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September 3, 2007 | by  | in Opinion | [ssba]

Bus Stop Beers

The big 500ml cans of very strong lager are sometimes dubbed “bus stop beers” because that is where they are frequently and usually furtively quaffed. Often concealed within the least effective form of surreptitious drinking camouflage (a brown paper bag has never fooled anyone), these super-lagers have a lower-class to no-class reputation even in their spiritual home of inner city England.

That said, the first beer I ever wrote about would not have been out of place at a small shelter where public transport vehicles regularly stopped to embark and disembark paying passengers. The beer was Skol Super (9 per cent or 60 per cent stronger than Flame) which I plucked from obscurity on the supermarket shelf as a bizarre protest against the rise of Fruit Hopper beers (the terrible yet short-lived predecessors to the Mash range).

I picked Skol Super for my first beer review because it was the complete opposite of the syrupy Hopper concoctions – it was big, strong and sponsored the world championships of darts. Skol is a light, sandy colored beer with a big fluffy white head. There is a faint hint of hops on the nose while the body is sweet and strong with just enough bitterness to avoid being cloying. This beer is a bit of a guilty pleasure of mine which causes no end of mockery from my beer anorak friends.

The can advises it is “best shared” (with two straws perhaps) and it is the only beer I’ve ever seen with carbon dioxide listed as an ingredient.

After spending a freezing couple of hours at the stadium seeing off Tana, sampling the other super lagers suddenly made sense from both a gastronomic and medicinal perspective.

I would advise against studying the logo for Crest Super (10 per cent or nearly twice as strong as Flame) too closely after sampling the product. It appears to be two drunk looking bears exchanging a high five. It might mean something in the Canadian market which the can is designed for. Crest has a slightly grassy nose and is drier and a touch stronger than Skol.

Bigger still is the relatively new Gordon’s Finest Platinum (12 per cent or over double the strength of Flame) which is getting pretty rough. This may be expected from a strong lager branded “XXXtra strong” and brewed in Benelux. The beer is sweeter with more of charcoal nose. It can be reasonably accurately simulated by putting nasty vodka into a cheap beer.

There is not really a heritage of super lagers in New Zealand. The closest local would be Bennett’s Belgian Strong (7.2 per cent or still much bigger than Flame) from the Toastman. Pouring from the more traditional bottle, this drop has some faint notes of Saaz hops, plenty of power and little winey bitterness. It certainly is strong but it is about as Belgian as Vladimir Putin.

I would not recommend these beers for a session or even as a regular tipple. However, from time to time, it is fun to go beer slumming. With the way that Stagecoach operates, you should have plenty of time.


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