The Jacobsen range from Danish megabrewer Carlsberg is, I'm told, distributed exclusively to the restaurant trade in Ireland. The classy 75cl bottles are intended for diners to sip with their meals as an alternative to wine, a strategy I wholeheartedly support, though I don't know how likely it is to catch on. The fact that four from the range, past their best-befores, were being sold at knock-down prices in a Dublin off licence suggests that it may not be going entirely to plan.
I started my investigations with Bramley Wit. The advertised apples are present in a wonderful aroma: sweet, juicy and promising. Unfortunately they don't come through to the palate much, nor does anything else. The flavour is slightly dry but there's no sign of the coriander or orange peel listed in the ingredients. The apples make a brief reappearance just at the end, but in a thoroughly underwhelming sort of way. The light carbonation and understated flavour make this a refreshing beer, but that nose has me expecting so much more every time I raise my glass.
Second up is the Saaz Blonde, from which I had been expecting something bitter, fizzy and Czech-like until I read that it contains a massive 7.1% ABV. It pours a dark, amberish kind of blonde with a dry fruity nose. All that alcohol is very much present in the flavour: big heavyweight malt notes on a thick and almost syrupy body. And yet this isn't a park-bench beer -- the dryness reins in the maltiness just enough to keep it pleasant, though the gassiness has a tendency to catch in the back of the throat. As the beer warms the fruit flavours become more pronounced and it gets generally more aley. Like the Bramley, this is decent but unexciting.
I sat over the Dark Lager a while, waiting for it to develop a flavour. The pour had been promising: cloudy amber with a big-bubbled pale yellow head, resembling nothing so much as a pint of best bitter. Sweet malt on the nose and a lovely caramel flavour, reminding me of why I first came to enjoy dunkel lagers. There was a hollowness to the flavour, though: a deficit I put down to temperature. So I went away and did some other things while I waited for the chilled beer to warm up. Unfortunately, the taste didn't get any better. The body rounded out nicely, giving it a very full and filling texture, with carbonation levels more akin to the cask ale I first mistook it for rather than a lager. But the flavour is still just caramel-then-nothing. Another promising formula not followed through fully.
Last in the set was the Brown Ale, which poured out a beautiful shade of dark red, though with a surprising amount of bubbles clinging to the inside of the glass. The dominant flavour I picked up is the bittersweet tang of liquorice, introduced by rich caramel notes and followed at the end by a sort of phosphoric tartness. It sounds exciting, but the experience is sadly short-lived, giving this beer the same sort of hollowness as the others in the range. The body is superb, however: thick and filling; much heavier than one would suspect 6% ABV to provide. I can see it going down well as a digestif.
Overall, I'm underwhelmed with this lot. I can see what they set out to do, but the execution is poor. As accompaniments to good food, none of these would stand up to competition with more mainstream quality large-bottle beers like Duvel, the Rocheforts or the Rogues: these and their ilk are what restaurants ought to be pushing as wine alternatives. Special restaurant-only beers aren't going to do anything for the mainstream reputation of quality beers and, evidently, they're just not as good.