Blind tasting lager

Commercial lagers lying in the fridge.

A cou­ple of weeks ago, we post­ed some­thing about the lager spec­trum, sug­gest­ing that lagers range from nasty (e.g. San Miguel) to good (Estrel­la Damm) via neu­tral (Becks).

We had a nag­ging doubt, how­ev­er, that there might be some prej­u­dice in our rank­ings of these var­i­ous very sim­i­lar indus­tri­al beers. Do we pre­fer Estrel­la to San Miguel because it’s import­ed rather than license brewed in the UK? Did we think of Becks as neu­tral because the brand sug­gests ‘ger­man puri­ty’?

So, inspired by Lars Mar­ius Garshol, and by the results of blind tast­ing for the Cham­pi­on Beer of Britain at GBBF, we set out to test our­selves.

Bai­ley served four beers to Boak, who did­n’t know which were in the fridge. They were cho­sen on the basis that none of them was espe­cial­ly high­ly regard­ed or char­ac­ter­ful (i.e. no Brook­lyn Lager or Jev­er). The serv­ing order was ran­domised to pre­vent any temp­ta­tion on Bai­ley’s part to save the per­ceived best for last, or vice ver­sa.

Boak’s notes were as fol­lows.

Beer 1 (San Miguel, UK brewed)
Tastes like gener­ic lager! Good malt pro­file; a bit­ter, slight­ly metal­lic edge; no hop aro­ma or flavour. Not much after-taste at first. A bit unpleas­ant as it warms up. Not unpleas­ant when cold. Span­ish? Is this Estrel­la Damm?

Beer 2 (Becks)
Good, pun­gent, hempy aro­ma, like Jev­er, which total­ly fails to deliv­er on tast­ing. Dis­in­te­grates. Bland. Like drink­ing spit. Ger­man?

Beer 3 (Estrel­la Damm)
Crisp and refresh­ing, but tastes of noth­ing, apart from a lit­tle tart­ness. Fizzy water with a twist of lemon. Span­ish?

Beer 4 (Bit­burg­er)
Sim­i­lar hop­py aro­ma to num­ber two but flavour per­sists a bit longer, def­i­nite­ly accen­tu­at­ed towards the hop. Pret­ty good. Ger­man?

At the end, she named San Miguel her favourite because of the sol­id malti­ness, with Bit­burg­er the run­ner up because of its hop­pi­ness; Estrel­la Damm was her least favourite. We were both sur­prised by this, and a lit­tle embar­rassed.

This was a fun, eye-open­ing exer­cise, and (as if it were need­ed) once again proves the val­ue of blind tast­ing.

A Study in Wheat

Almost two years ago, in our 2009 wish list, we men­tioned that we were inter­est­ed in try­ing Estrel­la Ined­it. On our recent hol­i­day, we final­ly got round to it, pick­ing up a bot­tle in a wine shop in San Sebas­t­ian.

The first thing to note is the amaz­ing aro­ma – ros­es and lemons, like a box of Turk­ish delight. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, the flavour does­n’t quite live up to that fan­fare. It has a slight­ly dry, chalky malti­ness with hints of sug­ar and orange. Not, in fact, a super-com­plex con­nois­seur’s beer as the pack­ag­ing and pre­ten­tious label would have you believe, but some­thing of a dumb­ed down Bel­gian-style wit.

We tried it with and with­out food to see if it lived up to its claim of being spe­cial­ly for­mu­lat­ed to accom­pa­ny food. The best we could say is that it is suit­ably unob­tru­sive, but it cer­tain­ly did­n’t (with apolo­gies to Gar­rett Oliv­er) chat up our chori­zo and chick pea stew and take it round to the back alley for a knee trem­bler.

It cost €4.50  for a 750ml bot­tle, which is fine, but any more than this (i.e. the £10+ prices peo­ple are charg­ing in the UK) and you’d feel quite ripped off.  All in all, if you divorce this from the pre­ten­tious mar­ket­ing and pack­ag­ing (“serve in white wine glass­es no more than half full to appre­ci­ate the aro­ma”) it’s an excel­lent beer by Span­ish stan­dards, and we’d be delight­ed to find it in our local tapas restau­rant in Lon­don.

Inter­est­ing­ly, Damm have also brought out a cheap­er, less high­fa­lutin, Ger­man-style weizen, Weiss Damm. It stands up well in com­par­i­son to Paulan­er Weiss, which is prob­a­bly the wheat beer most com­mon­ly avail­able in Spain.

Revolution in Catalonia

Ok, so there real­ly is a Cata­lan beer rev­o­lu­tion, as evi­denced by the exis­tence of B12, a spe­cial­ist beer bar in Girona, with veg­gie and veg­an food. (Obvi­ous­ly, if every­one else in Spain is drink­ing crap­py lager and eat­ing pork, the con­trar­i­an is going to drink craft beer and eat tofu, right?).

There are more than 30 bot­tled beers from var­i­ous Cata­lan micro­brew­eries on offer. As one of the own­ers told us, there seems to be a new one open­ing every month.

We were only able to try a few. First up was Lupu­lus from Montse­ny, the peo­ple who told us about this place.  We’ve read a few reviews of this and peo­ple have not­ed the hops. Well, it’s def­i­nite­ly got more hops than we’re used to in beers from this part of the world, and a nice fruity flavour too, but was­n’t real­ly the hop bomb we were look­ing for­ward to, and was a bit off-smelling (green glass?).

Next was Rossa (blonde) from Keks, which tast­ed like a decent, per­haps slight­ly sweet, tan­ger­ine-like Bel­gian wheat beer. This was def­i­nite­ly brewed for the cli­mate – we’ve often thought wheat beer is the best way to lure the Span­ish into drink­ing bet­ter beer, as it’s cold and refresh­ing, but gen­er­al­ly more com­plex than, say, San Miguel.

Stick­ing with beers that suit the cli­mate, we also thought Atlet­i­ca lager was a hit. This is a pilsen which appears to have been brewed by, or at least for, a foot­ball social club. It had a pleas­ant, slight­ly flo­ral aro­ma and was clean with­out being bland. We could drink a lot if this.

Fla­ma Ale  smelled great – like Goose Island IPA – and almost deliv­ered, with savoury malts and aro­mat­ic hops, but was still a lit­tle too much like a care­less home brew to real­ly make the grade.

Montser­rat by Guineu, was absolute­ly top notch, though, and the stand­out beer of the night. Billed as an impe­r­i­al stout, it deliv­ered in body and soul, and sin­gle­hand­ed­ly reaf­firmed our belief in the Cata­lan brew­ing rev­o­lu­tion.

Full cred­it to the own­ers for open­ing this place and giv­ing these beers a stage. There were loads more beers that we could­n’t try. This place is def­i­nite­ly worth the trip if you’re in Girona, and prob­a­bly worth fac­tor­ing into an itin­er­ary if you’re a beer geek pass­ing through Cat­alo­nia.

Hoppy beer in Catalonia

Cat­alo­nia is becom­ing a bit of micro-brew­ing hub, and we were deter­mined to track down a few local beers, albeit with­out high hopes for the qual­i­ty based on pre­vi­ous expe­ri­ence.

Mos­ka is based in Girona, and we man­aged to track down their beer in bot­tles, hid­den away in Cafe Babel on Car­rer de Anselm Clave.

The Negra (4.4%) is an inter­est­ing thirst quencher. It does­n’t taste par­tic­u­lar­ly malty or dark except for a slight burnt after­taste, but there was a great big hop aro­ma which we weren’t expect­ing to find in a Span­ish beer. Too bad it did­n’t car­ry through into the flavour.

The “tor­ra­da” (toast­ed) is amber­ish and stronger at 6%, but tast­ed pret­ty thin for some­thing of that strength. The aro­ma was like that of an IPA but it was, sad­ly, much too watery to be a knock­out.

The Blonde (4.8%, “Rossa”) was our favourite, with grape­fruit, slight­ly acid flavours, and very refresh­ing. Did we like it more than, say, Estrel­la Damm? Prob­a­bly not, much as we real­ly want­ed to.