20 January 2017

Grin and bear it

This is the last of my posts on beer in and from Romania, and it's about the mainstream macro brands. I have some experience with these, having tasted a couple of the dark lagers in this post. I was in no rush to try any of them again so stuck to the pale stuff.

Like in most of Europe, Romanian beer shelves are a battleground between a couple of multinationals, waging war with the local brands they have acquired or developed. Here it's Heineken and SABMiller (soon to be AB-InBev, I guess) slugging it out.

Among the most heavily advertised national brands is Ursus, and its flagship is Ursus Premium, a 5% ABV golden lager from the ex-SABMiller stable. And it's fine, veering to good. My can came from an open chiller in a supermarket so was only barely cool, and there were no nasty surprises lurking. It's softly rounded like a decent Munich helles, with a faint nettley noble hop dryness and even a hint of lemon bittering. At €0.55 for the half-litre I have no complaints.

From the same supermarket run came Bucegi, a Heineken effort boasting all-Romanian ingredients. Faith in my tasting ability was restored because this is disgusting with all the cheap-and-nasty lager traits: battery acid, stale grains and water. Woeful.

Heineken's most pervasive local brand is Silva, and standard Silva lager is 5.1% ABV. Despite the strength it's wan coloured and wan tasting, watery as hell and flavoured with only the merest hint of cereal grains. I can just about imagine it being refreshing and thirst-quenching, but that's as far as it goes.

Flipping back to the SABMiller group in hope, next is Timişoreana, an exceedingly pale one, though holding the line at 5% ABV. There's a whack of the cheap acidic bitterness in this but it fades quickly, allowing a pleasantly crunchy dry grain character through plus bonus hints of candied lemon peel. Like the Ursus, the body is full and enjoyably fluffy. I'm able to see past its faults and just drink it, though can't see myself voluntarily choosing it again.

Last of the cans is Ciucaş, from SABMiller again. I like the can design. Just 4.6% ABV and white-gold in colour. It smells like a proper pils: crisp grain with grassy hops behind, and it balances those well in the flavour. There's definitely a solid snap of noble hops here, though fading quickly to let a sugary candyfloss sweetness dominate the middle. And the end. This is one to drink quickly, before the hops fade entirely from view, and thankfully the rounded body and low carbonation allow that.

Ciuc is another very ubiquitous brand. It's owned by Heineken and I got one free as part of a meal deal in a restaurant. It looked sad in the glass and tasted sadder: dull, watery with some unpleasant banana candy and tinfoil notes as it warms. Classic Europiss.

We finish in Caru' Cu Bere, a grand Victorian beer hall and restaurant in Old Town Bucharest. SABMiller has the beer contract here so there's Ursus, Pilsner Urquell, plus Ursus Nefiltrată, an unfiltered lager. I didn't think this was as good as Ursus Premium, though it does have a lovely floral complexity in it. It lacks any sort of hop character, unfortunately, allowing a raw graininess to dominate the quite sweet flavour.

There's also a Caru' Cu Bere house beer, which I assume comes from the same brewery. It's sweet again, and a little astringent. Cheap-tasting, and not helped by the warm mug mine was served in while we waited for our table.

And that's all I have to say about Romanian beer: the good, the bad and the ugly of it. Like most places, there's plenty of decent beer to be had, but you need to do your research to find it.