Posts Tagged ‘original’

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

10 October, 2008

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What can we say about the neck label?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What did you think of my first group comparison?

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

Cider Review: Gaymers Original Cider

7 July, 2008

ON sale for half-price at only £1.67 from Tesco, I couldn’t resist this four-pack of cider. Especially as this is one of the newly popular original ciders from one of the biggest cider producers in the country. If you’ve had one of the white ciders or super-strength ciders, then chances are that you’ve had a Gaymers without realising. I’m happy then, to have Gaymers Original Cider. A Gaymers that doesn’t hide behind a different brand name.

Gaymers Original Cider 4-pack

The four-pack itself isn’t particularly flashy. But it does the job. Sort of. That’s because after carefully removing one of the bottles, it was like removing the keystone from a bridge. Bottles falling all over the place.

The bottles themselves, and remember, there are bigger versions on sale, look different to the competition. Gone is the dark, elegant curves of the competition. Because here is a stocky, robust looking green bottle. A bottle with “Est 1770” and “Gaymer Cider Company” embossed upon it.

Gaymers Original Cider bottle

It has a big, wrap around neck label. One that is gold and makes the bottle look as though it’s wearing a dinner jacket.

Gaymers Original Cider front of neck label

Under the Gaymers logo, the one that looks like a crown with flames shooting out of each side, we learn that this is “Cold filtered”. What that means, I don’t know. But this is the first cider I’ve seen that is. It goes on to explain that this is “for a crisp refreshing taste”. Sadly, the back of the neck label doesn’t offer any more of an explanation.

Gaymers Original Cider back of neck label

All we get is the standard “drink responsibly” message and website. Look hard enough though, and you do see one thing that is unusual. There is a tiny symbol saying that Gaymer is a member of “The National Association of Cider Makers”. Never heard of it, but I’m glad that there is one.

The main front label is nothing out of the ordinary for a cider.

Gaymers Original Cider front label

Everything is clear and readable. Just lacking the character and personality of a beer or ale bottle label. There’s little on here that isn’t elsewhere on the front of this bottle. The established date is worth returning to, however. That’s because 1770 is a seriously long time ago. It means that when Gaymer first started producing cider, we had a mad king, and much of North America. Amazing.

Besides all the facts on the front label that we already know, are a few that we don’t. The vital statistics are on there. That this is a 330 millilitre bottle. And that it has 4.5% alcoholic volume. Nothing exceptional there then. The same goes for the prominent, capitalised words “Serve Over Ice”. I think that there may be some bandwagon jumping going on here.

Spinning the bottle around reveals a miniscule label.

Gaymers Original Cider back label

It’s a cider so there’s nothing to read, right? Wrong. For the first time, there is a proper, beer style description on the background of Gaymers Original Cider. We get to learn that this cider, established in 1770, is made with traditional cider pressing methods. That is made from English apples. And that it has a particularly crisp, refreshing and smooth taste. No mention of the word ‘dry’, so I’m happy.

There are a few other juicy details on the back too. This bottle has 1.5 UK units of alcohol. It contains sulphites. And it describes itself as a “Medium Cider”. Considering how strong it is, I can’t disagree with that.

With all of that out of the way, it’s time to answer some questions. What is Gaymer Original Cider like? And is it better than my current favourite, Magners Irish Cider?

Gaymers Original Cider poured into a glass with ice

I opted for a handful of ice cubes in the glass this time. The colour is a deep-ish golden-yellow apple colour. There’s no head and not that much fizz in the glass. The smell is apple-y. Much as you would expect and hope for from a cider. I like it. Even though it’s not particularly natural. It reminds of that other Gaymer cider, K. Which is exactly what I was hoping for.

The taste however, reminds me more of those less satisfying Gaymer ciders; the white ciders. It does have a taste of apples. But one that is light in character, and one that doesn’t taste particularly high-quality.

But don’t get me wrong, there is plenty to enjoy with Gaymers Original Cider. The light, apple-y taste is still very nice. The character isn’t dry, but sweet. Especially when you have plenty of ice in the glass. Something I like a lot. It also checks those other important cider boxes by being crisp and refreshing. What with the added smoothness by not being gassy, it does everything it promises on the label.

Even with all these good things, I can’t quite topple Magners from its perch as top Medium Cider. It simply doesn’t have enough flavour for my liking. And there is something about the quality of ingredients that seems synthetic.

Where does this leave Gaymers Original Cider? It’s very good, but just short of excellent. If you can find it at the price I did, then it is excellent value and well worth trying.

Rating: 3

Have you tried Gaymers Original Cider? What did you think?
Leave your corrections, opinions, thoughts, ideas, suggestions and recommendations here please.

Cider Review: Magners Original Irish Cider

27 June, 2008

PERHAPS the most heavily promoted cider in the recent boom is Magners Irish Cider. You can’t have missed the advertisements adorning every commercial break on television, or the billboards on the side of buses. So, cajoled by marketing, I have here a small bottle of Magners:

Magners Original Irish Cider bottle

It’s a nice looking little bottle of cider. The black cap certainly helps it in the style stakes. And the word “Original” is embossed upon the shoulder.

There is no neck label. But it does have golden foil wrapped around it. There is no writing on it, but it does have the Magners logo. And I think that logo could be vats of cider. Can anyone out there confirm?

Magners Original Irish Cider bottle neck

The classic roundel front label is where everything happens.

Magners Original Irish Cider front label

The background is golden. Isn’t it always, with cider? The “Magners Irish Cider” banners and logo prominently cut through it. The borders inform us that this is “Magners Original Vintage Cider”.

Inside the borders of this “Original” are all the vital statistics. They proudly tell us that this was “Produced In Ireland By WM. Magner”. That this bottle is the standard 330 millilitre size. And that the cider is the standard 4.5% alcoholic volume. Little sets it apart from the competition on paper at least.

Staying true to cider traditions, there is little to read on the back label.

Magners Original Irish Cider back label

That said, it does have more of a description than most. They inform us that “Magners Irish Cider is patiently vat matured to deliver a pure, crisp, refreshing flavour and natural character.” At least half of that is almost identical to what it says on the Bulmer’s Original label. But it’s hard to blame them, as there’s little to truly set one cider apart from the rest. Let’s hope this one really is crisp, refreshing and delivers flavour. Bulmer’s didn’t.

The only other details on the back label are either repeated on the front label. Or they are in another language. Which means we have faster the usual, reached the part where I open the bottle to tell you what it’s like. No mention of serving with ice on this bottle, so it’s straight in the glass. Although I’m sure that Magners marketing people would be delighted if you did have they’re cider on ice whilst out with friends on a hot, sunny day.

Magners Original Irish Cider poured into a glass

Pouring Magners Original Irish Cider is exciting. There’s lots of fizz. It never froths up, so you’re completely safe, but there’s lots of action. In the glass, it’s filled with more bubbles than I’ve seen in another other cider or beer. Amazingly for a cider, it leaves a head. Not a patchy few bubbles, but a complete head.

Colour is an orangey gold. A little like toned down apple juice. And the smell is more apple-y than I’ve sniffed for a long time. Not overpowering by any means. Simply a nice, rich smell of apples. Just as a cider should be in my opinion.

A few gulps in, and I’m enjoying this one. The taste is like the smell. And exactly what I expect from a cider; apple-y. Not too strong, simply a good taste of the fruit this is made from. As for the character, it’s not too dry and not too sweet. I may not have tried many, but it seems well balanced.

What do I like about Magners Original Irish Cider? The flavour for one. It actually has a flavour, unlike so many other ciders. And it has the right flavour in the right proportions. It’s not dry. It does what it promises on the label in that it’s crisp and refreshing. Although I suspect mine would be crisper and more refreshing if I’d have thrown some ice cubes into the glass first. Lastly, despite all the fizz, it isn’t too gassy.

What don’t I like about it? Very little compared to other ciders. If I had to nit-pick, I could say that it doesn’t taste of apples enough. Or that it makes you burp. A little. It might be almost flawless compared to other ciders, but even the best cider compared poorly to beer and ale. If you want lots of complex, interesting smells and flavours you won’t them in a cider. Not even a Magners.

For a cider, it’s an excellent specimen. If you want to introduce someone to a good quality example of what a cider should be, this is a good choice. This is probably my favourite normal strength cider. But it’s hard to give it a truly high rating, when you could be enjoying the complex blend of flavours in an ale.

Rating: 3.25

Have you tried Magners Original Irish Cider? What did you think of it?
Leave your opinions, thoughts, ideas, suggestions and recommendations with the world, here.

Cider Review: Bulmers Original

12 June, 2008

CIDER has been booming. This article from the trade press sums up what we had all guessed from the ads that fill every TV commercial break. Namely, that cider has been the fastest growing category of drink recently, that new ideas are being tried and that fortunes have been thrown at advertising.

Since I’ve always liked cider, this has all been no bad thing. The trouble comes with trying to review the stuff. Sure there are some differences between them. K from Gaymer was sweet and strong. Strongbow Super was strong and dry. And the multitude of strong, white ciders, also all from Gaymer were strong and bland. But they suffer the same problem as lagers. They’re made to almost exactly the same formula, with hardly anything to distinguish one from the other.

With ciders being such big business, the time seems right to revisit them. And hopefully to be proved wrong about them in the process. I’m going to be looking for the big names, the new and unusual and anything that isn’t dry. Dry isn’t as fun as sweet, so unless anyone out there wants to request a dry cider, you won’t find many turning up here.

Proving that advertising does work, I returned from Tesco today with a bottle of Bulmers Original. This one was priced £1.33.

Bulmers Original bottle

It’s hard not to like the way it looks. It might look almost identical to certain other bottles of cider, but the look works for me. The gold foil around the top says “quality”. Have you ever seen an “economy” drink that has gold foil wrapped around the top? This one has the “Bulmers Original” name, the “B” apple logo. And the “Estd.” date of 1887. Nice to see that Bulmers have some experience when it comes to ciders.

Bulmers Original neck foil

The main front label is cheesy. Or should that be “apple-y”? That’s because everything is either inside, or floating around the Bulmers apple shaped logo.

Bulmers Original front label

Around the top, it reads “Select Vat Matured”. After initially puzzling over what Value Added Tax had to do with it, it clicked that they meant this had been made carefully and with patience. Around the bottom, the straightforward “Premium Quality Cider” is rather plainer. And as they don’t refer to it as “dry”, I should be safe with this one.

The middle of the apple logo has nothing of surprise. Everything is well laid out. The established date is there. And there’s a signature from “HP. Bulmer”. Uninteresting, but my mouth is nonetheless watering for the cider contained within.

Back labels on bottles and cans of cider are always let downs. This is no exception.

Bulmers Original back label

Unlike beer bottles, they simply don’t know what to write. So you always end up with the small-print taking an uneasy centre stage. To Bulmers credit, they have taken the time to come up with a short paragraph of actual writing. It might only be about the “finest apples”, vat maturing, “refreshing taste and smooth character”, but at least they gave it a go. The “refreshing” and “smooth” part even gives us something to judge it by. Bulmers and other cider producers, have a look at the labels on bottles of ale to see how it’s really done.

The most prominent part is the block about units of alcohol. This bottle has 2.6 UK units. But if you’re in any doubt about how much out nanny-ing Government recommends, there’s a tabling telling you about it.

Under that, we can see how to get in touch with HP Bulmer Ltd if we ever feel the need. Their Hereford postal address is there. As is the number for their “Consumer Careline” and an email address, which is consumercare@bulmers.com.

Beneath that are the vital statistics. This, the most common size of bottle is an unusual 568 millilitres. Unusual, but welcome, because that makes this a full pint. The first I’ve seen since Wells. This fact deserves to be shouted about, not hidden away in the small-print. Even so, well done Bulmers for steering clear of the 500 millilitre Euro homogenisation.

The other vital statistic is the alcoholic volume. For Bulmers Original, 4.5% is the order of the day. Not high. Quite low for a cider, isn’t it? But that’s probably a good thing considering how this stuff is consumed.

The ingredients list is interesting too. I say list, but for this, as with every other cider I’ve looked at, the only thing they mention is “sulphites”. I’ve always had no idea what they are. But this one says “contains sulphites for freshness”. Some sort of preservative then?

They also suggest serving over ice. This seems to be the new trend driving cider. Of course that’s going to up the refreshment factor, but I’m not sure whether to try it on ice. To keep the playing field even with the other ciders I’ve tested, I’m tempted not to bother. On the other hand, I want to give each drink a fair chance. Which is why I’m going to make this my first review of a cider with some ice cubes.

I’m looking forward to this. More so than I expected to be at this point. Time now to see if Bulmers Original is any good.

Bulmers Original poured into a glass

Immediately, I’ve fallen into an obvious trap. With ice cubes in there, there is no way this pint glass is going to have room for the pint in the bottle as well. So either get a bigger glass or a smaller bottle if you’re going down the cider on ice route.

First impressions are that it’s orangey. Maybe artificially so. I kept being reminded of Robert Kilroy-Silk whenever I saw it. The smell? Of apples rather predictably.

The first few gulps were spent trying not to accidentally swallow an ice cube. First impressions of the taste are that it doesn’t taste as much of apples as I had expected. With most ciders, it’s as if you’re drinking concentrated crab apple. Not in this case. The apple-y flavour is surprisingly subdued.

A citrusy bitter and sour taste is the first thing you notice. The aftertaste is where you notice the hints of apple. Aren’t most ciders the other way around?

What I liked were that it was very refreshing. I’m not sure if the ice is adding anything apart from obstacles, but it is cool, crisp, clean and refreshing. Exactly what you want from a cider. It’s also very drinkable. With no strong flavours to contend with, it’s clear how this has become mainstream. It’s also smooth, exactly as promised on the label.

What I didn’t like was that there simply wasn’t enough taste and flavour. The flavours were so weak, it was almost like drinking apple flavoured water. Something not helped by the cubes of frozen water floating on the top.

Bulmers Original is a totally competent cider. But I don’t love it. Yes, it’s refreshing and drinkable. But it’s also light on flavour and weak. Some people will love these things about it. And on a hot day, at a party or a barbeque, I’d happily cool down with this cider. I just can’t find enough good reasons to want it over the alternatives.

Rating: 3

Have you tried Bulmers Original?
Got any opinions, correction, requests or suggestions? Then leave a comment here.

Beer Review: Lőwenbräu Original

25 May, 2008

AFTER my recent look at East-European beers with unpronounceable names and no English writing on it, I felt like a change. So here’s a German beer, with an unpronounceable name and no English writing on it. It’s a can of Lőwenbräu Original. It cost £1.19 and it’s available from a surprising number of off-licences in London.

Lőwenbräu Original can

Painted in light-blue, it’s hard to confuse Lőwenbräu with any other beer on the market. The top features a shield with a typically Germanic looking dragon. Or is it a lion? Whatever it is, it looks German.

Either side of the logo is some writing. It’s hard to read, not only because I can’t understand it, but because of the typeface. I think it says “Ein Bier wie Bayern”. Not knowing any German language, it’s hard to translate. But that never stopped me with the Polish beers. So, I think this says that this beer has “Bayern”. Whatever that is.

Under the Lőwenbräu Original name is some more text that I can’t read. Nor make any sense of. There’s something in there about tradition, but apart from that, I need your help. If you can translate what’s written on this can, do please leave a message at the end of this post.

Under that is the usual small print. That this is a 500 millilitre can. And that it has a slightly above average 5.3% volume.

Rotating the can slightly, and there’s a column of symbols. Some familiar, some not.

Lőwenbräu Original other side of can

There’s also some description of what refund you could get from this can. If you live in Québec. All of 20 cents. Still a good idea, though. We should give refunds for recycling a try, here in the UK. That would clean the streets of bottles and cans in a hurry.

Rotating the can a little further, and we arrive at the biggest and least comprehensible blocks of text I’ve ever soon on a beer can.

Lőwenbräu Original barcode side of can

It’s not the sort of things that you’d try and read just for fun. Sadly, these ‘reviews’ of mine are only 99% fun and opinion. The 1% of actual fact and research of this so-called review is going into trying to make sense of this big block of writing.

First off, we learn that this was brewed by Lőwenbräu AG from Munich, Germany. That is contains water, malted barley and hops extract. Furthermore, this 50 cl can translates into 16.9 US fluid ounces or 17.6 Imperial fluid ounces. I didn’t even know that two different fluid ounce systems existed, but indeed they do.

And that’s all the information there is on that giant block of text. There’s a lesson to be learned here brewers. Tiny text, lots of languages and a big foreboding block aren’t something to aim for.

With no more information to read. And no information that I can understand, there are more questions than usual to answer about what this will be like. The only things I know for certain are that it’s beer. Of some sort. And that it’s from Germany. How bad can it be? Germany is well known for beers isn’t it? So it’s with some optimism, that I crack open the can to see what’s inside.

Be careful with the pouring if you decide to go down that route. The head froths up easily. But luckily, settles back down to a decent, consistent layer of froth in a few moments.

Lőwenbräu Original poured into a glass

The colour is a pale yellow. And it’s very bubbly. I’m starting to fear that this might be a lager. I hope it isn’t.

The smell is not something to write home about. It smells faintly of malted barley. There’s nothing premium, complex or sophisticated about that.

A few gulps in, and my fears are realised. Or are they? With few hints on the can, I could well be wrong. But I’m detecting something lagery about the taste. If you know for certain if this is a beer or a lager, then do please leave a comment at the end of this post.

The taste and flavour is dominated by an ever-so familiar blend of malted barley and hops. The sort that’s so sharp and sour, that it lingers at the back of your tongue. Apart from the taste, that I cant only describe as lagery, there truly aren’t any others that I can find. Even if this doesn’t turn out to be a lager.

To Lőwenbräu’s credit, served cold, it is clean, crisp and refreshing. It’s also not as gassy as I thought it would be. And even though I don’t much like the taste, I can appreciate the quality of the ingredients and the blend. All these things make it easy to drink.

On the other hand, Lőwenbräu Original’s taste is not great. Not bad. Especially when compared to the terrible Polish lagers I’ve tried recently. But it’s not good either. If you like lagers, you might like Lőwenbräu Original. Even if Lőwenbräu isn’t a lager. That mystery remains unsolved.

Lőwenbräu Original also has a watery consistency. And not much originality and character. In a blind taste test, I would have a hard time identifying it.

How can I sum up Lőwenbräu Original? Without being able to read the writing on the can, with some difficulty. Whether Lőwenbräu Original is a lager or not, it is still cheap and foul tasting. Some of you may like that. Others, I hope, will agree with me. And this means that it’s hard to find many good reasons to buy Lőwenbräu Original. Imported to the UK, it becomes more expensive than similar drinks. And it’s certainly not much better tasting.

Rating: 2

Have you tried Lőwenbräu Original? Or any other Lőwenbräu beer?
Can you translate or explain anything about this beer?
Translations, corrections, opinions, thoughts, comments, ideas and suggestions in the usual place please.

Beer Review: Badger Original Ale

25 January, 2008

This time, we start with the first of three-parts. For your entertainment and interest, I will bravely test (ok, enjoy) three of the Badger ales produced by the Hall and Woodhouse. A rustic old family brewers from Dorset. They go all the way back to 1777; a good sign if you like your old ales very old indeed.

We begin with the oldest and most widely available Badger; the Original Ale.

Bottle of Badger Original Ale

The label does all the right things. Hinting at fine ingredients; a head brewer and how old it is.

Badger Original Ale front label

The rear label goes on to talk about how the original Badger ale was used by farm workers in the 1700s and then by the army in the Napoleonic Wars. Frustratingly, reading it a second time however, reveals that this ‘Original’ simply uses the real original from the 1700s as inspiration. A lot like the Greene King IPA unoriginal original.

One of the things I love about the Badger Ales are the Taste Profile boxes. These rate the bitterness, sweetness, hoppiness, maltiness and fruitiness on a scale of one to five, one being lowest and five the highest. If only all beers did this. It would make choosing what to buy so much easier.

Badger Original Ale back label

Badger Original claims to be English ale at its best. Backed up by their taste profile, they claim a well balanced taste. Balanced, that is, between bitterness, fruitiness and spice. Let’s see how well it did…

Poured into a glass, you get a good thick head atop a generous 500ml of liquid.

Badger Original Ale poured into a glass

Odour-wise, you’re treated to a surprisingly full smell of malt, hoppiness and even some fruits. This is what I want from a old ale; for it to smell like a field.

And the complexity carries through to the taste. It’s bitter. But not too bitter. It’s malty and hoppy, but not overpoweringly so. And you can just about detect some other things like fruit in there too.

The whole nearly-full-pint worth of drink went down very easily. Drinkability here is excellent. That said, it may be due to the rather limp 3.8% volume. This is not strong stuff, but it does smell and taste like how you want ale to be. What we have here is an English ale ‘experience’.

But. Is that at the cost of being something specific? It’s not a ‘proper’ bitter. And it’s not a crisp largery beer either. If however, you want big, complex, smells and flavours to go with your pie, this is marvellous.

Rating: 4 and a bit


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