AT THE HOP

At the outset, I must admit that beer tastings never really prove anything: There is no “best beer.” Every comparison I’ve ever read produced a different winner. The first D Magazine tasting in 1975 picked a Mexican dark, Dos Equis, as tops; in 1977, it limped in as number 14 (the new winner was Carlsberg Dark, a paltry 12th two years earlier). Therefore, after judging the beers in the latest contest there was no real winner. But there were some clear-cut favorites, some losers, and a few surprises.

Ideally, beers should be compared in like categories, the way wines are. Pitting Coors against a German dark is as senseless as comparing a California Chardonnay with a red Bordeaux from France. So we placed American brews against each other, then import lights, and finished with dark beers. “Light” beers, those popular low-alcohol, low-calorie beers, were deemed too insignificant to compete in world-class company. Also eliminated were Texas cult brews such as Pearl, Lone Star, and Shiner, which are regionally popular but don’t offer much taste. Some beers were considered too unique (or eccentric) to be included, notably Ireland’s Guinness Stout. The chosen brands qualified because of consumer interest, availability, and prominence in the beer world.

A few words about beer in general: Unlike wine, great beer can come from just about anywhere in the world. The taste is determined by the purity of the water and the quality of the ingredients: hops (a relative of the marijuana plant), yeast, and malted barley (roasted barley makes dark beer). No single country has a monopoly on quality, though many claim the best hops come from an area between Plzen, Czechoslovakia and Munich.

As for tasting, the glasses must be clean and detergent-free. Ideally, the temperature should be around 50 degrees although most American beers are brewed to be drunk colder. One way to judge a beer’s quality is by how long the head of foam lasts-the longer the better. When pouring, skip the college-boy ritual of letting the beer run down the inside of a tilted glass; that’s for sissies. It also kills the foam. Instead, pour straight into the glass.

The setting was provided by Gene Street of The Wine Press, who overlooked the broken glasses and customers frightened away by rowdy behavior. The location was a notorious beer bar, J. Alfred’s, so hopefully any ghosts present were pleased.



AMERICAN



Lowenbrau. OK, so it’s brewed in Fort Worth. And it’s not the real Lǒwenbrǎu. It still got the most votes. Some even said it tasted like an import. Ironically, this beer took last place in a previous tasting.



Coors. Everyone’s favorite whipping boy. Comments ranged from “light” to “watery” to “flat.” Not much range. Budweiser met with similar disdain.



Erlanger. Newest of the “premium” domestics (Michelob, Andecker, etc.). Most found it dull and light, not desirable qualities in a premium. Schlitz should probably go back to the drawing board on this one. The others tasted, Michelob and Schlitz, were just, well, beer.



IMPORTED (Light)

Heineken (Holland). To some, the Coors of imported beer. To our panel, the favorite: Intriguing hop flavor with a touch of sweetness makes a good compromise between popularity and quality. Larry Sons said even Nelson Eddy and Jeanette McDonald would like it.

Brahma (Brazil). An obscure, underrated beer that drew praise from most tasters, although some hated it. Distinctive, slightly fruity flavor that’s worth a try if your’re experimenting. Hard to find.

San Miguel (Philippines). Most thought this was from Mexico, even before they saw the name. Good, middle-of-the-road beer that found favor with most judges.

Superior (Mexico). This was Mexican, but many guessed German. Good body and balance; an excellent alternative to the overrated Carta Blanca.

Carlsberg Elephant (Denmark). One of three flavors marketed by the world’s largest-selling brewery. The majority found it smooth, light, and similar to a good domestic. Roy Crane, who would know, called it the “Bo Derek of Beers” and gave it a 10.

Spaten (Germany). A full-bodied, yeasty brew from Munich. A classic German beer that got mixed reviews, depending on one’s affection for this type.

Moosehead (Canada). The new Heineken, popping up in bars everywhere since entering the market last year. Light, innocuous taste, which probably accounts for its popularity.

Dinkel Acker (Germany). A winner from Stuttgart. Actually a malt liquor, meaning higher alcohol content. This is the real stuff, and you’ll either love it or hate it. Bill Baker called it “a credit to its race,” while Joe Miller saw it as “Hitler’s revenge.”



Ringnes (Norway). Popular Scandinavian brew that left most judges either confused or unimpressed. One panelist thought it was “imported from European Crossroads.”



Beck’s (Germany). The largest-selling German beer, very fresh and consistent. Rather tame for a middle-of-the-road German, and many panelists were unimpressed.



Pilsner Urquell (Czechoslovakia). Long-awaited on the Texas beer scene, this brew is nicely balanced and considered by many to be the world’s finest light import. And like many delicate imports, it needs to be fresh to be enjoyed; buy it from a reputable dealer with a high turnover to be assured that the brew hasn’t been kept too long.



Lǒwenbrǎu Zǔrich (Switzerland). Once again, the judges condemned one of the truly great beers, the authentic Lǒwenbrǎu. But, I’m compelled to intercede and state that this is a textbook beer: clean, precise, and beautifully hopped.

The others tasted, Kirin (Japan), Tecaté (Mexico), and St. Pauli Girl (Germany), didn’t receive much response.



DARK



Watney’s Red Barrel (England). Most first-place votes went to this medium-bodied, semi-sweet dark brew, but one judge compared it to Karo Syrup.

Dos Equis (Mexico). This one was well received in the first D Magazine beer tasting and was well-liked this time, too. Smooth, with a slightly roasted flavor, it’s a brew for those who don’t really like dark beer.

Dinkel Acker Dark (Germany). A dark beer in the true German tradition. A connoisseur’s beer, though, since some found it a bit sweet and heavy.

Anchor Steam (California). The pride of San Francisco, rescued from oblivion by Fritz Maytag of appliance fame. The most European of American beers, and to many, the best. Actually falling between a dark and a light, Anchor Steam didn’t exactly inspire poetry from the judges, who by this time were cooking up stories about why they’d be late getting home. Prosit.

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