profile of MattShea

Imported Beer: TheVine Taste Test!

It’s all well and good discussing the issue, but at TheVine we wanted to get our hands dirty and conduct our own tasting. So we selected four foreign beers that are made under licence in Australia – Beck’s, Peroni, Grolsh and Carlsberg – and dug up the true imports of the same brews. Where possible, we avoided going the mass retail route and searched for the highest quality imports available.

We then cornered Andrew Sydes and Perryn Collier – two industry experts with extensive day-to-day involvement with beer – for a blind tasting. We’ve abbreviated their comments for clarity and brevity. In doing so we’ve made it apparent which variant of each beer Sydes and Collier were discussing, even though they themselves didn’t know at the time.

The final results were surprising, to say the least. And close.

NOTE: It’s worth pointing out that Sydes – given his day-to-day job as a microbrewer – seemed to be able to identify which was the local beer just by sight. Collier, meanwhile, admitted to not having tasted any of these drops since they were imported by their respective major brewers.

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Peroni Nastro Azzurro

Local 330ml bb 11/2013 vs. Imported 330ml bb 10/2013

The local Nastro Azzurro was bought over the counter. The imported beer sat a little closer to its used-by date than some examples you can get in Australia, but we felt the reputation of its importer made up for any weakness in age.

Sydes:
The import has good carbonation. There’s a straw, yellowy colour and good head retention. There’s maybe a touch of haze: that is a protein thing, often, but it can be oxygenisation as well. The aroma is light and grainy, maybe with a hint of hop, and maybe a sweet, slightly honey character. Being a lager I’d expect it to be cleaner on the nose. It doesn’t taste as light and sweet as I suppose I’d like it to, but it’s the first beer of the day so maybe my palate needs calibration. The local beer has very similar colour and carbonation, but less of a sweet aroma. There’s more hop character and it’s a bit more bitter. The flavours are light and they’re clear, if a little wanting in volume. I would’ve guessed this is the fresher stuff. There’s not a massive difference between the two but it just seems a little cleaner. I prefer the local.

Collier:
This is that typical European lager. The local is quite light, quite citric, with a really, really faint bitterness on the end for me. The nose isn’t too pronounced. I suppose it’s that really easy drinking, European-style lager. I find the import a bit more rounded and a bit more balanced. I find the finish is a bit fuller also. That bitterness at the end rounds it off a bit more, whereas the first one had a bit more of a spike towards the end. This one’s a little bit more subtle, a bit more rich and rounded. A little bit more flavoursome. It’s less citric and more malty. When I do drink I do like that more flavoursome, more rounded character. So for me, definitely the imported version.

Sydes: Local

Collier: Import

 

Beck’s

Local 330ml best before 12/2013 vs. Imported 330ml best before 11/2013

The only import that we purchased from a major retailer – less than ideal, but the offset was the beer’s comparatively generous use-by date.

Sydes:
The local Becks looks very similar to the Peroni, but with a touch less carbonation. This has more hop character but less malt on the nose, and a light sweet grain with a little bit of a straw character. It’s really very, very light. There’s a little bit of tartness at the end, which I suppose helps make it a bit more refreshing. The import is exactly the same, but a touch darker if anything. My first instinct on the nose is that’s the less fresh one, just because it’s got that oxidised, skunky type thing. There’s less clarity in flavour, but really, there’s not heaps between them. It’s just that this one doesn’t seem quite as light and fresh. It’s almost dead even, but I prefer the local.

Collier:
The import tastes like a Beck’s: just an easy-drinking European style lager. It’s got more of a balanced bitterness than I found with the local Peroni. It’s got a little bit of sweetness to it, which is quite nice as well. The local is a bit more effervescent than the first one – a bit more carbonation with the beads finer and more consistent. The nose is a bit subtler, with a bit more citrus and floral notes, and a bit more of a tingle over the palate. For me, there’s a little bit more bitterness than the first one. The import for me is definitely that little bit sweeter. I prefer the import.

Sydes: Local

Collier: Import

 

Grolsch

Local 330ml best before 11/2013 vs. Imported 450ml best before 10/2013

Grolsch makes blind tastings easy: while 330ml stubbies of the beer are locally made, the iconic 450ml swing-tops continue to be imported from the Netherlands.

Sydes:
The import isn’t as oxidised as previous beers. Again, there’s a candied malt character, and it tastes a little bit better than it smells. I reckon it’s a touch darker than the previous beers and there’s a little bit of a melanoid and sweet character, but still pretty minimal. But it’s well carbonated, quite bright and retains good head. The local beer is pretty obvious: straight off the bat it has a fresher, cleaner, yeasty character. I thought they use imported malts, but I do get what I associate with an Australian malt character – I get a hint of that – and maybe that simply is a really fresh malt character. But to me the local tastes like a fresher, better beer.

Collier:
There’s good head retention on the import, and a super fine, consistent bead. There’s a slight honey note to it, almost like there’s some citrus blossom in there. It has quite a rounded bitterness – it comes in quite slowly and then fades off quite nicely. The local’s pretty much exactly the same. Once again, really good head retention. Taste-wise, these are probably the two that are most similar. For me, the import tastes a little crisper. It’s close, but I just prefer the import.

Sydes: Local

Collier: Import

Carlsberg

Local 330ml best before 11/2013 vs. Imported 330ml best before 9/2013

Carlsberg in Australia is now produced under licence at the Coopers brewery in South Australia. The Danes I spoke to expressed a belief that this would improve what they’d previously regarded as a pretty poor local product. The Danish version was again a little closer to its best-before date than we would have liked, but sourced from a reliable parallel importer.

Sydes:
Interesting. The import almost has a spice note. It’s much the same as Peroni and Beck’s, although maybe slightly darker. After tasting the local, I’d have to say these two are maybe the closest so far. I prefer the local, but this is all based on my theory that the local should be cleaner and so on.

Collier:
The import is pretty one-dimensional to me, to be completely honest. It’s really subtle, not much going on. The local has more head retention and maybe a little more carbonation as well. They’re quite similar, these two. I’m getting more off the nose of the second one because of that head retention. It’s got a bit more aroma for me. And I think that’s edging it over – 70 or 80 percent of what you taste comes through your nose. I think I might have to go with the local on this one.

Sydes: Local

Collier: Local

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Matt Shea (@mrmatches)

4 comments so far..

  • CameronCollie's avatar
    Commenter
    CameronCollie
    Date and time
    Wednesday 01 May 2013 - 4:33 PM
    Just because a beer is from another country doesn't mean it's any good. All of the beers featured above are just factory made beers. Terrible mass produced beers with little or no flavour. There's no difference between Peroni, Becks, Heneiken or CUB or Tooheys. Seriously. Whether they are made in a factory here or in their country of origin makes no difference. Craft beer made by people in a real brewery is what counts and not beer made in a mega-factory by some large multinatiional corporation who is just trying to shift product.
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  • MotorMouth's avatar
    Commenter
    MotorMouth
    Date and time
    Thursday 02 May 2013 - 12:33 PM
    I think they are all pretty average, inoffensive beers, no matter where they are brewed. You know, the kinds of beers preferred by non-beer drinkers.
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  • Dalliance's avatar
    Commenter
    Dalliance
    Date and time
    Thursday 02 May 2013 - 1:54 PM
    @ MotorMouth

    I endorse your comments.

    There are penty of great beers around the world, including locally. Why should it be 'newsworthy' to review mass produced rubbish.

    Anyway, give me a flavoursome Ale anytime!

    Cheers
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  • PeterH's avatar
    Commenter
    PeterH
    Date and time
    Thursday 02 May 2013 - 2:13 PM
    If you can't taste the difference between the 'beer' they flog here and the stuff genuinely imported, you need a new tongue. You do know it isn't 'brewed' here? The basics are shipped over here in a thick sludge in huge containers that the local beer companies just add water to and charge you a fortune for. Easier for them. There is a big difference in taste.
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