be good then.

Newcastle Brown Ale bottle

Eagle-eyed readers will have noticed that this is the bog standard bottle. If you check your supermarkets and corner shops, you’ll see that there’s a 10-year anniversary edition with special labels. This isn’t one of them.

This oh-so-traditional bottle has become rather iconic in recent years. It was even used by Conservative activists to taunt recently crowned Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, when he refused to call a general election back in October. Or in their words, “lost his bottle”.

It stands out by not having a neck label. And by having the embossed words around the shoulder reading “The One and Only”. The glass is transparent too, so you can see exactly how brown this brown ale really is.

The main front label is on the cluttered side. But it’s symmetrical clutter, so that’s ok.

Newcastle Brown Ale front label

Around the top, we learn that this has been brewed since 1927. Odd, since the other bottles I saw in the shops were celebrating the ten-year anniversary. The name of the brewery is on there too. Newcastle Federation Breweries Ltd is behind Newcastle Brown. And I’m pleased to see it too. I assumed it would be another product of the faceless Scottish & Newcastle. I wander if there is any rivalry between them? Or, knowing what Scots and Geordies are like, just how much rivalry is there between them?

The big roundel has the instantly recognisable “Newcastle Brown Ale” in big red writing. The middle features a blue star with the famous bridge crossing the river Tyne. Like the Angel of the North on other label variations, this one isn’t ashamed of it’s Northern roots.

Either side are what look like medals. But unlike most bottles, these are large enough to read. One is a “Brewers & Allied Traders International Exhibition & Market”. The other is a 1928 Championship Award for a beer competition. All very contemporary then.

Back to the middle, and around the big blue star in the middle are some more little pictures. And some writing. The pictures are of hops and barley. The writing says “Drink Cold”. And there’s something that’s unusual. A millilitre indicator that’s bigger than normal. This bottle has 550 millilitres. That’s 50 more than normal in case you missed it. But disappointingly 18 short of a full-pint.

Down at the bottom of the front label is the alcoholic volume. 4.7% isn’t high. But it’s not too low either. Unless you’re a Geordie, in which case it is weak.

The back label does some different and clever things. And points out something clever about the front label too.

Newcastle Brown Ale back label

The back label has different facts. This one has “Fact: 4”. Of how many, I don’t know. This fact is on the subject of “name”. And, brilliantly, it’s written in Geordie. There’s even an asterisk explaining that “reet canny” translates to “rather frightfully good”. The fact in question is about the Norman origins of ” New Castle” by William the Conquerors son, Richard in 1080 on an existing Roman fort. But it’s the most entertaining beer label I’ve ever read.

Down to the small-print now, and Newcastle Brown Ale contains barley and wheat. The Tyne and Wear postal address is there. There’s a little box explaining that this has 2.6 of your daily UK units of alcohol and that 4 is the maximum for men. And 3 the daily maximum for women. In case you haven’t noticed the recent Government advertising campaign.

One of the most fascinating things is right at the bottom next to the forgettable little symbols. It turns out that the blue star on the front of the bottle is in fact a temperature gauge. It turns from grey to blue when the temperature reaches around 12 degrees centigrade. Presumably, that’s cold enough for the ale to be drank. Clever idea. And an excellent little label.

Now to answer the question I’ve been dreading. Is Newcastle Brown Ale any good?

Thanks to the transparent glass bottle, the colour isn’t a surprise. It’s a deep, dark brown. But the 550ml nearly completely fills the pint glass. Sadly, the thin head that covers the surface after you pour is almost totally vanishes within a couple of minutes.

Newcastle Brown Ale poured into a glass

The smell is pungent, and unlike almost any other beer I’ve sniffed. The barley and wheat of the ingredients are more prominent than I’ve seen for a long time. There’s almost no trace of malt or hops in the very strong smell. It’s not bad either. Something tells me this is going to be a full-flavoured drink.

And that’s exactly how it tastes. The overall taste is mildly bitter and sour, with the flavour being balanced and dominated by the arable crops that are in there. Barley and wheat mostly. The flavour is full, but it isn’t as insanely strong as, say, a stout. Newcastle Brown Ale is strong, but it’s all well balanced and easy to drink.

As well as being balanced and strongly flavoured by barley and wheat, what else can I say about Newcastle Brown Ale? Well, those flavours and the bitterness are rich, and smooth. All that flavour means that it’s full-flavoured and fairly full-bodied. And as you easily work your way through the contents of the bottle, you’ll be surprised at how quickly you get used to those strong flavours. With the blend of flavours it has, it’s also quite distinctive.

On the other hand, the strong bitterness and flavours will be too much for some people. Southerners probably. What’s more, the easy with which I became accustomed to it shows that it’s not quite as strong and full-bodied as I might like.

And there’s that taste. The blend of flavours that you’ll love, hate or tolerate. I tolerate it. It’s not as fun or as imaginative as some beers and ales. And after a while, it reminded me of stewed tea after the tea bad had been left in for too long. Do you know what I mean? But these are trifling gripes. There’s little to dislike about the ubiquitous Newcastle Brown Ale.

How can I sum up Newcastle Brown Ale? Well, it’s a strong, distinctive, balanced and drinkable ale. Some people will love the taste, others won’t. And some, like me will be somewhere in between. There’s no doubting that this is an excellent quality and very drinkable beer. But compared to the other beers on the shop shelves. And compared to that other brown ale, Leffe Brown, it’s up against tough competition for the money in your wallet.

Rating: 3.85

Have you tried Newcastle Brown Ale? What did you think?
Insults, opinions, comments, thoughts, ideas and suggestions below please.


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