Drunken Speculation

WTF is an (European) industrial beer?

Carlsberg Laboratory

“Industrial beer” is a term used by Randy Mosher in his book Tasting Beer to describe beers produced on a large scale, beginning with London porter in the early nineteenth century.

Sometimes we might call them “macro” or “mainstream” beers. The craft beer enthusiast strawman knows them intimately: they’re less brewed and more designed; they’re about mass appeal and marketing than taste or craftsmanship; and they’re best consumed cold because there’s no flavour to be found once it warms up.

Last year, the week before Melbourne’s Good Beer Week was declared Bad Beer Week by James from beer bar band. The idea is that you will appreciate good beers more if you remind yourself why you don’t drink mass produced fermenter scrapings. I’ve been suckling at the North American and Australian mainstream teats through the last week, to the point that it actually is now Good Beer Week. But I’ve already bought the beers, so I thought it would be a good time to see what makes these beers tick and if they’re as bad as some beer nerds claim.

Today’s edition examines the Eurolager – industrial beers from Europe. Oh, and Guinness, which is an ale. Locally, Eurolagers are marketed for their cool prestige; naturally, imported beer is the sign of a sophisticate. The big breweries of Europe, usually in partnership with the local duo plus Coopers, target this as a serious selling point. As a successful target of this marketing strategy in my early 20s, it was only when I travelled to Europe that I found out that Stella Artois is nicknamed “wifebeater” in Ireland (it’s cheap, so poor people would drink heaps of it, get drunk and the stereotype would follow like a law of nature). It was at that point that I realised I’d been paying $20 for a sixpack of €6 beer*.

With that in mind, I don’t have a lot of love for the green bottle brigade. They may have far greater heritage than the Americans or Australians but there’s also a surprising amount of homogeneity for beers created in countries that were arch rivals as recently as seventy years ago.

*At the exchange rate of the time, that was an extra €4 per sixpack InBev was taking home.

Stella Artois

stella artois

  • 4.8%
  • This bottle is brewed in the UK for AB-InBev and imported, although supposedly also made for the local market by Lion
  • Light gold colour
  • White head, decent with some lacing
  • Strong cat piss aroma
  • Low malt, clean, low flavour profile
  • Bitter, dry finish
  • Some hard European nights were funded on the back of this beer

Heineken

heineken

  • 5.0%
  • Brewed for Heineken Lion Australia by Lion “under supervision” of Heineken
  • More familiar lager aroma but a hint of cat piss Euro hops
  • Paler than I remember
  • Good white head forms, the way it’s meant to be served if my visit to the brewery is any guide, and leaves some lacing
  • Same light clean malt profile
  • Bitter, dry finish

Kronenbourg 1664

kronenbourg1664

  • 5.0%
  • Brewed by Kronenbourg – part of Carlsberg – in France and imported by Coopers
  • Great white head forms with classic Euro lacing
  • Euro cat piss hop aroma
  • Golden colour
  • Taste is not as severe as I remember from my time in France – I assume this is because it’s cold and not warm from the supermarche
  • A touch of the Corona bready malt that goes up my nose
  • Bitter but not as dry as the others

Guinness Draught

guinness

  • 4.1% – the lowest ABV beer of the seventeen I’ve looked at
  • Brewed in Dublin, presumably at St James’ Gate, for the UK market and then imported for some reason and not brewed locally by Lion
  • Comes in a can with a nitro widget which helps create the characteristic Guinness ripples, although it is a poor mimic of what’s achieved off tap.
  • Head retention is excellent. A lovely fluffy white pillow sits atop a pitch black beer.
  • Seeing as I’m not in a pub to get pissed, it’s worth letting this one warm up a bit first
  • Sweet, slightly boozey nose
  • High level of nutty taste that isn’t normally present and a strong, very metallic finish
  • The usual roasted malt, earthy bitterness and any sense of carbonation are gone. There is, however, tons of wateriness
  • Quite disappointing

Becks

becks

  • 5.0%
  • This bottle was brewed locally – one assumes by Lion, though it isn’t mentioned
  • Becks is that painful brand for aspirational dickheads that ignores the historical realities of the Reinheitsgebot to intimate that this beer is somehow better than others
  • Light yellow colour with something passing for a thin white head
  • Cat piss aroma
  • Light pilsner malt
  • Mild bitterness at the end
  • Dry finish
  • See Kronenbourg

Carlsberg

carlsberg

  • 4.8%
  • Brewed for and under the supervision of Carlsberg by Coopers
  • Cat piss aro… you get the idea by now

Perhaps the most interesting thing to come out of this exercise is that Dan Murphy’s doesn’t necessarily source its beers through the correct channels. The number of parallel imports to beers that Lion supposedly has the right to brew or distribute locally is astounding. I’m not sure why DM would do this other than to keep costs low.

I’ve also found is that industrial beers seem to be very similar across a geographical area but vary between these. Australian industrial beers are darker than Euro beers which are darker – by a degree or two – than American beers. Euro beers are stronger than Australian beers which are typically stronger than Americans. European beers have a hop character that I repeatedly describe as cat’s piss, as do Australian beers, which smells awful, but not so much American beers, which avoid bitterness, aroma, etc.

But unlike the North Americans and Australians, I would really struggle to tell the difference between the green bottle beers. I swear that the only change between recipes is the amount of sugar used to change the ABV. Otherwise it’s just: light yellow colour; 5.0% ABV ± 0.2%; thin white head; thin body; poor head retention, although some lacing; cat piss hop aroma; minimal taste; dry and crisp finish with some bitterness.

Quite frankly, I’m really sick of drinking industrial beers. Thankfully this is the last post I have planned until next year’s Bad Beer Week.

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