#34 – Urbock

If you squint you can almost make out the herds of wildebeests sweeping majestically through the Ngaio high country.

Name: Urbock
Style: Dunkler Bock
Brewed by: Namibia Breweries (Windhoek, Namibia)
Alc: 6.2% abv.
Price: $3 per 330ml bottle from Regional Wines and Spirits

Around the World in 80 Beers
Episode 5: Namibia

There’s a lot to like about this one right from the get-go. Nothing fancy about the ingredients (“brewed by choice according to the Reinheitsgebot standards”), the name or the packaging, or even the price which is pretty damn good. Even better, far from being yet another faltering attempt at an entry-level lager with broad appeal to the general market (read: cheap, yellow piss for poor and brainless teens), this is marketed as a winter specialty*, brewed just once a year by a company coming up on a century of operations. Namibia doesn’t immediately spring to mind when one thinks of the great brewing nations but all evidence suggests that these guys at least know what they’re doing and this is, according to ratebeer.com at least, the nation’s finest beer.

It pours an impressively clear ruby and copper colour with a small tan head that disappears quickly but leaves good lacing. After that it’s all about the malts, with a sweet, probably too sweet, aroma of molasses, toffee, burnt sugar and perhaps a little tartness, and this is reflected in the flavour as well although it’s a little too thin in the mouth, perhaps, to carry it properly. In addition to the molasses and toffee malt flavour there is a little burnt roastiness, but only a little and what finish there is is again sweet. There is, as far as I can tell, no serious thought given to balancing the maltiness of this beer with any kind of hop character or even presence. Now unlike, so it seems at times, every last one of all the other beer drinkers on earth, if a beer is to be as one-sided as this I prefer something on the malty end rather than some rabidly overhopped monstrosity. But this really does go a bit far and even I can’t really recommend it. Oh, it’s well drinkable, enjoyable even, but not quite good though it is agonisingly close. I very much wanted it to be different, because they’ve tried to do the right thing unlike so many giant Euro chains, and they’ve not charged the earth for it – I’ve paid much more for far worse – but I cannot in good conscience say this is a beer to seek out.

As far as a music match goes a strong, dark, wintry malt monster like this probably should go with something big, heavy and contemplative, and it’s tough to ignore the Germanness of the thing to boot. In other words, the polar opposite of the light, festive, dance-oriented traditional music of Namibia, which is, I’m kind of embarrassed to admit, pretty much all I expected to find. Again I am pleasantly surprised, and thanks to the namtunes channel discover that the Namibian music scene is thriving, even if the prodominantly hip-hop and R&B output isn’t exactly what I was after either. Apparently though all the hip young things in Windhoek are listening to kwaito, which is a bit slower and a bit more bass-heavy which is about as close as I’m gonna get I think. So heres EeS, a Namibian-German artist who dabbles in a range of genres but does kwaito quite well according to those in the know. Honestly, it’s the best I can do here. They just don’t seem a people given to sitting down in darkened rooms, hunkering down against the bleak winter with the wolf at the door. Bloody Namibians, no help at all.

* A relevant point because it is meant to be consumed in winter, not held over ’til spring. As it turns out after I’d written my review I noticed my bottle was well past its best-by date. Rather than adjust what I’d written to compensate for this which would take, like, all afternoon, I thought I should at least point out it more than likely suffered from sitting in my fridge for longer than the brewers ever would have intended. I’m given to understand the first thing to go when a beer is stored for too long is it’s hop character, the virtual absence of which is the only thing that stopped this beer being rated much higher. I offer my apologies to the good people of Namibia Breweries, and a promise that when this comes around again I shall have another look at it and try to be a bit more punctual about it.

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Verdict: (See note above, it’s important). Certainly different from all the horrid pale Euro lagers (so gets a bonus 3 points for effort), and tough to argue with it’s simplicity and value but a little too unbalanced to recommend whole-heartedly. 60/100.
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