Crap Beer Night
It was Phil at beermerchants.com that started me off thinking about this. He'd kindly sent me a box of beer - the Nils Oscar stuff will feature in a special smorgasbord review soon - and there was some stuff in there that made me laugh out loud when I saw it. Jupiler? I remember stag nights in Belgium where we shunned trappist beers so we could drink Jupiler from glasses wider than our heads. Fruli? Isn't that what girls order when they're too plastered to order another bucket of Lambrini? Well, the Jupiler was downed early last week just for the heck of it and - bless it - it wasn't really that bad. Not good; not particularly average. But not the kind of stuff destined to coat your throat in unpleasantness that only taste better when you sick it up (ah, the wonderful taste of lager-carrots with chili sauce).
So, I thought, what's crap beer really like? I drink plenty of average cask stuff and some superb beers, occasionally world-class ones. Even in supermarkets I can find acceptable bottles. Just how bad can macro-beer be?
Thankfully, Phil hadn't sent me too much dodgy stuff apart from the Fruli so I had to go shopping. My village, Spondon, has two mini-market-type shops, but they didn't have too much in the way of crap beer. Well, not in single cans or bottles; Somerfield and Co-op both had four/six packs of some terrifying swill but I wasn't prepared to spend more than a tenner on a range of execrable stuff. That's where our friendly local discount booze shop came to the rescue. Plonkers has a stack-it-high, sell-it-cheap philosophy, anything can be bought in the minimum quantity of one and there was plenty of homogenised crap beer to choose frpm.
Here's the line up, then: from just down the road in Burton, a can of Carling. Carlsberg 'Export' from, er, Northampton. Budweiser, from Satan's weeping arse sores (allegedly). The Fruli, care of Phil. Bottled Greene King IPA (ooh, yum!). A tin of Worthington's Cream Flow. And the hand-grenade-in-a-can version of Guinness. The tester would be to see how far down the glass I could drain the beer before my body repulsed.
I can't believe I'm actually doing this. First up, Carling. It glowed like radioactive piss as it poured. Forming a rocky head, there was a real whiff of scorched plastic and damp cardboard. And, by gum, it was sweet. Not toffee-sugary, just sweetener-gone-mental sweet. The flavour of once-chewed bubblegum, a slighly soapy residue and a mercifully short finish. This was so seriously devoid of malt and hops that calling it 'beer' is, frankly, insulting. I tried to keep taking nips to see if I was missing something, but I had to stop. Vile, vile, vile.
Carlsberg Export next. Now, I remember a time when I used to drink this. It was cold, wet and got me blotto. Then again, I used to eat Goodfellas pizza too. Students can be *so* stupid. Had that fluorescing urine look again; my wife said it looked like 'fizzy wee'. Overwhelmingly sweet aroma with odd bready notes. Not as fantastically emetic as Carling, as it had at least been in the same postcode as a hop. There was something almost acceptable on the back of the palate yet there was that very short finish again, with a slightly tacky sweetness. Alarming how a viscous head could be resurrected by whipping the stuff round in the glass. As it started to warm, the plastic tackyness rose in my throat like Ebola.
Never mind - Budweiser next. This amazed me for being so incredibly pale; I know it's billed as a 'pale lager' but this looked like maiden's water. Total absence of aroma. That nasty artificial sweetness again. If you hold it it your mouth and sloosh it around, it feels like toothpaste, but with a really sickly sweet smack. It's the taste of chewing a plastic toy when you were a toddler; it's almost as if this was engineered to be bad. After two sips, I threw the rest away before I took another photo because I couldn't wait to get rid of it.
The lagers, truth be told, were as bad as I expected them to be. What about the strawberry fruit beer from Belgium, Fruli? Honest opinion? Sticky strawberry laces from the sweet shop. Hazy rose body with strong carbonation. It's an incredibly aggressive strawberry essence aroma, though the nose calms down after a few minutes. Then it has a beery-er feel to it, some sourness fights back across the palate. It starts to cloy towards the end but remains strangely alluring. Actually refreshing. The first beer tonight I've finished.
So, to the Greene King IPA. It's too easy to take the piss out of Greede Kerching, either for their bully-boy expansionist agenda or for their mediocre beers. But it's been a long, long tiem since I tried this (love how the bottle actually says 'IPA stands for India Pale Ale'. I-P-A. Write that down. Ask Nursey to sharpen your crayon first...)
This was a 500ml plastic bottle with a metal cap. Dear God. It actually looked rather good; rugged brown body, dazzlingly clear, thin head. Then there was the mouldy porridge aroma. Sludgy malts. Soapy mouthfeel. A beer that was actually physically unpleasant to drink. I tried clicking my heels and hoping that the madness would just go away, but instead it lingered. Like a prawn sandwich hidden in the ceiling space above a bastard manager's office by a phenomenally pissed-off contractor. And not found until after the Christmas holidays. In a perverse way, this ghastly bottle actually makes me want to try the damn stuff on cask, because it can't be *this* bad in a pub?
...Sorry, just realised what I wrote there. Of course it can. And I'm not risking a single sliver of liver to find out if this torporific malt is really the hall mark of GK's, *cough*, 'IPA'.
Time for some light relief - Worthington Creamflow. Er, pardon? Is that meant to sound attractive as a drink? Is Creamflow not something that Ginger Baker used to do when he got wrapped up in his paradiddles? I thought a pipe under pressure had burst when I opened the can, such was the sickening crack and hiss. When the liquid began its incredible surge to the glass, it looked like manky cream with a dull ginger stream topped by a curdling off-white crest. It tasted like a watered-down version of the GK with dirty wet malts followed by floods of plastic-y tangs again. It managed to be thin and soapy at that same time, that thumb-thick head (which didn't dissipate even after twenty minutes of ignoring the ruddy beer) making every mouthful taste like I was drinking out of a condom. Not that I ever have, of course. Hold on, perhaps that's why Carlsberg in my student days always tasted so bad...
Guinness is, then, as good a place as any to put a stop to this madness. Of course, I was greatly appreciative of the can blowing open as soon as I looked at it in a funny way, letting scummy stuff spill out over the kitchen worktop like an over-ambitious expansionist dictatorship. The vilest-pouring beer I've ever seen.
I lived on this stuff through my later student years - OK, not just Guinness, there were chips and kebabs as well. And Thunderbird. And Clan Dew when Spar ran out of Thunderbird. Even now, the black stuff is my fall-back drink at hotels and family gatherings. Once the liquid had stopped looking like a surge of loose stool water, I found some washy malts and a hint of thin coffee hidden within. Malty and creamy on the palate, wholly inoffensive compared to all the others. Fantastically bland. Slough in a glass.
By now, I'd almost lost the will to blog. Yes, most of these beers were crap. In fact, they sullied the good name of crap. I wouldn't even use cans of Carling to pelt Pete Doherty with. I only made it through two drinks; the Guinness may have had a white head and a black body but it was riven gray all the way through. Still drinkable, though not really enjoyable. The real surprise for me was the Fruli. I don't think I could have managed much more than a bottle, but at least it had a ballsy flavour and a hint of elan about it. Perhaps it was unfair to lump it into tonight's tasting just because it's a fruit beer.
The 'epoch of incredulity' has been well and truly tested tonight. If you like beer and end up in pubs/clubs/parties where this kind of macro swill is all that's on offer, Just Say No. Well, just say you're driving. Even if everyone knows you came by taxi.