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.

The lager spectrum

Advert for Stella Artois.

All commercial lagers sit somewhere on a spectrum.

On said spectrum, Becks might act as the zero point, with its more-or-less neutral flavour. We can take it or leave it; it doesn’t actually taste unpleasant; it’s better than nothing. Maybe that’s where Peroni lives, too.

Above that point, there are many good, very good or even excellent commercial lagers. Estrella Damm, for example, might not be remotely like a craft beer, but it’s good. We enjoy drinking it, and even find it a little moreish. It has a certain something.

But, head the other way, beyond the Becks neutral zone, there is the murky world of the nasty lager.

Nasty lagers aren’t just bland or boring: they actually offend the tastebuds. We’d rather drink water than San Miguel, even on a hot day in Spain. What is that flavour? Onions burned in butter? Stella Artois is in the same boat, with a taste that suggests someone has bunged a bit of lighter fluid in to pep it up.

What are your candidates for the nasty end of the spectrum?