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Budweiser – The King of Beers

30 January, 2011 10 comments

“…the true American lager…”

I suppose that sooner or later it had to happen. I’ve been living in California for most of six years now, and despite drinking possibly hundreds of brews, had never tried two classic American favourites – Budweiser and malt liquor.  Well that’s not strictly correct. Let me say that I have not tried them over here. I do recall having a Bud in one pub back in England that (if memory serves me well) sold nothing but lager, and a friend once gave me a Colt 45. I did not have great memories of either.

Still, that was in the past, in a different life altogether, and as people frequently remind me “you’re in America now”. It was also before I had read an article shared with me by one of our current houseguests, in which the author waxes both polemic and lyrical in support of this, the “King of Beers”. Sometime when you have ten or so minutes, have a read of it.

This same houseguest decided that I needed to sample the delights of Budwesier, and I will give you that story in a short while. Meantime, I will give you a precis of the writer’s arguments before proceeding with my taste test. His major arguments run thus:

  1. Budweiser has been around a long time – longer than most British breweries, beginning in 1876 (before the Budvar brewery), and has been using the same recipe ever since.
  2. It’s brewed with all-natural ingredients, barley, hops, yeast and rice ( with beech chips for conditioning). It is then filtered and pasteurised (common to many other beers).
  3. “Adolphus Busch in 1876 was a German master brewer of exactly the sort that beer nuts go gooey over, he was trying to make a high quality beer (as proved by Budweiser’s use of expensive Saaz hops), and he decided that the best way to brew a lager was to use rice.” I quote, because I can think of no better way of putting it.
  4. It neither tastes like piss, nor it it a cissy beer. Apparently it has a lower pH than urine, hence is “definitely more acidic than piss”.
  5. He argues that the modern microbreweries are a product of the Industrial Revolution, and their beers are not “artisanal” in the sense that they are under industrial quality control, just as Bud is, presumably.
  6. Budvar does not have a right to call itself the original, Busch neither stole the brand  nor sought to copy (given that they were brewing before Budvar, who began in 1895). The original  Budweiser Bürgerbräu was, according to Wikipedia, founded 1785, and imported to the US in 1871.

Let the Judging Begin!

First up, Peter (the instigator of this whole enterprise) bought a rather large can of the true American lager which were dutifully poured into glasses. It was crystal clear, a pale straw colour, exactly as I’d expected. As is my wont, I then stuck my schnoz in to get a good hooterful (the “nose” of a beer, as a wine, is an important part of the enjoyment to me, as regular readers will know). My first reaction was that there was a little yeastiness in the nose, but it was momentary. This was replaced by a slight musky aroma, but again, just for a moment. I took another snootful. There was something there, a little sweet malt, and sipping it didn’t do much for me.

Peter, bless his heart, agreed with my analysis despite his bluster that it would be a good drink. We tossed the undrunk portion in the sink and poured a snobbier brew for ourselves.

Is it refreshing? Well, yes – but then pretty much anything served at close to freezing point is going to provide that. Is it disappointing as a stand-alone beer? Well, frankly it is. But then I’m not about to be a snob about this – Budweiser is not a beer to drink and enjoy as a beer, it’s a beer to quaff on a hot day, or after a hard day’s work, or in front of the television. It’s not for nothing that Anheiser-Busch sells a lot of this to a mass audience, one that their marketeers knows well. The pitch is clear – simple beer, a standard and reliable recipe that never changes. Maybe the beer snobs should just suck it up and allow the drinking masses to enjoy it.

Categories: Beers Tags: , ,

Lager and Curry – Taj Mahal Premium and Kingfisher Premium

5 October, 2009 2 comments

There’s a great British drinking tradition that seems to have grown up in recent years. It is connected with imports – lager (not a British traditional drink of yore) and curry (which in England generally means spicy dishes from the Indian subcontinent). The history of these two elements comes together with the nouvelle tradition that is the “boys’ night out”, which revolves around binge drinking and a late night meal (and all too often, relieving themselves in a shop doorway).

When I was a youngster, back in the days when hairy elephants roamed the earth, an evening’s drinking involved going to the pub around 7 o’clock until closing time (11pm), sinking a number of pints of bitter before hying to the nearest fish-and-chip shop for six-penn’orth of chips and a Pukka pie. The beer was typically 3.8% – 4% ABV, the meal about 25% fat.

Taj Mahal Premium Lager

Taj Mahal Premium Lager


This was soon to change; with the advent of the stronger lagers, those who were determined to consume more booze could do so. At the same time, the number of “Indian restaurants” was growing, with business-savvy hardworking immigrants spreading around the country. The scene was set for the lager louts, with their alcoholic pertinaciousness, to consume a more exotic diet of European (and later, American) lagers and evermore spicy curries.

Now I don’t want to give the idea that every British male spends every night filling themselves to bursting point on this explosive mixture before throwing on the way home, nor that this is limited to the female of the species. This is, however a trend that seems to be growing, to the point where the Government is getting concerned; about the binge drinking, not about the curry consumption.

An American tale of curry-and-lager

Recently, we learned about a local curry house in Dixon, about 12 miles away from us. Excited about the prospect of my first good curry in several months, off we trotted to the Punjabi Dhaba restaurant where we decided to sit down a a traditional meal of chicken tikka masala, jalfrezi, naan and bhajis. Washed down, of course, with a traditional Indian lager. Well, two – I opted to go for a small sampling. Not a binge, oh no.

Taj Mahal Premium

I started with a Taj Mahal out of the United Breweries (India) stable. I’m afraid I have little to say about this, other than it’s an American-style adjunct lager. It’s a light colour, with a good white head.

There’s little nose beyond a hint of grain and very little hop. It drinks like any other lager, with a fairly thin body, a light maltiness and the faintest tang of hop and grassiness. I did find it a little sour rather than sweet, which detracted from the overall enjoyment for me.

It’s quite effervescent, not at all sweet, and in keeping with the style, relatively devoid of character. Simple is what it is, and refreshing, and despite the protestations of many curry-and-lager fans, it’s not what I’d choose with a spicy meal. C-minus, and a detention.

Kingfisher Premium

Kingfisher Premium Lager

Kingfisher Premium Lager

The next pick was Kingfisher Premium, another lager from United. This poured with a skinny-looking head that sadly didn’t last long enough for a decent picture, and a tad darker than its cousin. A little maltier in the nose, with some sweetness apparent, it was more appealing and appetising.

There was a little more body than the Taj Mahal, it was sweeter and more flavoursome, the hops seemed a little more forward and it lacked the musty, faintly skunky flavour. Overall it was decidedly more pleasant, with a better balance of taste, a mix of sweetness and a touch of bitter at the finish. It did better than the last, with a C+ rating.

Overall, neither beer really satisfied me. My guess is that anyone who is having a spicy meal won’t notice that the beer is mediocre, because what they want is light refreshment to cool the mouth. For my part, I’d take a pale ale any day, to balance the strong flavours in a curry, and a little more hop would certainly not go amiss with all those spices vying for attention on the palate.

Oh, and I can hear your comments now. Complain all you like that I didn’t get legless and then go for the curry – I have too much respect for beer, food and my constitution to go through all that.

Categories: Beer Talk, Beers Tags: , ,

Session Black Lager

23 September, 2009 5 comments

“I myself am often surprised by life’s little quirks” – Westley, The Princess Bride

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Quirks are unusual occurrences, and along with Westley, I am continually surprised by them. Having just written about session drinking I was delighted to come across a beer that is (in taste) the very essence of a session beer. I was offered this little brew at a friend’s house, and despite my not generally considering myself a lager drinker, I nonetheless accepted the offer. I have to be honest here and say that had it not been a black beer I may have declined.

Black lagers are outside my ken, so this was a first for me. I have to say that I was quite delighted by this brew, from the first pour to the last drop, and I dare say that I could have enjoyed another one or two of them on the night. Of course it pours a dark brown-black, with a feathery head, and a malty nose is apparent almost immediately. When I stuck my nose in the glass I was delighted to get a sweet and faintly chocolate-and-toffee whiff, reminiscent of the bonfire toffee of my youth.

Session Black Lager

Session Black Lager

The flavour is mild, the body understandably light and refreshing, but there’s a slight fruitiness that again came as something of a surprise. I really wanted to quaff it and go back for a second helping, but I failed in that regard, although I see a future in which a few of these will sit in the fridge for those easy session-beer evenings with a few friends.

At 5.8% ABV it’s stronger than I’d drink in a serious evening session, but it really is an easy beer to drink, neither challenging or complex, yet yummy enough that I would stock up a little so that I can have a cold one or three when I fancy it. Unusually, it comes in an 11-ounce bottle, slightly smaller than “regulation” beer size, and that may account for New Sail calling it “Session” – you’d possibly still drink the same number of bottles in an evening, without all that tedious getting plastered.

I’d be curious what would happen if I let it warm up a little as it was served at fridge temperature. Next time I’ll pour a pint so I can see what happens as the chill slips away. Maybe one of these evenings I will do just that, and I’ll be sure to let you know my findings. Meantime, if you come across this one, do give it a whirl and prepare to be as surprised as I was.

Strawberry Music Festival Beers – Kona Longboard Lager and Widmer Hefeweizen

8 September, 2009 7 comments
Strawberry Festival Beer Selection

Strawberry Festival Beer Selection

The Strawberry Music Festival is a fabulous place to be – we’ve just returned from the Labour Day weekend fest, replete with memories, food and dirt. Camping out in the mountains was tremendous fun, the music was magnificent and the company was out of this world. I could talk about the great hospitality, fine weather and whatnot until the cows come home, but for now I must content myself with talking about the beer.

Toward the evening, the Sierra Nevada mountains cool off quickly, so while the day was still warm, I decided to head for the beer tent and sample their wares (all on draught, all served into plastic cups).

I have to say that there’s wasn’t much of a choice, as you can see from the photo. Not that I was too dismayed; I decided to dive in to some unfamiliar territory. Eschewing the standard fare of Guinness, Newcastle and Sierra Nevada, plumped for the Hefeweizen.

Widmer Hefeweizen

Not that anyone will lose much sleep over this, but this has to be one of the least inspiring examples of the style I have ever had. Now normally, this style of beer is pleasantly fruity, spicy and refreshing, bu in this case I found that there’s little in the nose, the colour is lacking, there’s little body and a disappointingly bland flavour. My standard for the style is Hoegaarden, being the first hefe I sampled all those years ago in Nottingham. Whilst that isn’t the finest of beers, it’s pleasant enough, and has become the yardstick by which I judge others. The Widmer comes nowhere near even close.

There’s barely any malt either in the nose or the taste, neither was there any of the warm spicy citrus I’ve come to expect from the type. It’s a thin brew in every respect, and in fact the only good thing I can say is that it was cold and wet. Not unpleasant, just bitterly disappointing.

No hops, little malt, and barely any nose. My first C-rated beer. C-minus, in fact.

Kona Brewing Longboard Lager

Undeterred, I ploughed on,and while the music played, settled on a brew that a few others at the Co-op have recommended – Kona’s Longboard Lager.

It’s a pale gold, as you might expect from a lager, and while it had a good head at the pour, by the time I’d walked back to the music, it had vanished, leaving a faint few bubbles at the rim. “Maybe this is due to the plastic cup”, I thought, feeling fairly generous. “Maybe it will be an improvement”.

Let me just say this. If ever you’re looking for an all-purpose beer, this is it. It will serve excellently in your windscreen washer bottle, perhaps it will remove those stubborn grass stains from your trousers from sitting on the grass at a music festival. Keep a bottle handy and shake it up to extinguish a small grass fire. Maybe it will quench your thirst if you’ve nothing else, but one thing it will not do is surprise your nose or delight your palate.

You may feel I’m being a little unkind, and that may be true, because I’m not a big fan of lagers. I’ve come across many of them, and as a rule I find them to be uninspiring, thin and tasteless. Perhaps that’s the point, that lagers are brewed for the relief of thirst, not for the benefit of Real Ale Bores. That said, I’ve had many better.

This one had little in the nose. A little breadiness and a slightly grassy scent but otherwise, little to report. It has a slightly sugary flavour, but not much else. Again, there’s nothing to say against it, but neither is there much to far for it, either. As it’s brewed in Hawaii, and given the name, I’ll assume that it’s aimed at the hard-sporting surfer who wants and easy and quick thirst-quencher after whatever it is that surfers really do. I’ll stop now before I get too rude about this one. Solid C.

After this, the dullest review of beer I’ve so far done, let me just say this. Strawberry Music Festival is still well worthwhile. We had a great holiday weekend, and you should too. Go for great music. Just take your own beer.

Update

After all the comments received about this post, I feel obliged to point out that the keg could have been run about the countryside, and was poorer as a result. Hoiking beer around the country can cause a disturbance in the Force, maybe I should have mentioned that before. This said, BeerAdvocate users didn’t rate either of them that highly, either.

Sudwerk Märzen

Sudwerks MarzenToday is Mother’s Day. I’m sitting in a friend’s front garden in the Capay Valley, facing the very spot where I was married to Christine on the first of May four years ago. Just as on that Beltane there’s a clear sky, fragrant roses and honeysuckle. There’s still an olive tree shading the spot where Sam, the minister, stood as he blessed our union. There’s still the pretty dappled shade over the lawn, where Christine is sitting, painting the scene.

For myself, I am sitting in the porch drinking to the memory of my mother, and I’m doing it with a beer from my new home town of Davis, California.It’s a Märzen from the Sudwerk microbrewery in Davis, California.

Now your Märzen is traditionally drunk in the summer, having been stored in chilly caves and shaded by horse-chestnuts. Thus spake Wikipedia. In Germany, the last opportunity to drink these darker lagers was at the Oktoberfest, but nowadays we can drink practically anything at any time. The seasonal variations in beers tend to be a thing of long ago, with the possible exception of the really rich, dark Christmas puddings of winter beers.

This beer is not at all bad, quite interesting for a lager – there’s a neat hoppy bitterness to it that matches the weather almost perfectly. It’s a rich and coppery amber with an initially lively head, though it dies back quickly, leaving only a thin lacing. First impressions are of a slightly spicy nose, faintly toasty and a hint of citrus. The first taste is quite a surprise – it’s not hugely complex, but neither is it uninteresting. Instead it’s a clean, fruity flavour with a little butter, but the hops are in the forefront all the time, providing a little bitterness without being overly hopped.

Butter and bitter? Sounds odd, but it works. Add the slight toastiness and what you have is a Marmite sandwich type of a beer. I exaggerate somewhat, its not quite that dark and bitter, but it is certainly a refreshing change from the norm of pale lagers; it’s quite tasty and “more-ish”, I found myself wanting another one almost immediately. That I needed another is partly down to the thinness, relative to my normal run of fuller-bodied beers, but that lightness is part of its strength. It’s definitely a refreshing session beer rather than a refreshing specialist, drink-alone beer. With a good B- rating, I want to load up a plate of sausages and good bread and sit down with several of them. That would make for a good afternoon picnic in anyone’s garden.

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