We say it often: we’re living in a golden age of beer. Choice and quality has never been so high and it feels as if the whole world has suddenly cottoned on to the magic of beer. One reason often cited by the craft beer innovators for starting up breweries was as a reaction to the blandness of beers on offer at the time – and in most instances these would likely be the kind of global big brand lagers that dominate the sales charts.
We rarely drank these lagers before the craft beer boom, and resort to them even less now there’s more choice, but have they been harshly treated? Along with the rise in quality beers, has there also been a rise in beer snobbery, with those world lagers at the receiving end of unfair criticism?
Along with an increasing array of imported craft beers, big brand lagers from far flung places are also being made more readily available to UK consumers. To find out if any of them are worth flinging your earned cash at, we’ve decided to taste test a collection of boozes from five different countries.
Seeing as it’s the Germans who historically kicked off this global lager passion (familiar names including Anheuser, Busch, Pabst, Coors and Miller were German migrants who set up breweries in America and went on to conquer the world) we’ve also included a traditional German pils in our taste test as a ‘control’. We’ve worked with Krombacher quite a lot over the past year so it’s their pils that we’ve used for taste test purposes.
Krombacher Pils is smooth and malty with a distinctively Germanic spicy and grassy hop bitterness. It’s quite soft and bready, a touch sweeter than other pils, and the light hopping helps to crisp it up at the finish. We like it as a daytime sipper and it goes especially well with vegetable dishes or a Sunday roast chicken – there’s enough flavour to make it worthy of a place on your dinner table, but it will never overpower those more delicately flavoured dishes.
So with the German control safely guzzled it’s time to check out five more big brand lagers. In drinking order…
We first tried this Argentinian import while researching beers to represent each country at the World Cup and, though not a world beater, it certainly did the job of providing refreshing boozeiness while watching football. It has sweet malt flavours common to lots of mass produced lagers with only light hopping at the finish. Nothing overtly nasty to report and an acceptable fridge beer for when your main focus is on the tv sporting action.
Windhoek Lager, 4%
There’s very little wrong with this. You could make a strong case for it being bland but not everyone wants full flavour all of the time. It’s close to Krombacher in its initial sweet grainy flavour and it has a noticeable bitterness that edges towards grassy. The high carbonation suits its light, crisp body and at 4% it’s the kind of lager you would want to neck to see off a sweat.
Molson Canadian, 5%
This really is a bland beer that has somehow managed to suck flavour from the grain and hops to leave behind a thin, dry drink with a light fizz and a bit of sweetness. Despite those criticisms it’s far from horrible (there are a lot worse out there) and we can see the appeal. It fills a gap between beer and water, and if it were the only thing on offer at a bar we would stick with it for a few pints.
Chang Classic, 5%
Something in our memory banks suggested this tasted great when drinking it in the hot and humid streets of Bangkok but when we got back home it became one to avoid. However, it has been a long time since we last drank any. Trying it now we notice how different it is from the other beers, with very little bitter hopping, an almost vinous homemade wine tang to the body and some sharper lemony notes prodding the palate. Rice is among the ingredients, which is partly responsible for this change in feel and flavour, and is a reason the purists will criticise it. Treat it as a different kind of product than a regular lager and it becomes a more acceptable drink, albeit one we would only want to experience in a hot and humid Bangkok setting.
Kirin Ichiban, 4.6%
We assumed this beer was flown in from Japan but it’s brewed under licence in Wolverhampton by Marstons. Weaker, paler, lighter and fizzier than Chang it also has a bit of peppery Germanic hopping at the finish. A basic lager but no complaints from us.
With the exception of Krombacher, none of these are the kind of beers we would choose to drink that often, but it has been a fun exercise comparing lagers from around the world and picking out a favourite. Even the most committed Big-Brand-Lager-Refuser probably has at least one they don’t mind drinking (call it a ‘guilty pleasure’ if you like) and of the five we tried it’s Namibia’s Windhoek that is our top pick. Heck, we might even get a case in for the fridge – with summer approaching everyone needs a quick and simple thirst quencher to fall back on.
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