09 November 2007

Zero sub-zero tolerance

I was in Egypt a couple of years ago. It's not, you may be surprised to learn, the world's greatest beer destination. A frequent hazard of drinking Egyptian bottled lager (Stella Export for preference, Saqqara at a pinch) was the possibility of it being ceremoniously poured while partly frozen, and having to either send it back and explain why, or try to drink round the beery ice chips. I was highly amused, therefore, when I read the label of a Lebanese beer I had last night. There with the ingredients, strength and provenance of the bottle of Almaza was the stark proviso in red lettering: DO NOT FREEZE. It's nice to know that in Lebanon at least, someone is looking after the fussy drinkers like me.

Alamaza isn't half bad. It's made with sweetcorn -- and lots of it, I suspect -- so it has a very sweet and grainy taste. The mouthfeel is smooth and quite Germanic. Making beer with maize sounds like a terrible idea, but the flavour here was at least interesting, which is not something one often gets with middle eastern beer. And there aren't many 33cl bottles of lager to be had in the Dublin on-trade for €3.50. I think I got value for money.

Some closer-to-home sweetcorn beer next. After my mezze I was in Mulligan's of Poolbeg Street for the evening. It's one of the few establishments with Macardles on draught. I'd only ever had this Irish red ale, made by Diageo in Dundalk, from a can before and was hugely unimpressed. On draught, however, it's not half bad. There's not a trace of the hollow wateriness of the canned version. Instead there's a full body and a powerful sugary sweetness, tempered by a dry and bitter finish. Few Irish reds are this complex. I was surprised how much I enjoyed it. And the maize? Well, Iorwerth Griffiths, in his indispensable Beer & Cider in Ireland: The Complete Guide, tells us that the McArdle's recipe includes flaked maize for head retention. Isn't it great when someone else does my tenuous linking for me?

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