Saturday, 29 June 2013

REVIEW: ZHIGULEVSKOYE

European Beer Challenge #48 Belarus


STATS
  • Country: Belarus
  • Style: Euro Pale Lager
  • ABV: 5.2%
  • Serving Type: 500ml Bottle
  • Price: CHEAP!!!
The second European Beer Challenge post in the space of a week I am writing in Copenhagen, Denmark about a Belorussian beer bought and drunk in Vilnius, Lithuania. This is by far the most international of all the reviews I've done so far and with any luck we can add photographed in Australia to that list if my other bottle arrives safely.

It is incredibly difficult to find information on this beer. Zhigulevskoye is the name of the old beer of the Soviet Union and there is now a beer with the same name produced in Russia, Ukraine and Belarus. This one is produced by JSC Brestkoye Pivo in Brest Belarus, a small city near the Polish border. Belarus has a population of approximately 10 million and many of them drink beer. Unfortunately for me very little is exported anywhere other than Russia or Lithuania, where my bottle came from.

Coll and I cracked these after our day trip to Trakai, the old capital of Lithuania. The glass may not have been perfect but the beer poured well. When the bottle was poured a dark yellow beer spewed forth with a 2 finger head consisting of big white air bubbles. It dissipated quickly but left a ring of foam and a light film across the surface. The carbonation appeared to be relatively low. All-in-all a good looking lager.

The nose was pretty average/non-existent. I think this is the perfect time to invoke my rule normally reserved for tropical lagers; if the nose isn't offensive it's ok. And that is the perfect way to describe this beer, there's nothing to like or dislike about it. You can smell the slightest hint of hops over a base of sweetish malts with a tiny bit of something metallic thrown in for good measure. It's a relatively inoffensive aroma.

Zhigulevskoye certainly drank better than it smelt, which honestly wasn't bad. The flavour was at first unusual but after a short acclimatization period it settled into a very drinkable beer. It seemed like an odd mix of metal and bitter hops at first with the metal flavour fading after the first 2 or 3 sips and being replaced by sour malts. The carbonation was spritzier than expected and tickled the tongue nicely.

While not a beer I could drink everyday, Zhigulevskoye from Belarus, is a beer that I would happily sit down with a 6-pack with and watch the footy. It was refreshingly drinkable and I was so glad to have found another of the countries that had eluded me so far. Not many to go now! If you can help me with any of the remaining countries (find list here) I would love to here from you either below or on my email gus.norris7@gmail.com. I'm happy to offer cash/beer trades for any help!

Remember it's always Beer O'Clock somewhere in the world!

Friday, 28 June 2013

EUROTRIP - ENGLAND

Beer O'Clock on Tour


From Georgia we made a short 48 hour stop in London, partly to visit an old friend and partly to go see The Killers at Wembley (coincidentally absolutely amazing!). My mate Coll organised it and had said prefaced it with that it would be the most amazing weekend of our lives, a huge call but it certainly lived up to it.

On this short stay the beer was never going to be amazing, although it would inevitably be plentiful. We'd left Tbilisi airport at 4:30am and by 12 (admittedly with a time difference) I was already on my third beer.

My first cask beer.
The beers we were drinking at first were by no stretch of the imagination English. They were cans of Kronenbourg 1664. When you are staying with a poor student you can't ask for quality... At £1 for 500ml I couldn't see a reason to say no, and I was pleasantly surprised. The beer was drinkable ice cold and got better the more you had.

My one aim in London was to have a beer on cask. After a few warm up cans of Kronenbourg we headed to The Elgin to achieve my aim. At the pub I had not only my first but also my second ever cask beer. The honour of first fell to Young's Special Premium Ale as the girl changed the cask of my first choice, Adnams Ghost Ship Pale Ale.

The Young's was a solid English Ale. Quite drinkable but relatively light on flavour. As for the Adnams it was a sensational beer. Termed an English Pale, more by geographical location than anything else I could see, it was well balanced with sour malts and bitter citrus hops. From the pub we headed back via Sainsbury's to pickup some more quality lagers (Kronenbourg and Carlsberg) before heading to Wembley. I couldn't bring myself to pay £5 for a pint of Carlsberg there so hung out for the beers back at home.

After the concert we reminisced about the old times when our friend lived in Melbourne over a few (many) Kronenbourg's. By 3am we'd caught up and it was as if he'd never left. I don't think I've ever drunk as much Kronenbourg as I did that night and I don't think I ever will again. But it's a beer that will now hold good memories. I also leave London with having ticked off something from my bucket list, having a beer on cask. All in all a successful trip to London, bring on Vilnius in Lithuania!

Remember it's always Beer O'Clock somewhere in the world!

EUROTRIP - GEORGIA

Beer O'Clock on Tour


Beer O'Clock on Tour has left the land of Efes (Turkey) and headed across the border less traveled to Georgia. Not only was the country absolutely stunning, the beer range available was much much more extensive than in Turkey.

The first thing I noticed about beer in Georgia is that the advertising was just everywhere. The drive from the airport probably took about half an hour and for at least 25 minutes of that drive, somewhere in your field of vision was a Natakhtari sign. The second thing I noticed was how cheap beer was! I bought the selection below from two little stores for only 15 Lari, around $9 including some doubles!

Natakhtari, a good staple
Despite the incredibly cheap prices, never pay more than 2 Lari for a bottled beer, the beer was all surprisingly good. Again it was a selection of almost all lagers although in Georgia there was also a wheat beer produced and a fruit beer that was surprisingly good. I would imagine that the competition between breweries might have something to do with this, Turkey take note!

Pictured left is a tap Natakhtari, by far the most popular beer in Georgia. Thankfully for me this is a much better lager than Efes and is indeed very drinkable. On a world scale it would compete relatively well with other macro lagers, I think importers should look at this beer due to how cheap it is sold for in Georgia there's profit to be made here... It may well be a macro lager but there are certainly worse beers out there.

Better than it looks
The beer most accessible to many drinkers will be Germanuli (pictured right). Despite being most commonly served in a plastic (PET) bottle it was the beer most similar to Western tastes. A lager "made in the German style" and with numerous references, including the name, to being made with a German recipe. It uses hops liberally for a lager and is actually quite a bitter Pilsner.

As regular readers would know I fully reviewed Mtieli (see review here) the other day as the beer I best thought encapsulated Georgian beer. I also thought it was the best beer in a world dominated by very thin, light yellow lagers. It's dark golden, almost bronze, colour really stood out and it's taste was excellent. If I was to recommend a Georgian beer this would be the one.

Only in the North...
Kazbegi was the beer I was initially going to call Georgia's worst after sampling a bottle in Tbilisi. After our day trip to Kazbegi, near the Russian border (approx 170km North of Tbilisi), my tune changed completely. In Kazbegi the beer was a fresh clean lager, which proved to be very drinkable despite the very cold temperature outside. My advise would be to drink this only in the North of the country, I imagine that freshness is particularly important with this beer.

The easiest way to bring this piece to a close, is to clump the rest of the beers as they were effectively the same. Khevsuruli was probably the best of the rest, with Zedazeni coming in next. All three of the Argo beers I tried, including one not pictured, were terrible. And once again the strong lager, this time Natakhtari Extra was the worst beer on offer. I could be here all day writing about average Georgian lagers but I'll call it a day here.

It was pleasant to be in a country with more than just Efes products! Even if it is very hard in Georgia to find anything other than lagers, it's a welcome change to be able to find different ones! Georgia is not the country for you if you are looking for craft beers. If you don't mind drinking lager there are plenty of options out there for you. Although it may not be a beer destination, it's a country certainly worth visiting for the scenery and the cheapness. Anywhere you can get this many beers, regardless of quality, for $10 has to be good!

The range of Georgian Beers
Remember it's always Beer O'Clock somewhere in the world!

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

REVIEW: MTIELI

European Beer Challenge #47 Georgia


STATS
  • Country: Georgia
  • Style: Euro Pale Lager
  • ABV: 5.0%
  • Serving Type: 500ml Bottle
  • Price: CHEAP!!!
It seemed as if the European Beer Challenge on Beer O'Clock Australia was winding down to a close. It appeared that the few remaining countries would prove elusive, but I had other plans! Coming to you live from Tbilisi, Georgia here is the European Beer Challenge!

Georgia, not to be confused with the U.S. state of the same name, is a small Eastern European/Asian country in the Caucasus mountain ranges. It's one of the most beautiful countries I have ever been to, with stunning natural scenery in abundance. Tbilisi itself is an odd place where extreme poverty meets extreme wealth but is a still an excellent tourist destination. I knew very little about Georgian beer other than there were many of them!

Mtieli is produced by Georgia's biggest brewery, JSC Lomisi, but it doesn't pour like a macro lager. In fact the pour is excellent! The beer is a deep golden colour, almost bronze even, with a good three or four finger head of wispy white foam. Although it dissipates quickly, the beer still produced excellent lacing. With any luck I will be able to update the photo of this beer when I get home, hopefully the iPhone quality is okay...

For me the nose was a little hard to pick up as I had a slight cold at the time, but it was slightly sweet but with more than enough hops present to even penetrate my blocked nose. The hops had a grassy/herbal aroma to them, which seemed more reminiscent of a German Pilsner than a Euro Pale Lager. Only the taste would tell though...

This beer was very refreshing to say the least. It'd been a hot day in Tbilisi with a lot of walking involved when I sampled this and it certainly did not disappoint! The beer was almost brand new, only 8 days from bottling date to drinking, and that freshness really came through in the flavour. The malts were unusual sweet and spicy at the same time, but the grassy hop bitterness cut through nicely and almost overpowered them.

I picked Mtieli to review, over it's big brother Natakhtari and others, because I thought it best encapsulated what Georgian beer was about. Georgian's drink their beer out of national pride, but almost all will readily offer that German beer is better, without prompting, in the same sentence. Georgian beer is undeniably cheap (you can easily get 2 beers for 1 Euro), but this doesn't mean it has to be bad. Mtieli (pronouced M-teal-ay) was not over carbonated, unlike a number of other Georgian lagers, and really stood out from the crowd.

Remember it's always Beer O'Clock somewhere in the world!

Thursday, 20 June 2013

EUROTRIP - TURKEY

Beer O'Clock on Tour


It's been over three weeks since I've managed to get a post up; partly because I was so busy with work and uni and partly because I was finalizing everything for my trip. We've finally got this show on the road and I'm in Istanbul, the largest city in Turkey!

Turkey is a predominantly Muslim country and so I always knew the beer selection would be limited, never did I expect it would be this limited! From what I've gathered Efes is one of very few producers of beer in the country and seemingly only their products are accessible to tourists. The above photo is what I could gather from near my hotel and what I'm going to use to review Turkey (or more accurately Efes') beer range.

Idylic view, poor beer
Like most Western countries lager is the mainstay of the Turkish beer drinker. Efes Pilsen is the lager of choice and dominates the market with about 70% of all beer sales in Turkey! The first one I had after arrival was quite drinkable, the second was bearable due to it being so hot outside and being on a rooftop terrace overlooking the Bosphorus but that was where it ended! The pour is average, the smell is average and the flavour is too sweet to be deemed a Pilsner.

Thankfully for me some of Efes' other products are of a higher standard. Efes Ustisindan Fici is a better example of the normal Efes Pilsen. It has been designed to taste for like the draft version of the beer, which incidentally is much better to drink! Both the bottle and can are designed to look like kegs/barrels of beer. Both bottle and can form taste fresher and crisper than standard Efes Pilsen.

Turkey's finest!
Efes Unfiltered was a real bolt from the blue. I tried it between two of the worst macro swill lagers you will ever try and it really impressed. As expected a cloudy beer emerged when I cracked the can and poured it into my Efes glass. The aroma was average but the flavour had some hops and more importantly some flavour! I'm going to have to find another one of these to check but I'm pretty sure it was good, not just the best of a bad lot.

I thought after having the Efes Unfiltered on my second last day in Istanbul that I had found the best beer I would have in Turkey, but I was wrong! Efes Malt was a far superior beer, which I should also add came with a far heftier price tag. There were some real hops, both grassy and spicy, coupled nicely with a balanced malt body. Also this beer had some lacing and head retention, a characteristic missing in all other Turkish beers I've sampled so far on this trip.

NEVER DRINK THIS!!!
Excluding the standard Efes Pilsen the beer I most commonly see locals drinking is Efes Xtra. After trying it I can only assume that a) the locals are idiots or b) these particular locals are allergic to Raki. Why would anyone drink this terrible excuse for a beer when Raki (the local spirit at around 55% ABV) costs not much more than a can of this rubbish! It was so bad I couldn't finish it! Far too sweet and far too much raw alcohol, it was just terrible! Not even worth drinking to get drunk on!

On my last day in Turkey I had two beers to finish off my Turkish beer experience; Bomonti and Efes Dark. Bomonti followed the trend of the other lagers, pretty basic flavour with some initial promise fading to nothing. In stark comparison Efes Dark provided some light to an otherwise dreary Turkish beer scene. For a Euro Dark Lager it really stood out with excellent drinkability not getting in the way of flavour. Coffee and caramel malts were complimented by clever use of hops.

In all honesty Turkey's beer scene was horrendous! Boring macro lager followed by boring macro lager on the whole, and to top it all off they are made by the same brewery! When one brewery has almost total control of a countries beer production results are never going to be good. Efes Malt, for lager drinkers, and Efes Dark, for those who can handle the dark stuff, were the two standouts with a special mention to Efes Unfiltered which is also a very solid beer.

The range of Turkish beers
Remember it's always Beer O'Clock somewhere in the world!