Light Lithuanian Lagers – face-off round 1

We’ve enjoyed Svyturys a lot in the past, and were wondering whether any of the other Lithuanian lagers that are often available in London cornershops would prove equally enjoyable.

utenos.jpgSo we popped into our local store and picked up some Kalnapilis (Original) and some Utenos. These were both ostensibly “Muenchner Hell” types, i.e. light lagers. (NB – both these breweries do pilsners and, more interestingly, baltic porters, but these are less readily available. Will do a taste test one day).

Kalnapilis had the prouder boasts (“finest Saaz hops”) etc but it was Utenos that won the day – quite a hoppy taste for a light lager, and very smooth and easy to drink. The Kalnapilis, if it tasted of anything at all, was rather sweet.

The websites for these beers do not fill the real ale / craft beer lover with joy – both are proudly boasting their “Ice” brand – boasting an even milder version of their current products. And I’m sorry, but counting the tinned version of your brew as a different product from the bottle (when both are pasteurised) just doesn’t convince…

Next round – Svyturys v Utenos… then we can move away from light lagers and tackle the heavy stuff.

Boak

P.S. the Lithuanian word for beer is “alus”. Presumably some sign of the old Indo-European roots of our word “ale”?

Meantime Extra Dry Stout

Publicity photo of meantime coffee stout

After a visit to the Greenwich Union, I can confirm that Meantime‘s seasonal “Extra Dry Stout” isn’t all that exciting, as Stonch has already said. It was too fizzy on the tongue, and a little thin-bodied.

I followed it up with a bottle of coffee stout, which has always been, and remains, incredible. They’d run out of chocolate stout, but there were enough chocolate flavours in this to do the job for me. Smooth, chewy, bitter…. just perfect. And Cooper’s Australian “Best Extra Stout” was just slightly better again. The extra 1.5/2% alcohol – they’re both just over 6%, while the dry stout is 4.5% – and the extra body really makes a difference in their impact.

But I trust Alastair Hook to get it right. I think we can expect to see the recipe tinkered with for some time to come. Meantime’s wheat beer was pretty dull at first, but has evolved into a thing of beauty (especially in its strong 6.5% grand cru incarnation).

I also suspect that we’ll see a “Taste the Difference” stout in Sainsbury’s in the next year or so, based on this recipe.

How to order a beer in Spain

Bailey and I said we’d try to keep this blog positive, so I’m not going to start with a rant about the poor quality of Spanish lager. Tempted as I am.

Instead, some cultural notes on ordering beer. “Dos cervezas, por favor” will work, but you won’t sound like a native.

Firstly, the Spanish rarely say “por favor”. They’re not being rude, we’re just overly polite.

Secondly, as in England, you don’t order “a beer”; instead you specify the measure, or rather, the type of glass.

To confuse things further, there’s no such thing as a standard measure, and the various glasses have different names, depending on what part of the country you’re in. In Andalucia, the following generally works;

  • Una caña – (CAnya)– a measure of around 200 / 250 ml, can be smaller;
  • Un tubo – (Too-bo)– a tall glass, usually holds around 330ml;
  • Una jarra – (HArra – the “j” sounds like “ch” in “loch”, and you should roll the “r”s) – if they have them, this will usually be a pint measure, sometimes in a dimpled mug.

Dos canas
Dos cañas

There is no shame in ordering a caña, even if you’re a bloke.

Also to note – bottled beer is more expensive than stuff from the tap (de grifo), and it’s more expensive to drink outside on the terrace than inside. Sitting at the bar itself can be even cheaper.

Boak

Polish beer – why isn’t it good? (Polish beer history part 1)

I’ve got a great fondness for Poland and the Poles, and starting this blog has finally motivated me to try and answer a long-standing question – Why isn’t Polish beer very good? Why are brewing traditions so strong in the Czech Republic and Germany but not (it seems) in Poland?

Zywiec

Zywiec – ubiquitous in Poland, now available in Wetherspoon’s pubs in the UK

Don’t get me wrong – Polish beer isn’t bad, it’s just that the big brands are not particularly impressive or original. I’ve tried most of the major Polish brews in my time (Zywiec, Lech, EB, Okocim, Tyskie to name a few) and have barely been able to tell the difference.

I thought this might have been my unsophisticated tastebuds, but a quick bit of internet research confirms that the vast majority of Polish brands are owned by 3 breweries, who are in turn owned by foreign multinationals who tend to specialise in bland lager;

  • SABMiller own Kompania Piwowarska, who make Lech and Tyskie (also Zubr and Debowe Mocne, which seem ubiquitous in London cornershops)
  • The Zywiec group is owned by Heineken, who also own Elbrewery (EB) and Warka
  • Carlsberg produce Okocim

Following the fall of communism, state-owned breweries were rapidly privatised and were a good target for merger activity, a process which is described in an academic paper by Michal Gorzynski – which accounts for the current position.

But were the breweries any good before this? I would love to find out more about this, but it would seem that the old state-owned breweries were even worse. Michal Gorzynski states that breweries in the early 90s started to produce beer of better quality. There has certainly been a huge growth in the beer market in Poland since privatisation (according to Rafal Tarnowski, “Industrial Relations in the Brewing Industry” beer sales rose 135% in the 1990s. Is this down to a triumph of marketing (check out the Zywiec link to see their award winning campaigns) or a better product?

Beer is certainly a young person’s drink in Poland – the over 30s tend to prefer vodka. Is the lack of excellent Polish brews down to the fantastic range and quality of the vodka?

An even more interesting question – given that a lot of modern day Poland was part of Germany, what happened to all the breweries?

More research to come on this (if anyone has some good sources of information, please let me know!).

In the meantime, here’s a link to a very informative site (in English) about the types of Polish beer, including a fascinating piece on the one “native” Polish beer, “grodziskie” or “Gratzer”, a top-fermented smoked wheatbeer. It also includes a list of Polish breweries, including some of the new exciting brew pubs. European beer guide – Polish breweries

Boak