Monday, January 26, 2009


Sorry for the glare.

URSUS (a.k.a. Ursus Premium)

Type: Lager (Pilsner, I believe)
ABV: 5.25%
Manufacturer: Ursus / SABMiller
Price: 1/24/09: 2 RON = $0.60 @ neighborhood alimentară (500 ml bottle)

Brewed in the Mănăştur district of Cluj-Napoca, Ursus is the self-described “King of Beers in Romania. Like the Kingdom of Romania, Ursus received its crown through foreign intervention: it was just another provincial brewery until SAB’s ownership and marketing largesse helped propel its hegemony beyond the Carpathian Basin (or so says SAB’s website).  

Ursus, of course, is Latin for “bear,” and if it were also the name of a terrible beer I might have joked that it represented the animal whose urine made that beer’s chief ingredient (viz., Q: Does a bear piss in the woods? A: Only if trees were Ursus bottles, etc.). But that would be dishonest. Ursus has its charms, not least of which for me is that they make not far from where I live, even if it is still part of the vast SABMiller empire. As far as aroma, Ursus has a slightly raw, yeasty disposition – not unlike how it smells as you walk past the factory. I find this crudeness, this sharpness, mostly refreshing. On the downside, it is obvious even by scent that Ursus has a thin and watery taste; and its green bottle, though gilt in regal foil, means that this beer is virtually predestined to have at least a little bit of skunk. Sure enough, Ursus has a watery and mostly inoffensive flavor. However, as the official site points out, it also has a “marked bitterness.” In my opinion this wavers between being zesty and being just plain sour, but the more you drink the more pleasant it gets (which may or may not be a function of your elevated BAC). Therefore Ursus’ dryness lends it a punchier temperament than other basic lagers, though not nearly as robust (or, according to the prejudices of my sweet palate, domineering) as, say, a pale ale.

A shot of the Ursus Brewery, Cluj-Napoca

In short, if the American “King of Beers” is any guide, Ursus has many of the same qualities: simplicity, straightforwardness, and a congenial palatability that (I imagine) might make it hard for many drinkers to develop especially strong feelings one way or the other. I will say, though, that Ursus’ particular bitterness makes it a little more interesting than Budweiser. It’s not enough of a tang to incite controversy, but just enough to add character. And maybe that’s the power behind the throne.

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