Saturday, 30 March 2013

Prague Supermarket Beers

Is Czech beer more interesting than German beer? I intend to find out.
Perusing the beer section of a Prague supermarket, I noticed that, as well as the Czech brands well known outside the country, there were countless brews I'd not heard of as well. They are also all pretty cheap, around 60 cents a shout, so I grabbed some at random and dragged them back to the batcave.

Kozel was slightly malty, with a gentle kick to it, whereas Breznak was darker, much more malty, with a bigger kick.

Branik was pale and at first taste seemed run-of-the-mill, but grew on me the further down the glass I got. Bernard had a giant head on it, slightly sweet, but very distinctive.

Radegast was a decent brew, easy quaffing - whether it was named after the wizard though I don't know.
So far all the beers were recognisably superior to the vast majority of German beers I've tried - although nothing to write home about, they were all beers I could quite happily drink regularly. However I'd also chucked a Staropramen into my trolley, so that I could do an 'unknown brand vs international brand test'. Switching to this from the Radegast instantly showed the Staropramen up as utterly tasteless and bland, pretty much like a Helles.
In future I'll stick to what I don't know.

Sunday, 24 March 2013


We're all familiar with the idea that, with big name 'international' beer brands, there is little relationship between the beer itself and the brand name - 'Carlsberg' and 'Heineken' are just names slapped on to any locally made piss. The extent to which beers with a certain brand name are consistent varies; of course 'Guinness' is always going to be a stout, but the recipe and quality will vary enormously depending on whether you're in Dublin, Frankfurt, Kuala Lumpr or Addis Ababa.
When such beers arrived in the UK, and the beer drinking public cottoned on to the fact that the fancy Eurolager that they thought they were drinking was actually brewed in Bishops Stortford, then there were many advertising campaigns for the real imported ones which went out of their way to stress the origin of the beer - 'brewed in Bremen... Germany' etc.
So if you want to be sure that the beer you are drinking is the genuine one from the beer's country of origin, what do you look for? You might familiarise yourself with the original design of the bottle label, or you might look for something saying it was an imported one, as batches of the beer destined for export might have an appropriate label to draw your attention to this.
For example, if you saw this:

then you might, not unreasonably, believe that this beer had been imported from Japan. If, on the supermarket shelves, you also saw this:

Then this might well confirm it.
Unfortunately that would not be the case. Imported it may be, but the country of origin is China, not Japan. Closer examination of the back of the bottle reveals:

Yep.... it's brewed under 'supervision of'' Asahi of Tokyo... in fact, Asahi in this form in Hong Kong is made at the same brewery as the local Carlsberg, in China.
As for the label in the supermarket, claiming it is 'imported from Japan'? Lies.
Consumer protection law isn't big in Hong Kong. A flat here may be advertised as being 50 square metres, but that area will include the area of the shared lift and corridor outside... claiming a beer is imported from Japan instead of China is small beer.

Thursday, 14 March 2013

Hong Kong beer bars

Hong Kong has quite a few beer bars dotted around town - the problem is they're all the same. The names are different but there the similarity starts; they're all part of the same chain with the same beers and menus.
Some comedian thought it would be amusing to divide the menu up into "boring beers" and "interesting beers".

At least it used to say "interesting beers" the last time I was here 5 years ago - now it's changed to "Exciting Micro-Imports", which both loses the effect, and is totally inaccurate. Fulller's, for example, are probably both delighted and disturbed to discover that they are in fact a micro-brewery.

Yes, a Grimbergen is considered an exciting micro-import, so even Inbev are a micro-brewery according to these beer gurus.
You might expect that a chain of bars that makes a big deal about having exciting micro-imports might just have some sort of clue about arcane concepts such as the optimum temperature to serve different styles of beer, but no, everything's served at meat-locker temperatures, so the exciting micro-brew you ordered might end up being not that distinguishable from a boring beer. Next time I'll try a red wine and see if it gets the same treatment.

This would have probably been a fine beer had it been put in a sauna for 20 minutes. There are large bowls of nuts forced on you constantly, the shells of which you are encouraged to chuck on the floor in an utterly hedonistic manner; the nuts themselves help to disguise any taste the beer might have had had it not been too cold in the first place.
The most well known of these is on Causeway Bay on Hong Kong island, and is nowadays named "Inn Side Out". This is immensely popular with local office workers at both lunchtime and evenings; rarely for Hong Kong you can "al fresco", if you don't mind queuing for one of the outside tables; inside it's easier to get a seat.
"Slim's" is another branch closer to the financial district. The pale ale they had on tap was splendid, and almost exciting.

On the south side of Hong Kong island is a tacky foreigner enclave called Stanley, where on the seafront can be found the small "Vern's beach bar". This makes a fairly feeble attempt to convince you that you are in Honolulu.
As in all of these bars, you won't hear much Cantonese spoken. In this branch, though, you will overhear many conversations taking the following form:

- "And I was like..... and she was like....."
- "Noooooo!!!!!......."
- "And she was like.... and they were like.... and I was like....."
- "Oh m'gaaaaaad.... like Daaaaaaaaahhhhhh!!!!!"

There is in fact massive scope for devising drinking games whilst listening to such conversations, an exercise which I leave for the reader (Shane Watson - did you hear that?).

Thursday, 7 March 2013

Korafuto Biiru

Germany taught both China and Japan to brew beer. In the case of China the diktat about all-malt didn't last long - the vast majority of beer from China is practically undrinkable piss, although it's cheap ("Portillo's wife defends crack habit").
In the case of Japan, though, the German influence still remains. All the major Japanese brewers continue to brew all-malt beers, and furthermore Japan is dotted with German style brewpubs, some even going as far as to dress the waitresses in Bavarian outfits. Unfortunately they seem to also have inherited the German penchant for fairly bland beers, and a restrictive conservatism - none of the main Japanese brews like Kirin, Asahi or Sapporo are particularly interesting.
They're very widely available in Hong Kong supermarkets and convenience shops though, and seeing as they're scarcely more expensive than the locally brewed adjunct ridden stuff, I might pop a few Kirins in the trolley sometimes to drink with dinner or something. Whilst in the foreigner oriented supermarket in Hong Kong's financial district though, I spotted some beers from Japan's nascent craft brewing scene.

First up was this stout from Echigo, "Japan's first micro-brewery". On the rear of the can there's an outline picture of a geezer playing a saxophone, so I imagine Echigo thought that you would sip this whilst in a jazz bar or something. The can also tells you that it's "high quality premium beer", which I think is blowing its own saxophone a bit. The beer itself was very good though, with a decent coffee after-taste. Reminded me of Sierra Nevada's stout. Niiiiice.

From the same brewery comes "Weizen", which on the reverse of the can tells us it's a "White Ale". There's a picture of what I presume is a Bock on the front, which was a bit confusing, and on the back there's a picture of a Bavarian-outfitted couple toasting each other. There's also a slogan exhorting us to "Craft Beer The World", which confused me even more.
Upon popping the can, I was greeted with a smell which made me think of a fizzy drink, an impression which wasn't diminished in any way when I tasted it. It didn't really remind me of either a German Weissbier or a Belgian Witbier - there was far too much carbonation. If Echigo are really attempting to craft beer the world they should probably try it with their stout.
They also make a red ale, not pictured, which was very decent. So as the famous piece of lard 'Meat Loaf' once told us, 2 out of 3 ain't bad for Echigo.

The prize for the most interesting bottle goes to "Ginga Kogen Beer", although at one point it was almost mistaken for a bottle of Chinese medicine, which would have been a shame. According to their website, their beer "delivers the charm of the beer based on German traditional technology." That may well be, but this particular one, "Silver Bottle" to me was  much closer to a Belgian Witbier than a German Weissbier, and was the pick of the four. Banzai.