Taste-Off: Interesting Eastern European Corner Shop Beers

This beers we tasted for this taste-off post were paid for by Patreon subscribers and the topic was suggested via comments on a Patreon post by Aaron Stein and Andy M.

Cornershop beer seems to have evolved in the half decade since we last checked in, but has it got better?

There’s something appealing about the idea of discovering a hidden gem in the least pretentious of surroundings, standing on chipped floor tiles next to the permanently running dehumidifier near the tinned Bigos. Most people are too snobby, too xenophobic, too scared to tackle these mysterious labels, goes the inner dialogue, but me? I’m a brave adventurer. In fact, though, there’s hardly a beer geek in the country who hasn’t had the same thought and you’ll find any number of blogs reviewing this type of beer with a quick Google.

When we left London for Cornwall back in 2011 we had tried damn near every bottled Eastern European beer on sale in the cornershops of Walthamstow. Most were fine, some were foul, and Švyturys (Carlsberg) Ekstra Draught — an unpasteurised Dortmunder from Lithuania — was one of our go-to bottled lagers. Now, in Bristol, we once again have easy access to Eastern European cornershops with their dumplings, cured meats, quark, cherry-flavoured Jaffa Cakes and, yes, acres of exotic looking beer.

We dipped our toes back in the water with a return to Švyturys. Would it be as good as we remembered, or might our tastes have evolved? The good news is that, as a lager we can pick up on the way home from work for well under £2 a bottle, it’s still got it. Our memories were of a more bitter beer but it still has a remarkable clean, fresh quality that some ‘craft’ lagers swing at but miss.

Thus warmed up we returned to our closest shop and tried to work out some way to tackle the wall of beer. It stocks products from Russia, Lithuania, Latvia, Slovakia, Poland and Romania. (And possibly some others we missed.) It’s an intimidatingly huge range though the vast majority are variations on pale lager or strong pale lager, and most of them are things we tried years ago. Since we last looked Radler seems to have taken off out that way and there are now any number of fruit-flavoured refreshers on offer but, frankly, that’s not our bag, so we discounted those, too. What we were drawn to was the oddities in two categories: first, a new strain of takes on world beer styles (Belgian Wit, Munich Helles); and, secondly, a bunch of unpasteurised/unfiltered products presented as upmarket, ‘natural’ variants on the standard lagers.

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Patreon is a service that makes it easy for those who enjoy art and media to encourage and financially contribute to those who make it.

The idea is that you make a recurring monthly payment of any amount you fancy. There are increasing rewards for different levels of support, e.g. a special ebook for those who sign up for $5 or more a month. There are also goals we commit to with each fund milestone.

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The main point is that it’s not compulsory and that the blog will continue as it is either way, except hopefully better. You can also cancel your support at any time — it’s not a huge commitment.

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Update 14/02/2018: Feedback suggested some people wanted to donate but not in US dollars and not on an ongoing basis. With that in mind we’ve signed up with Ko-Fi which allows you to make a quick one-off payment at about the price of a cup of coffee, pint of ale, or second-hand paperback.

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Detail from the cover of Gambrinus Waltz.

If you don’t fancy Patreon you can also contribute by buying our books: Brew Britannia is just going into a second edition (slightly smaller and cheaper, with corrections) and our new book, about pubs, should be available to pre-order soon.

If you buy our short ebook, Gambrinus Waltz, from Amazon we earn 70% of the £2.00 cover price and you get to read a book Martyn Cornell has called ‘excellent’. You don’t need a Kindle either — Amazon offers free apps for phones, tablets and desktop PCs. This is as close as you can get to buying us a half down the pub unless, er, you bump into us in a pub.

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Victorian clip art man: I Endorse Boak & Bailey.

And if even that’s a bit rich for your pocket there’s always the smallest unit of payment: shares and endorsements on social media. It’s costs nothing but is a big boost for our morale and helps us find new readers. We’re not asking you to spam anyone — just tell people about us if you think they’ll find the blog genuinely interesting. We’re easy to find as ‘boakandbailey’ on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram if you want to point people our way.

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If you’re a regular follower we hope you’ll trust us not to bloody go on about this — we’ll mention it every now and then in passing probably but otherwise this is it.