Tag Archives: lager

The Comeback Kid

This is what bars looked like the last time I made a post to this blog.

This is what bars looked like the last time I made a post to this blog.

So the other day, I was catching up on some beer blog reading, and I saw a post on Troy’s blog where he apologized to his readers for not “posting nearly as frequent as I normally do” – i.e. he had only been posting once every two days or so, rather than at least once a day.

Which made me feel like a schmuck, since I hadn’t made a post to my blog in three months.

It’s not that I haven’t wanted to. It’s just that work and Taste T.O. and various other things (some of which are beer-related, and some of which aren’t) have been taking up more and more of my time lately. But still – three months? That’s just pathetic, innit?

So I figured it was about time to do something about it. Problem is, I’m not one of those bloggers who can quickly crank out a few lines and be happy with it. I guess I’m more of a blessay type. Which might make my blog more interesting (or so I hope, at least), but also makes it harder to keep it rolling with new and fresh material.

Still, I’ve got a bunch of topics and ideas in my virtual BB&B file that I’d like to get to sooner rather than later, so I’m going to make more of an effort to make updates here on at least a semi-regular basis. And to help pad things about a bit, I can always fall back on reprinting things that I originally wrote for publication elsewhere.

Like, for instance, the following article on dark German lagers that I wrote for the Spring, 2008 issue of TAPS Magazine as the second instalment in my “Beer Styles 101” column. Because as the TV networks like to say about reruns: If you haven’t seen it, it’s new to you!

Keep reading this post

Out Of Africa

OK, admit it: The main thing you know about Namibia is that it’s a country in Africa where rich white celebrities like to go to steal adopt poor black babies. You might also know that they have the highest rate of income inequality in the world. But you probably didn’t know that they make some surprisingly decent beer there.

Actually, it shouldn’t be that surprising, considering that the country was a German colony known as German South-West Africa from 1884 to 1915, and there are still roughly 30,000 Germans living there. Still, given the generally poor quality of most well-known African lagers, such as Kenya’s Tusker and South Africa’s Castle, I wasn’t expecting to be that impressed by the four beers from Namibia Breweries that were passed on to me by the folks at Roland + Russell a while back.

I’d actually already tried one of them a few years ago when a friend shared a bottle of the flagship Windhoek Lager (named for Namibia’s capital city, and location of the brewery) at a tasting session. It had been brought back to him by a girl who was his girlfriend when she left for Africa, but his ex-girlfriend when she returned (her choice, not his), so I think he was glad to be rid of it. It wasn’t very good, although I suspected at the time that the green bottle was the primary reason for that, as it was stale and slightly skunked.

This time around, I shared my own bottle with a couple of other friends at a recent tasting night. Funnily enough, the friend who shared the first bottle with me was also there, along with his current girlfriend (now fiancée). He didn’t drink any of this new bottle, but the rest of us did, and it wasn’t much better than the last time.

A slight step up is Tafel Lager. Thanks to the brown bottle, it lacked the skunky character of Windhoek Lager, but it’s otherwise a solidly mainstream lager with a clean and balanced flavour. Probably a nice choice under the hot African sun, but not too impressive otherwise.

I got a bit more aroma and flavour off the Windhoek Special, which was also the strongest of the lot at 5% versus the 4% of the others. The malt had a pleasant note of honey to it, and the light but discernible hops in the finish had a slightly grassy and herbal character that gave a hint of the brewery’s German heritage.

That heritage is even more evident in the last of the four, Windhoek Draught. I normally have an instant disdain for bottled or canned beers that are branded “Draught”, but I’ll set that prejudice aside in this case, as this beer turned out to be a very respectable take on an easy drinking European-style lager. It had the freshest flavour of the bunch – most likely due to it being canned rather than bottled – and while the malt profile was quite similar to the others, the hops had a more prominent floral note that was really enjoyable. If I was given this in a blind tasting and told it was from Germany, I wouldn’t have any problem believing it.

From what I’ve been able to gather, it appears that Namibia Breweries is the only active brewing concern in the country, having been formed by the merger of several breweries in 1920, and another in 1967. And as you’d expect from a warm weather brewery, they don’t veer much from the “crisp, clean lager” formula – the only exception seems to be a well-rated Urbock which I must admit I’m very curious to try. But it’s nice to see that they’ve stuck with the traditional German brewing standards even though it’s been nearly a century since they were a colony, and that the celebs have something decent to drink when they’re over there hunting for new children.

OCB Winter Beers – A Review Round-Up


Back in mid-December, I received a media pack from the Ontario Craft Brewers containing eight holiday/seasonal/dark beers. For a number of reasons, I was pretty slow to drink them all, with the final bottle finally being cracked a couple of nights ago (although I wish I had opened it sooner, for reasons noted below…), so the review round-up I promised would “follow soon” at the time has taken a bit longer than expected. Better late than never, right?

So, in the order of appearance in the photo above…

Wellington County Dark Ale
Chestnut-brown with a small off-white head. Toasty malts on the nose, with some toffee and chocolate. Medium bodied, and a well rounded malt flavour with notes of caramel/brown sugar, chocolate, and an odd hint of red wine. (Just see if I was imagining it, I checked my notes from a few years ago, and I noticed it then as well.) Mild hops in the finish are a bit earthy. A pleasant beer that straddles the line between a traditional UK pale ale and a nut brown.

Great Lakes Winter Ale
To quote myself: “A strong (6.2%) and malty ale spiced with cinnamon, ginger and orange peel. It has a rich ruby-orange colour and a sweet aroma with hints of fruit cake and caramel. The flavour starts quite sweet as well, but turns pleasantly spicy in the finish, with the orange peel and ginger being especially prominent as it warms up. This spiciness seems more up-front than I recall in last year’s version, but that’s quite alright, as it gives the beer a distinctive and enjoyable edge.”

Camerons Dark 266
A dark lager with a slightly murky ruby-brown colour. Nice aroma, with a good chocolate malt character with a bit of brown sugar. Similar malty sweetness in the flavour, followed by a bit of smoke, and a fresh hop finish. Medium bodied, quite suitable for the style. Like Waterloo Dark, it’s a fairly simple but enjoyable beer that is a good introduction for people who don’t think they like dark beers.

Trafalgar Abbey Belgian Spiced Ale
This is the last of the batch I tried, but I should’ve known better and opened it back in December in hopes of it being drinkable. Alas, like many Trafalgar beers I’ve tried in the last couple of years, it was infected despite being three months ahead of the supposed “best before date”, and had an aroma and flavour that sat somewhere between old sweat socks and pickle brine. It’s such a shame that a brewery with such an eclectic line-up has such poor quality control, as they’re really doing a disservice to themselves and Ontario’s craft brewers in general. Perhaps they should spend less time on their rebranding gimmicks and more time getting their core beers into a more stable condition before shipping them out.

Mill Street Barley Wine
Quoting myself again: “It has a clear, deep golden-orange colour with a good sized white head. The aroma has the sweet maltiness expected from the style, with a strong caramel character, but also a lot of orange/citrus notes that I don’t remember from the older versions. The flavour is very sweet off the top, with some spice and pepper in the middle, and strong orange peel in the finish along with a whisky-like heat that builds in intensity as the beer warms up.”

Old Credit Holiday Honey
Old Credit is one of those breweries that I rarely think about. Based in Port Credit, they have two year round brands: a “pilsner” which is more of a pale lager, and an “amber ale” which is essentially a Rickard’s Red clone. Microbrewed beer for mainstream tastes, I suppose. So I didn’t expect much from their holiday beer which is apparently available only from the brewery, and those moderate expectations were well met. It has an amber colour with a wispy head, and a simple, one-dimensional sweet malt aroma and flavour, with a faint hint of honey. It’s not offensive in any way – in fact, it’s inoffensive almost to a fault. And it has absolutely nothing in it that says “holiday” to me.

King Dark Lager
The first time I tried this beer a few years ago, I wasn’t that impressed. I guess I expected a dark beer to have a full body with big flavours. Since then, I’ve come to appreciate more subtle “dark” beer styles like dunkel, and realize now that King Dark Lager is a very good crack a that style. It pours a nice caramel-amber with a small off-white head. The aroma is malty, with notes of coffee and bread, and a grassy hops. Medium mouthfeel, and a very nice nutty malt flavour with hints of coffee and toffee, and a moderately hopped finish. Great stuff, especially if you get it fresh.

Heritage Black Currant Rye
Two years ago, this beer was a lager that was first made available at Volo Cask Days, and later as a limited bottle release. Last year, it became an ale that was, frankly, pretty bad. This year, it’s an ale again, but it’s been reformulated with some help from Perry Mason of Scotch-Irish, and it’s much better for it. Pretty ruby colour with a good size pink head. Great balance of malt and sweet-tart fruit in the aroma, while the flavour has a mild malt profile with a nice infusion of red currant. It’s a good fruit beer that’s sweet without being too sweet, but it’s also an odd choice for a winter seasonal – it really seems more summery to me.

Black Oak Nutcracker
This beer wasn’t actually part of the promo package, but I added it to the picture in order to make it more symmetrical, and to add another true winter/holiday beer to a somewhat slapdash selection. Nutcracker is a rich and robust porter laced with cinnamon, and it’s annual release is a highlight of my holiday season every year. That anticipation is one of the indicators of a great seasonal beer, and it’s also the reason that Nutcracker would’ve been a great addition to this package. Ah well, there’s always next year…

The Session #11: Doppelbocks

session-logo-med.jpgIn case it hasn’t been made obvious by my tendency to post event reviews and other things kinda late at times, I can be a bit of a procrastinator. I’m especially prone to putting things off when I need to write about something that I’m not overly familiar with.

Hence, my day-late post for this month’s Session, which was given the theme of doppelbocks by host Jay Wilson at Brewvana. Having had very few examples of the doppelbock style over the years, I don’t have the same memory and impression of them as I do for most other styles. Mention stout or witbier or IPA, and I can instantly see and smell and taste them in my mind. Mention doppelbock, and… well, I just remember the following:

  1. They’re strong and malty lagers.
  2. Most of them have names that end with ‘-ator’ in honour of the original doppelbock, the monk-brewed Salvator. (Hey, that would make “Procrastinator” a great name for a doppelbock! Someone should get on that. Oh, wait… never mind.)

One thing I do know from my stats on RateBeer is that I seem to really like doppelbocks when I have them. Of the eighteen I’ve tried, I’ve rated fifteen of ’em 3.5 or higher out of 5, which is quite a high proportion.

Salvator was, fittingly enough, the first doppelbock I tried. It was back in December, 2002 when the LCBO brought it in as a seasonal release. They’ve since added it to their general list, so I’m sure I’ve had it a few times since then, but I honestly have no recollection of what it’s like aside from the vague “strong and malty” descriptor. I planned to pick up a bottle to refresh my memory for this Session, but it’s currently out of stock at all of my local LCBOs, so I’ll have to go by the notes from my original tasting, which aren’t especially helpful:

Dark copper-amber with a frothy head that disappears quickly. Aroma of sweet malt and dark caramel. Initial sweet flavour gives way to bitter dirt and warm alcohol. The booziness becomes more prominent as the beer warms up. Not entirely unpleasant, but not ass-kicking either.

Another notable doppelbock is Ayinger Celebrator, which is the highest rated in the style and the #60 beer overall on RateBeer. I tried it back in November, 2005, when it was in the RB Top 50, and like Salvator, I don’t really remember it. But based on my notes, I didn’t seem to think quite as highly of it as most:

Dark ruby-brown with a small tan head. Aroma is rich and quite malty, with some dark fruit notes (especially grape). Body is pleasant, wth a mellow mouthfeel. Flavour is toasty and moderately bitter – nice, but seemed rather simple. Definitely a very good beer, but I find it hard to think of it as being worthy of the Top 50.

The one doppelbock that I do recall pretty clearly Fish Tale Detonator, which I shared with one of my tasting buddies just last week. It struck us both as a pretty unique take on the style, and one that we both enjoyed greatly, as my notes suggest:

Deep ruby-brown colour with a small tan head. Aroma is fantastic – sweet and roasty malt and big, herbal hops. Medium bodied. Flavour follows on the aroma – delicious maltiness up front, followed by a really nice hit of hops that linger through the dry finish. Reading the other ratings below, I feel like we got an extra-hopped bottle or something, as the hops were really out in front. No complaints, though, as it made this beer stand out. Nice!

So, there ya go. Not the most informative post I’ve written, but again, doppelbocks just don’t seem to resonate with me despite my apparent enjoyment of them. I’ll have to check the Session round-up to see of some of the other folks had more illuminating, in-depth thoughts to share.

At least it gave me a chance to use that Procrastinator joke.

Ontario: Yours To Discover

discoverypack.jpgWhen the modern craft brewing movement took shape in the United States in the early 1980s, most of the new small breweries wanted to differentiate their products as much as possible from those of the big boys. And since the large breweries specialised in bland lagers, it only made sense that brewing more robust and full-bodied ales was a good way to establish a niche which has continued to grow, especially in the last few years.

Here in Ontario, though, things have gone a little differently. While a few of the province’s first wave of modern micro-breweries went the ale route (most notably Guelph’s Wellington Brewery), most of them stuck with lagers that were a slight step up from what Molson and Labatt were offering, but still fairly pedestrian when compared to what was happening south of the border.

Thankfully, things have improved somewhat in the years since then. Newer breweries like Mill Street, Church Key and Scotch Irish have come along with a variety of beers that would have been unimaginable even a decade ago, and veterans like Great Lakes that spent years riding the lager train have suddenly branched out into new and unexpected directions. Still, there are more than a couple of breweries in the ranks of the Ontario Craft Brewers that brew nothing but mainstream-leaning lagers – or if they do make ales, they’re cream or golden ales that appeal to pale lager drinkers.

It’s because of this dichotomy that I’m unsurprised but a bit disappointed with the just-released OCB Discovery Pack. As I noted on Taste T.O. last week, this sampler six-pack contains a half-dozen OCB brews – Mill Street Organic Lager, Great Lakes Red Leaf Lager, Wellington Special Pale Ale, Walkerville Amber Lager, Lakes of Muskoka Cream Ale and Brick J.R. Brickman Pilsner – that run the gamut from light lager to slightly darker lager, with a couple of pleasant but not overly challenging ales thrown in for good measure. As the somewhat volatile discussion thread on The Bar Towel shows, the beer geeks are not amused. Why not include a stout or porter, or an IPA, or even a brown ale?

But here’s the thing: This package wasn’t created with the beer geeks in mind. For one thing, there are likely too few of us to be a viable target market for what has reportedly been a time consuming and labour intensive project for the OCB and the LCBO. For another, we’re already loyal customers of many OCB products. So, who are they after? Well, if I may borrow a quote from Stephen Beaumont’s post on the pack, most likely “the major label drinker interested in trading up and the import lager consumer seeking to expand their beer horizons”.

And if that truly is the case, this package could prove to be a successful gamble. While the beers may not raise the interest of those of us who regularly singe our palates with hop bombs or the latest barrel-aged barley wine, Joe Sixpack or Jane Eurolager may be impressed by the brews without being intimidated by something that’s “too dark” or “too heavy” or “too weird”. And should they be the adventurous sort, the enclosed OCB Craft Beer Style List and the OCB website will help point them towards something a little more interesting.

It’s also worth noting that at the media event that took place a couple of weeks ago to preview the Discovery Pack, they were also pouring a number of less mainstream beers such as Scotch-Irish Black Irish Porter, Great Lakes Winter Ale and Mill Street Barley Wine in order to build some advance buzz for the seasonal beers promotion that will be starting soon at selected LCBOs. Combined with a presentation of party decor tips and a cooking and food pairing demo, it was obvious that the OCB is serious about reaching customers who may not be aware of the beers being brewed in their own backyards. And whether those customers are looking for something similar to their current macro brand, or something more unique and bold, they should be made aware that there’s an Ontario craft brewed beer for them.

OCB Discovery Pack No. 1 will very likely do a good job reaching the first group. Maybe the planned Pack No. 2 will start attracting the second one.

Happy Anniversary to a True Original

urquell.jpgTomorrow is Thanksgiving here in Canada, and I also took Friday off work, so I’m taking a bit of time this 4-day weekend to catch up on some blog reading. One thing I’ve just come across is Stephen Beaumont’s post to On The House last Monday where he mentions that October 4th (or maybe 5th) marked the 165th anniversary of the classic Czech lager Pilsner Urquell.

Here’s Stephen’s condensed version of the origin of the beer with the name that translates to “original source”:

Prior to the development of Pilsner Urquell in the town of Plzen in 1842, all beer consumed world-wide was dark in color. New malting techniques that yielded a golden hued grain, however, made it possible for an imported Bavarian brewer by the name of Josef Groll to develop a beer both light in color and crystal clear. (Beer from the Middle Ages is thought to have been quite murky, which made it hardly attractive in the new transparent crystal drinking vessels that had begun to appear.) That beer, still brewed as Pilsner Urquell, became spiritual father to all the golden lagers that followed, from Bitburger to Stella to Budweiser to Victory Prima Pils.

What Stephen doesn’t mention is why Josef Groll was brought to Plzen in the first place. Quite simply, the citizens of Plzen were pissed off about the poor quality of the dark, murky ale that was available to them, and they started dumping barrels of it in the town square to make their point. This lead the town leaders to build a new brewery, and then hire Groll to create a new beer for them using the lagering methods that had recently been refined by Bavarian brewers.

While his beer was an instant hit, Groll himself was reportedly quite difficult to deal with, and when his contract with the city expired in 1845, it was not renewed. He returned to Vilshofen, the town where he was born, and soon took over his father’s brewery. He remained in the same town until his death in 1887, which fittingly took place while drinking a beer in his local pub, Wolferstetter Keller.

Getting back to the beer itself: There are those who have been drinking longer than me who claim that Pilsner Urquell is no longer the beer it once was. Now owned by international giant SABMiller, the beer is no longer fermented in the traditional oak vessels but rather in modern stainless steel, a change that was made roughly 15 years ago. Production of the beer has also been expanded by brewing some in another SABMiller-owned facility in Poland.

Moves like this have angered purists, but to me, what’s important is whether or not the beer is any good. And to my palate, Pilsner Urquell is still a benchmark beer. Having never tried it before the move to steel fermentation tanks, I have no idea how today’s beer compares to the oak-fermented version, but it’s still one of my favourite lagers.

And the fact that something like 90% of the beer consumed in the world today is trying to emulate it (albeit, most of it doing so very poorly) must count for something, mustn’t it?

Beers of the Week – Bruce County Premium Lager & Neustadt Lager

This article was originally written in August 2007 for the food & drink website Taste T.O., and republished here in October 2011 (but back-dated to match the original publication date) after Taste T.O. was shut down and taken offline.

Located in the quaint country village of Neustadt a couple of hours north-west of Toronto, Neustadt Springs is a brewery that flies under the radar for a lot of Ontario craft beer drinkers, especially in Toronto where local brands like Steam Whistle and Mill Street predominate. Located in the same historic building that housed the Crystal Springs Brewery from 1869 to 1916, Neustadt Springs was founded in 1997 by the husband and wife team of Andy and Val Stimpson, veterans of the brewing scene in the UK who moved to Ontario in 1995 and decided to start a brewery when they couldn’t find any beers here that they liked.

As with many of Ontario’s small town breweries, they’ve become an important and well-loved part of their local community. Their strong community ties are made evident via one of their beers, Bruce County Premium Lager (LCBO 679530, $11.95/6×341 mL), which promotes the area through the inclusion of a Bruce County tourism logo and website on the label. And the fact that it’s a pretty decent little beer doesn’t hurt either.

It has a nice golden colour which is a bit darker than you might expect from a 4.5% lager, with a good sized white head that doesn’t stick around. The aroma is predominantly malty with a sweet and toasty character, and the body is a bit thin, but suitable for the style. The flavour is mild but well balanced, with bready malt and herbal hops in their proper places, and the hops getting a bit bolder as it warms. Yeah, it’s a relatively simple and easy-drinking lager, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing, especially when the beer is well crafted and holds a fair bit more character than a typical macrobrew.

The same can be said for the brewery’s flagship Neustadt Lager (LCBO 686360, $11.95/6×341 mL). In some ways, it’s quite similar to the Bruce County, but with a bit more colour, more aroma and more flavour. Also like the Bruce County, it’s not an envelope-pusher, but it doesn’t have to be. I like so-called “extreme beers” as much as the next guy, but well made and enjoyable golden lagers like these have their place as well, especially during the dog days of summer.

If you’d like to find out more about these and other Neustadt beers, you can meet the Stimpsons in their booth at Toronto’s Festival of Beer, taking place August 9th to 12th at Fort York. Plenty of their fellow members of the Ontario Craft Brewers will be on hand as well, so you’ll be able to get a taste of the dozens of craft beers being produced all across the province.

Beer of the Week – Christoffel Blond

This article was originally written in July 2007 for the food & drink website Taste T.O., and republished here in October 2011 (but back-dated to match the original publication date) after Taste T.O. was shut down and taken offline.

Selections from the LCBO’s seasonal beer release for summer have recently started hitting the shelves, and as usual, the range on offer is somewhat meagre, although with nine beers planned to be included, at least it’s better than the pitiful spring release. And while more than half of them are fruit or flavoured beers, even a couple of those aren’t the cloying sugar-bombs that you might expect.

As always, I’m looking forward to trying the several new beers in the release (although I have some trepidation about the Chapeau Banana Lambic – watch for my reaction to that in a future column), but it’s the return of a couple of favourites from past releases that has me the most excited. My “cellar” (a.k.a. a couple of cardboard boxes in the closet) will be getting restocked with a few bottles of the rich and complex Liefmans Goudenband once it arrives, but for immediate drinking satisfaction, I’ll be grabbing multiple bottles of the unique Dutch Pilsner, Christoffel Blond (LCBO 696955, $2.80/330 mL).

I first tried this beer a few years ago as part of a Christmas gift box where it was packaged along with a bottle of Christoffel’s Vienna-style lager, Robertus, as well as a very nice branded glass that still serves me well. While I enjoyed it at the time, it struck me as a beer that would be much better suited to warmer weather, so it was nice to see the Blond return on its own as part of the summer beer release for the last couple of years.

As noted above, Christoffel Blond is a somewhat unique version of a Pilsner, at least in comparison to the ones that most people are familiar with. The appearance is pretty much right on point, with a rich golden hue and a good sized snow white head. But the aroma reveals a stronger herbal and floral hop character than you might expect, with some candyish notes as well. The body is crisp and full and quenching, and the flavour is a tasty combination of sweet orange candy, sharp green herbs, and a refreshingly bitter citric finish.

It really is a perfect summer beer, although like all LCBO seasonal releases, stock is limited, so grab a bunch when you see them. And here’s a tip: it’s a fantastic beer for steaming mussels. Throw in some chopped tomatoes, onions, garlic, and various herbs; serve them with some frites and crusty bread to sop up the broth; and have a couple more bottles on hand to wash it all down. It’ll be one of the best meals of the summer, guaranteed.

Beer of the Week – Castlemaine XXXX Export Gold

This article was originally written in June 2007 for the food & drink website Taste T.O., and republished here in October 2011 (but back-dated to match the original publication date) after Taste T.O. was shut down and taken offline.

Much like Canadians, Australians consider beer to be a big part of their national heritage. And as in Canada, the beer that most Aussies raise in honour of their country and culture is, quite frankly, crap.

Oh, sure, they’ve got a good number of small craft breweries making decent stuff, and the family-owned Coopers Brewery has been producing quality ales since 1862. But as in most countries, the beer that is most popular with the patriotic masses is bland, fizzy, pale yellow lager.

(As an aside – despite the fact that it was once heavily touted around the world as the quintessential Australian beer, Foster’s Lager has long been considered a second-string brand in its home country, although it remains popular in the UK and a few other places.)

What makes things a little confusing when it comes to Australian beer is that many breweries use the name “Bitter” for their flagship lager, even though the beers have about as much in common with a proper Bitter as Keith’s IPA has with a proper India Pale Ale. Victoria Bitter is the most well-known recipient this odd nomenclature, with less popular examples including Emu Bitter, Melbourne Bitter, and Castlemaine XXXX Bitter.

This latter beer recently arrived on LCBO shelves under the slightly more accurate name of Castlemaine XXXX Export Gold (LCBO 676742, $11.50/6×375 mL). Knowing what I do about mainstream Aussie lagers (or for that matter, mainstream lagers in general), I wasn’t about to invest in a sixer of this stuff, but when I found a loose can in the singles bin of my local LCBO, I figured it was worth a couple of bucks to give it a shot.

Well, it certainly lived down to my low expectations. It pours a very pale gold colour with a tiny white head that disappears in a flash. The aroma holds notes of cardboard and canned veggies, with a hint of something vaguely hop-like. The body is both fizzy and cloying, an very odd and disconcerting combination, and the flavour combines elements of icing sugar, more cardboard and canned corn. The finish is thankfully short and clean, aside from a faint saltiness that is just bizarre.

Aside from homesick Australians with bad taste in beer, I can’t imagine anyone enjoying this chunder from Down Under. Personally, I’ll be sticking with the always enjoyable Coopers Sparkling Ale for my Aussie beer needs – at least until the LCBO delists it to make room for another crappy canned lager like Castlemaine.

Beer of the Week – Gubernija Grand 9.5

This article was originally written in June 2007 for the food & drink website Taste T.O., and republished here in October 2011 (but back-dated to match the original publication date) after Taste T.O. was shut down and taken offline.

When most people read the words “Malt Liquor”, the image that likely pops into their heads is homies in South Central drinking 40s of St. Ides, or perhaps the neighbourhood drunk slumped in an alley with a king can of Schlitz Red Bull spilled beside him. Either way, the beers that tend to be tagged as malt liquor aren’t exactly considered to be beverages of the highest quality.

Of course, the definition of “malt liquor” can vary depending on where you live. In some jurisdictions, any beer above a certain alcohol percentage must be labelled as “malt liquor” before being sold, meaning that everything from cheap, high-octane swill to elegant strong Belgian ales are considered to be in the same category in the eyes of the alcohol overlords.

As a beer style, however, malt liquor is generally understood to be a strong (usually 6% to 9% abv) lager that is most often brewed with the addition of non-barley adjuncts such as corn and sugar, and a very low hop content. The result is a sweet brew with very little bitterness and a strong alcoholic punch. The flavour and aroma are often unpleasant, with notes of everything from rotting vegetables to jet fuel, but such concerns are secondary in a beer that is simply intended to get the imbiber as drunk as possible, as quickly as possible.

While such an aggressive and disagreeable beer style may logically seem to be a North American invention, malt liquor actually has a precedent in the old world, most notably in Poland and other Eastern European countries, where European strong lagers have been popular for generations. As with their North American kin, these beers are golden lagers with high alcohol percentages, but they are generally free of adjuncts, which causes them to be less sweet and cloying, and closer in character to pilsners, albeit with a more malt-forward character.

When does this all have to do with this week’s beer, Gubernija Grand 9.5? Well, this Lithuanian lager is a sort of missing link between the two styles. Being from Eastern Europe, it definitely comes from the European strong lager tradition. But the addition of corn groats to the recipe gives it a sweeter character that edges it towards malt liquor territory, which is where many classify it.

Personally, though, I’m inclined to consider it closer to the former category than the latter for a couple of reasons. First, unlike the piss yellow hue of most malt liquors, Grand 9.5 has a slightly hazy golden colour that actually looks pretty nice. And while the aroma and flavour both have a distinctive icing sugar note that is a bit cloying around the edges, it’s not overpoweringly sweet, and there’s even a subtle hint of hops in the finish.

So while it certainly won’t be giving any of the Belgian trappists or Imperial IPAs a run for their money in the more general strong beer category, I think it’s safe to say that Gubernija Grand 9.5 sits near the top of the cheap strong lager class. Those looking for an alternative for Colt 45 or Wildcat Strong can see if they agree by picking some up at the Beer Store where it was recently made available in striking yellow 500 mL cans.