BEEER is still great. Time to review a few – old friends and new liabilities (and the other way around) alike.
KRONENBOURG 1664 (Strasbourg, France, 330ml/500ml can, 5%)
One of the old-firm “international lagers” * and still pretty much the same kick in the pants it ever was. It doesn’t push the envelope or any of the other stationery regarding either hops or malt, but has enough action in both areas – underplayed though it is – to avoid floating away. What it is, is incredibly drinkable. I think it was always the mainstream import lager with the greatest potential appeal to drinkers of the bigger-selling Australian beers, and nothing’s really changed about it.
In terms of other local beer suspects, style-wise-erifically, if you like Boag’s or Cascade Premium, Boag’s Pure, Coopers 1862 Pilsener, you’re going to like this. Chances are, if you’re old enough, you had it before any of those first raised a fever sweat on some marketing guy’s brow. Crisp, clean, super easy to drink, not rolling in big hops or malt character, it does what it’s meant to do. Make sure you’re getting the Made in France version, not some bizarre infusion “made under licence” here.
* (International Lager is a made-up Leapster designation that means the better known big name imported, mass-produced lagers, that all are extremely drinkable and stay within certain parameters as far as not going too extreme on malt, colour, hops, flavour. They’re all plus or minus a relatively small number of degrees sharpness and body. The differences can be significant for the consumer, but they’re still kind of recognisable as family members. The obvious ones are Becks, Heineken, Carlsberg, Kronenbourg, Tuborg, Stella Artois, I guess you could thrown in Pilsner Urquell in a way, and you get the drill.)
BELLEROSE “BLONDE EXTRA” (St Amand les Eaux, France, 6.5%)
Yep, I really really like this one. Something in between those big wide emphatic cream-cakey Belgian goldy beers and something a little more lager-ish. It’s not cloying, and it’s also not a “let’s stick on this” session beer, but it’s satisfying, easy to contend with, and not an obvious style in any way. You won’t find it cheap, but try it one time and see what shakes.
MORETTI DOPPIO MALTO (Italy, 7%)
Grando Bievenuto Caberet-O Doppio Malto. Yup, plenty o’ malto to see here people and this is a good thing. If you liked the Peroni Gran Riserva – which also had the benissimo doppio malto to be going on with – and you thought I’d like to try something else in exactly this line, just for variation, well, you’ve just found it. To me, Peroni Nasty Canasta (the blue ribbon, or regular one) is simply just better than the Moretti regular beer (with the old boy disgustingly dipping his soup-strainer mustache into the beer on the label), but with these two molto doppio malto customers head-to-head, it’s a very close run thing – if you like the style, you’ll almost certainly like both. But these days, you’ll find the Peroni version cheaper. Definitely give this one a run though
(p.s. Moretti also run to a red double malt beer, which I think is a different beer entirely, until I’m corrected and told otherwise. But I’ve got a different alc/vol reading for it, and a different memory of it, so I might be right. Anyway, the other one’s worth trying too.)
BRAINS SA SMOOTH (Wales, 500ml, 4%)
The famous beer of Wales, apparently. Hopefully they also have something to drink over there. (Highest regard for the Welsh people whose company I’ve enjoyed, and those great Welsh performers we’ve all been entertained by, and of course their internationally famous cheese on toast they think they invented, but when they say “Smooth” in the title here, I’m presuming what they meant was the absence of any detectable flavour.) Best possible diagnosis here is maybe I picked the wrong variety, and thus there are still some good Brains in Wales.
RAAF NA BIRETTA (Rome, Italy, 330ml, 6.0%)
That specialist retailer Blacksocks and Parrot picks this up (at least the one down on Punt Rd right near St Kilda Junction does), among four beers in total from this small-batch Rome brewer. I don’t even try the other varieties. What this one does, no other brewer I’ve come across gets close to.
This is the smokiest smoked beer ever. Open a stubby of this and the fire brigade shows up. Basically when I used some kind of interweb instant-translator thingo on the flotillas of Italian on the label, it came out that they’d smoked the malt used in the beer over burning peat. Burning peat! Taste it and you won’t think they’re lying. Kind of a black ale, well, very black really, in a weird ovoid-shaped bottle and it tastes like iced smoke on glass. If you hate the idea of this, you will detest this with all due dry retching. However, if the concept has any appeal to you, this is the smoked beer you’ve been looking for. Even that Austrian rauchbier stuff, which is probably the next best, is relatively Justin Bee-bee like compared to this.
OK time for a live one-on-one drink off – a first here at Leapster Central – and it’s the battle of the black lagers: probably the most exciting concept in entertainment since most Australian TV stations abandoned their policy of closing the night’s transmission with “Epilogue” followed by “Test Pattern”. (I still think this would be an improvement on a 24 hour rotational basis over some digital and cable channels.)
KOSTRITZER BLACK LAGER BEER (Bad Kostritz, Germany, 330ml, 4.8%)
ALHAMBRA NEGRA (Spain, 330ml, 5.4%)
In the interests of not being disingenuous to people who probably don’t care whether or not that is a real word, I have to admit I had a fair idea who was going to win the black beer challenge before I started.
However I was as open-minded, open-hearted, and giddy from an idiotically hot day/with a heavy whack of air conditioning to follow/and four or five immediately preceding “craft” beers, as could possibly be.
The thing is, what do you want/expect a black lager to be. With these, they’re meant to look black as the proverbial dog’s guts, and thus intimate, if not intimidate, that they will be smashing you with malt like a stout or porter, but the trick is, you get a good sense of that approach from the initial mouthful, but then it magically falls away and drinks like a lager.
That’s the black lager style at its best, and its definitive approach. That’s what it’s meant to do.
And Kostritzer does some of that. It gives you a hint of malt up the nostril and down the hatch. It’s waaay-hey-hey easy to drink. Somewhere in the transition, to my taste, there’s no transition. Don’t get me wrong, I want this style to be light – that’s part of the unexpected attraction. But this is just a little lighter than I think it needs to be.
The Alhambra, to me is the definitive example of the style. I haven’t had better in it. It gets the job done every single time. You get enough characteristic of the big dark chewy malt, and then it goes very very lagerish and drinkable. It’s a trick that shouldn’t be do-able, and it does it.
To be fair, for those that have tastes tending more to the middle-ground (i.e. typical traditional Australian beers and the “international lagers”), the Kostritzer may well have more appeal. But to me the Alhambra is something special, and the thing is, I don’t think the supposedly average Australian palate would find it a problem to deal with. Maybe even a pleasure instead.
The reference source I have handy suggests the German brewer is where the style initially started, but I reckon you might want to give the Spanish chappie a rumble, particularly for those of you who have stumbled across the Mexican equivalent and think that’s the bee’s kneepads. You may well find this one considerably kneezier.