PT 3 – THE CHAMPIONSHIP QUARTER
We continue our glorious suds-flecked amber rafting experience of the moooiiind with more lagers, and then spread the BEEER love as we spread out towards other styles. Two-fisted beer swilling, err “reviewing”, action as you like it. Or don’t.
MORETTI PREMIUM LAGER (Italy, 4.6%)
Straw-like and brittle, and a bit thin. There are plenty worse, but I can’t find anything to dance on the desk-top about here. The best thing about it is the pic of the old fashioned guy plunging a faceful of whiskers into a gigantic beer on the label. 6.5 out of 11
RAFFO (Rome, Italy, 4.7%)
The inclusion of maize seems to make some beers a little straw-like, not just in colour. But this one is golden, easy-drinking, pleasant, and if thoroughly unexceptional, does have the undoubted benefit of being one you could stick on. It doesn’t have that bit of bittering balance in the hops that even, say, standard Pieroni does, but it doesn’t really need it either – it’s not remotely cloying as is, and doesn’t kick up much of an aftertaste. I think the Johnny VB type drinkers could murder a few of these on a hot day, especially if they were brutally cold. On the label it says “La birra dei due mari”, which I think means either “The beer of the sea god”, or “The beer of people who’ve been married twice”. A formidable prospect in either case. 7.5 out of 11 on the LLL ‘one better’ scale.
MENABREA 1846 (Biella, Italy, 4.8%)
Hello!! Zingo-bango-banana – game on!!! It almost has something smoky around the finer edges at first, but that’s just one of a number of minor fireworks displays of flavours in one of those lagers that’s unusually complex, well-balanced and your new best friend as soon as your tongue runs into it. This does a couple of things with the hops that the Raffo doesn’t, but immediately trades off so cleverly with the malt that all you know is that it’s quenching a thirst while still keeping the blended flavour show on the road. The only reservation I’d have with this is that, in theory, there would be just a little too much going on with it for the very hottest of Australian test conditions, (which is not true of the Raffo, or Peroni Blue Ribbon, I think) and also that – in a rare admission for me – you might want Menabrea just one squiffteenth to the left of deadly coldness, to better enjoy the flavour. If I may Sally Field for a minute, I really really like it. 9.5 out of 11.
CARLSBERG CARLS SPECIAL (Denmark, 4.4%)
The most immediately striking thing about this beer is that the can it comes in has a slightly unusual symbol on it, which is a 12 pointed star inside another 12 point star. You don’t see one 12-pointed star that often, so it’s arguably kind of a red letter day. The beer itself is less remarkable. It pours darker than you’re likely to have expected unless you’re Danish, and the flavour is kind of musty if anything at first, and then a little tricky to identify after that. It reminded me of a long-since scrap-heaped local light beer of some time back, when they made it look dark in the vague hope than none of the drinkers would notice that like every other light beer in the formative years of that Australian style, it didn’t have any definable flavour at all, particularly of beer. (I think it was a Toohey’s one, but don’t hold me to it. Like I said, it’s long-gone now.) Carls Special isn’t really that bad. It’s smooth-drinking and there’s kind of very understated and not unpleasant fruit quality around the edges. It’s just not enough of anything in particular that you could aim any section of the beer drinker market at it with confidence. Also, frankly, it drinks too light for the content. If you guessed at it, you might tend to think this would be around 3.5% alc/vol. And at that level, it would be a reasonable drink. Most of the entertainment as things stand comes from trying to work out what the brewer had in mind, since it’s not exactly obvious from the product. Nothing wrong with a mystery, but probably most of us prefer them on a screen to in a can. 6 out of 11.
HOLGATE ESB (Woodend, Vic, 5%)
OK, this is a well-regarded brewer whose product I just tend to have a roster-wide mental block on. I don’t get their beers, or they don’t get to me. To me, it’s like – one of them’s under-carbonated, another I don’t get what its act is meant to be, yet another undistinguished in a style I don’t like, etc etc. We don’t seem to be able to come to an accommodation at all – I think I’ve found one exception and it wasn’t so overwhelming that I can remember which one it was.
Anyway, their “Extra Special Bitter” is good-to-go for shpritz, has a dark red-fading-to-black colour which I like, you can taste the good solid cook they’ve given the malt which is not quite smoky, but roasty in a good way, and a bit “crunchy” or rude on the tongue – and that’s it. It just kind of stops there. I’m missing something I’m wanting in the body of the beast – probably a tiny bit in the way of sweetness, and a little more heft. It’s drinkable but beyond what the malt does, to me its lacking some for flavour. The nicer way to view it is it’s pretty thirst-quenching for the style. Really, another Holgate I don’t gate. Err, get. 6.5 out of 11 on the LLL “one better” scale.
LITTLE CREATURES IPA (Fremantle, WA, 6.4%)
Have you had Little Creatures Pale? Those who don’t like it cringe and scrunch their dials up at the “floral” attack on nose and palate. Those who occasionally want a beer with some real flavour in a month that doesn’t count as lager-by-default due to climate, make allowances for LC Pale Ale’s eccentricities because it’s the real deal, it’s got the craft handiwork built into it, and if it isn’t exactly, or vaguely, like either the US or conventional pale ales of anybody else, the same could be said about either Coopers Sparkling or Coopers Pale. I think it’s probably fair to say that LC Pale is more of an acquired taste than either of those, particularly if you come from more the regular Aussie lager background, but even if you don’t.
So exactly why am I babbling on about Little Creatures IPA’s stable-mate, you rudely but perceptively ask? Because from the first gobful, it’s hard not to notice that the IPA version IS the Pale Ale, just moreso in every way. Well, I don’t think it’s got a LOT more of that “florally” quality, but it’s got enough of it that you’d blow some petrol trying to drive around it.
I think the extras in every other area – hops, maybe malt, certainly alcohol, tend to balance out that flavour better, so oddly enough, this is the easier-drinking beer of the two. But it’s still an acquired taste. Hard to know how to rank it. For me, I’d call it 8 out of 11. But if you are still screwing up your face like an old dish towel at the thought of Little Creatures Pale Ale, you can forget all about this one.