Atlas Strong Beer – Strong Pale Lager, 12% abv./ InBev Breweries, Breda, Netherlands/ $7 per 500ml can.
It can be expensive being a beer snob. So, starting today, I’ll be trying once a week to visit the forgotten and unfashionable end of the shelf, trying to find something affordable and drinkable – or at lest non-toxic – amongst the unloved inhabitants of the savage black heart of the local bottle shop. I’m hoping ‘tight-arse Tuesday’ catches on, though not to the extent where a certain pizza chain decides it has grounds to sue for breach of intellectual property rights.
There are certain warning signs down this way though. Some might seem pretty obvious: twist tops tend to end up on beers that aren’t worth getting up to find an opener for. Clear bottles, especially Australian ones, usually hold liquid that must be more chemical than beer if the brewery proclaims it safely unskunkable even from the Australian sun. Having said that, there are a couple of English beers I’ve had that come in clear bottles that are definitely exceptions to the rule and are from memory very good. Presumably sunlight isn’t an issue for their brewers, and I do remember living in Manchester for a year and all the talk of distributing vitamin D tablets to the public to avoid a city-wide outbreak of rickets. Other warnings are more personal. I don’t really like cans, for instance, and consider them the second most uncivilised vessel in which to contain beer (only the plastic cup is worse). Yet other warnings are more subtle. Say, a can – like this one – that only reluctantly, in very tiny script, admits originating from anywhere at all. I still don’t know exactly who is responsible for this, whether it’s InBev, Oranjeboom, United Dutch Breweries, or some other corporate entity. Or a beer, again like this one, that is initially tough to find any reviews of in English, and where the foreign language reviews as filtered through google’s translator feature snippets such as “polynuclear aftertaste”, “conclusion: no pleasure” and “this shit beer brewery” whatever that may mean. I can’t complain I wasn’t warned.
It pours a murky, slightly threatening orangey amber with a thin white head that disappears very quickly, and the aroma is unmistakably alcoholic with a quite nice and subtle citrusy undertone but also a rather unfortunate whiff of what can only be described as a stale pissiness. Initially hazy, over time it clears markedly and as there’s no sediment I’m still not sure here what that might mean. The taste is again strongly alcoholic, almost burningly so though with a definite orange zest and is reminiscent above all of a vodka and thinly flavoured orange syrup mix. While cloyingly sweet, there is not a lot of malt flavour but what little there is seems to be balanced with just enough hop bitterness such that neither is actually all that apparent. Maize is proudly mentioned as an ingredient on the side of the can which might explain a few things. It does not, for example, taste like beer. The body is thin even with the low-to-medium carbonation, although initially this is a plus and in this regard it is actually quite palatable. However after about twenty minutes – and while you don’t want this to warm up to room temperature by no means does it go down quickly – it morphs into a drink that no longer resembles beer but instead something lifeless, defeated and old, something that has spent perhaps a day or two in the glass. There is a harsh and nasty burning finish that matures into a lingering nausea for a period of around three hours.
This is hobo beer. The taste of sadness. It must be said though that this drink – I’m not calling it beer any more – certainly knows it’s purpose and sets out to achieve it admirably. It does pack a wallop, and with a few of these under your belt the problems of your life will melt away, probably to be replaced with fresh new ones. Some beers flatter themselves and attempt to seduce you with complex aromas or pretty colours, others with dark, sweet secrets that beguile and entice. This thing looks you in the eyes and says “oh yeah? and what makes you think you’re so special?”
I’ve had worse. Thankfully not often. There’s not too much in the way of musical accompaniment for this one as it is not a drink to linger over if at all possible, to commemorate, discuss or even acknowledge amongst friends (or, indeed, enemies). It’s a drink for silent, lonely shame. This was already on heavy rotation in my head before I’d finished the thing. So now I pass it on as I have no intention of drinking this ever again. Enjoy.
Verdict: Seemingly unapologetically nasty and repellent, a drink perfect for a time and place that’s best avoided. 18/100.