Posts Tagged ‘rice’

Beer Review: Tsingtao Beer

20 August, 2009

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

Tsingtao Beer bottle

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

Tsingtao Beer neck and shoulder of bottle

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

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

Tsingtao Beer front label

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tsingtao Beer back label

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

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

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

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

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

Tsingtao Beer poured into a glass

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Beer Review: Sun Lik Beer

20 September, 2008

THIS is Sun Lik Beer. It’s from the far east, that’s for sure. But where exactly? Time to look for clues.

The whole package is building an oriental theme. But to find out which oriental country is going to need some detective work. Not being an expert on East-Asian calligraphy, the words on the neck label are a mystery to me. All I can say at this point, is that they don’t look Korean or Japanese. Does that make this a Chinese beer? The two dragons that appear everywhere on the labels don’t answer many questions either.

In contrast to the near empty neck label, the front label is busy. Very busy. There’s symbols, and writing and imagery all over the place. It’s one of the most hectic roundels you’ll find anywhere.

Sun Lik Beer front label

Around the top, they describe it vaguely as the “Premium Beer of The Orient”. At the bottom of lots of writing a can’t understand, the name that I can understand and a dragon is something else. It turns out that this wasn’t actually imported. Instead it was “Brewed and Bottled Under Licence in the UK”. I feel a big cheated by that.

It also adds another layer of mystery to this bottle. Hopefully the back label will hold some answers.

Sun Lik Beer back label

They open with a slogan: “Distilled with Life and Energy”. That’s good because I’m feeling close to death. This could be just what I need.

Then they have a couple of sentences about what the drink will be like. They describe it as “a premium quality, refreshing beer with an unmistakable Oriental taste.” Quality and refreshment are all good. But unmistakable oriental taste? All the other oriental beers I’ve had, have tasted adequate and indistinctive. So what are they on about?

In the next sentence, they cleverly incorporate a short list of their “finest” ingredients. These are malt, rice, hops and “natural spring water”. Nothing too unusual there apart from the rice. Which is a good addition. Trust me. All the other lagers I’ve tried, most of which from Asia, that include rice, taste better for it. For reasons I don’t understand, they always have a richer, better balanced taste than those that forgo the rice. See Cobra Extra Smooth for example.

This is an export bottle, so there’s a lot on there that will be meaningless to you. Carefully picking through the writing, and one part of the mystery is solved. This was brewed under license by Shepherd Neame Ltd of Faversham in Kent. The same brewer behind the very good Bishops Finger and Spitfire.

Under all the usual multi-lingual details are the vital statistics. This is the standard 33 centilitre bottle. And the drink within is the standard 5%. Both of which cause it to have 1.6 UK units of alcohol. Absolutely nothing unusual there.

Under that though, is a surprise. It has the name San Miguel Brewing International Ltd. That must be the same company as behind the bland, Spanish San Miguel. The final detail is the web address. The one printed is www.sunlikbeer.com. Unbelievably, it takes until you get arrive at their homepage before you learn the origins of Sun Lik Beer. According to their website, my hunch was right. This is Chinese. Specifically, it’s brewed under license from the Hong Kong Brewery Ltd. Chaps, this really is the sort of thing you should be printing on your bottle labels.

Enough chit-chat. It’s time to crack open this bottle and answer some questions. Questions such as what does it taste like? And is it any better, or worse, than all the other Asian, and particularly Oriental beers on the market?

Watch out for the head if you decide to pour it. It froths up eagerly. Fortunately, it settles down almost as fast. A minute later, and it’s now a thin layer of froth. As for the colour, it’s got some amber. But not very much.

It smells as good as most other Oriental or rice based lagers. You get a nice, rounded smell of malted barley. It’s much the same as other Oriental lagers that include rice. And not at all bad for it.

But how does Sun Lik Beer taste? A couple of gulps in, and it tastes a lot like any other Oriental lager that includes rice. For the unfamiliar, it tastes like lager, but richer and better balanced. There’s no flavour. Because it’s a lager. But that void is smoothly filled by a rich, bitter “bite” of an aftertaste. That aftertaste arrives smoothly. It doesn’t hit you roughly. And it leaves you with mild, lingering aftertaste.

What is there to like about Sun Lik Beer? Quite a lot if you like lager. And some things, even if you don’t. If you like lager, you’ll like the smooth, light taste. The Sun Lik take on the familiar lager formula is a good one. And it must be down to the rice. It seems well balanced and richer because of it. Qualities that make it quite refreshing and drinkable. We know that Shepherd Neame can do quality, and Sun Lik Beer maintains that reputation.

What won’t you like about Sun Lik Beer? There’s no escaping the lagery roots of Sun Lik Beer. And that means it has no taste. Sure it has aftertaste, but it has no flavour. Next, I like the taste, but it’s not exactly distinctive. It tastes much the same as other lagers, particularly those from Asia and the Orient that happen to include rice. That’s nice enough, but I’m struggling to find a compelling reason to choose Sun Lik over the competition. If won’t be because it’s easily available. And it won’t be because of the packaging. A regular green bottle and often baffling labels are a turn-off. It’s also quite gassy, judging by all my burping.

To conclude, Sun Lik Beer is an easy to drink, well made imitation of an Oriental lager. It does its job perfectly well. There just aren’t enough reasons to recommend it over the competition. This is one to order from the menu to go with your Chinese meal.

Rating: 3.05

Have you tried Sun Lik Beer? What did you think of it?

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


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