14 May 2015

Meeting Cornelius

We were introduced to Cornelius yesterday, via its rather tasty Baltic Porter. It's a subsidiary brand of the Sulimar brewery, a big one, mostly turning out standard lager but which has recently given itself a bit of a shake-up to take note of the way the Polish beer market is evolving. Cornelius is the on-message yoof label, hoping to surf the wave of cool to the next big thing in beer. Or something equally cringeworthy spitballed by middle-aged men in a conference room.

We had the whole arrangement explained to us by one of the company execs at an EBCU event in Łódź Polytechnic. The brewery also provided beers for the lunch afterwards, giving us a chance to taste the strategy in action. To begin, though, one of Sulimar's non-fancy lagers, Trybunal Export, named after the royal law court that was once based in the brewery's home town of Piotrków Trybunalski. It's 5% ABV and hits all the visual cues: clearest gold, topped by a fine white froth. It smells bitter and tastes just as sharp and waxy as the aroma suggests, with more than a hint of sulphurous skunkiness, even though I assume this bottle arrived straight from the brewery. It's a beer that really needs to be served cold to be enjoyed, I reckon. But even then I'm not sure it would be any good. Moving on...

Cornelius Dunkel is a pretty spot-on copy of the classic Munich style: 5.9% ABV, a clear dark red and packet-loads of  bourbon cream biscuits in the flavour, with added muscovado sugar and an aroma that's all damson and plum. It's perhaps not quite as clean as the real thing, with some lightly marker-ish phenols floating about, but it does a satisfactory impression for the casual observer. Or the person who's drinking it for free.

Sticking with the Bavarian stylings, next up is Pszeniczny, a 5% ABV weizen. The bang of banana off this is insane: pure, distilled essence of banana. The platonic ideal of curved yellow fruit, right up your nose holes and making noise. Remarkably it's the clove elements that present in the flavour but that's not the main feature. This is, by a long way, the sweetest straight-up wheat beer I have ever tasted. The body is riddled with heavy residual sugar and every mouthful is like shovelling another spoonful of granulated into your gob. It tastes like diabetes in a glass and I didn't get too far with mine. Having achieved this feat, the geniuses at Sulimar reckoned what they needed to do next is add more sugar.

And they were probably right too. Fruit-flavoured radler-type beer mixes are the fastest growing segment of the Polish beer market and the one that is answering the perennial problem of how to get women to drink beer. Perhaps it explains why brewers closer to home, until recently, persisted with lurid coloured, tissue-box branded, sugary concoctions in the belief that it would woo the female drinker. It Poland it seems to have, and more besides.

Before us, then, were two Cornelius offerings, both based on that sugarbomb weizen, though oddly neither tasted as sweet as it did. Bananowy is made with added banana, like that was what the base beer needed. 3% ABV, a light haze and not much aroma. The scale on my sweetness analogy meter doesn't go this high so I'm going to grope blindly at "children's medicine": it has a similar sort of unpleasant plasticky artificial thing too. I managed to scrawl the words "fizzy Yop" in my notebook before I stopped drinking it and moved on to...

Grejpfrutowy, made with grejpfrut, er, grapefruit. I actually really enjoyed this one. Right from the start, up from the hazy pink liquid, there's that acidic spiciness you get from the outside of real grapefruits, and it's real grapefruit all the way in the flavour, with maybe a sprinkling of sugar over the top. It's fantastically refreshing and I'd be very happy to drink it, in the right circumstances. To give an idea of the circumstances the brewery has in mind, they're launching this in a can with a built-in straw. Everyone will be using these by next summer, mark  my words.

One last beer from Cornelius before we go in search of more pubs, and yet another pitch change in the branding. Triple Blond, is young, colourful, vibrant, and fairly horribly sexist. But it was pouring at the festival I attended and I wanted to complete the set. And it's not bad: too sweet (again) for your classic tripel but with peach and melon notes that, with the estery Belgian booze, bring it close to the spec for a decent Belgian IPA.

We shall leave Cornelius there. Between the lager and the straws and the radlers and the tripel they certainly seem to have a lot of plates spinning. I'm sure they can well afford to let one or two smash, and I'd be happy to make recommendations.


  1. Interesting. Grapefruit radler also seems to be one of the biggest growth areas in the German market, where the biggest growth area in beer was already non-alcoholics and radlers.

    It started with 2.5% grapefruit-weizen radlers, Shöfferhofer's being the best known, but now there's also 0% versions with n/a Weizen and also grapefruit-Pils radlers.

    As your experience suggests, grapefruit radlers generally come out OK and drinkable, maybe there's something special about the flavour combinations, and maybe that could also explain the popularity of grapefruity hops.

    1. I was actually a little surprised to see how similar Poland's mainstream beer culture is to Germany's, but we're probably not allowed say that. More Germanic Polish beers are on the way tomorrow.

    2. Funny, isn't it? Even the one "native Polish style" most people can name (if not spell!), Grodziskie, also has a German name (Grätzer) and fits pretty well into the historical spectrum of north German beer styles.

      I guess people prefer not to think too much about how intertwined are the histories of western Poland and Prussia - and of course western Poland is pretty much all that's left after Stalin stole the rest post-WW2.