So there I was, as usual, standing in the supermarket wearing an expression of sheer awe at the variety of Eastern European lagers on sale. I suspect that the range from each country is in direct proportion to the number of people from that country living in Ireland, with Poland to the fore, followed some way behind by Lithuania then Latvia.
Sure, it's nice to feel at home when you're abroad, but do we really need quite such a range of 5-ish% ABV pale lagers which are so very similar to each other? It has me wondering if someone in the US or Britain is looking at a shelf full of Guinness, Murphy's and Beamish cans, and wondering why the Irish need so many thin dry nitrogenated stouts.
To give the prejudice above a bit more empirical weight, I bought a bottle each of the two most similar lagers and I'll be trying them back to back. Both are by Švyturys of Lithuania, and I've already reviewed the first, Švyturys Ekstra, back here, giving it fairly short shrift. The other is Švyturys Ekstra Draught: same strength, same price. Can it justify its place on the shelves as an independent entity by taste alone?
A bit more detail on plain old Ekstra first. It's a very sweet and sugary affair, but otherwise rather dull. The sweetness creates an illusion of high alcohol, despite being at the high end of normal at 5.2% ABV. According to the distributor's publicity, the difference with Ekstra Draught is that it's not pasteurised, which presumably means cold filtering of some sort. It's certainly not cloudy and comes out of the bottle paler than its sibling. The sweetness and the gassiness are also toned down, making it more palatable by making it taste of less. Are the two Švyturyses different? Yes. Can they justify their parallel existence? No. How about a dark beer in the range instead?
While I'm on the subject of cheap bottled lagers, I recently got a heads-up that Aldi were selling discount Spaten Helles and went along to pick up a few to bring me through this year's Six Nations. While there I noticed yet another eastern European import, their own-brand Staroslav lager from Bohemia, and I took one home to try. It has the rich gold colour of some of the better-known Czech lagers, but is severely lacking in flavour. The maltiness is there but toned way way down, leaving gassy carbonation as the dominant feature. Still, I don't resent the €1.48 I spent finding that out.
According to the last census, there were nearly twice as many British people living in Ireland as Poles. But do we see a proportional range of their beers in the supermarkets..?