Friday, February 6, 2009

CRITICAL INQUIRY: Battle of the B_rgs

There are some beers in Romania that whose whole raison d’être is unmistakably to act as a reliable method of alcohol delivery for anyone who can scrape a couple of lei together – viz. the 2.5- or even 3-liter bottles of Noroc, Bucegi, or Neumarkt, each one a stunning PET Fat Man bulging with its payload of regret. Then there beers like Ursus, which is sophisticated enough to make plausible claims on the upper end of the Transylvanian beer spectrum. But some beers sit confusingly in the middle: you don’t know whether buying it makes you a desperate (or desperately cheap) drunk, or the champion of an underdog beverage. Today we will turn our attention to two such awkward specimens, both of which apparently compete for the title of “Best Beer Beginning with ‘B’ With a Yellowish-Orangish Color Scheme.”

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Type: Pilsner
ABV: 4.8%
European Food
Price: 1/28/09: 1.38 RON = $0.43 @ Auchan (500 ML PET bottle)

Possibly one of the only drinks to be available in a plastic bottle especially reminiscent of a mortar round, Bürger comes to us from the western Transylvanian town of Oradea. Its proud parent, European Foods, also produces “Stixy” brand “salted sticks,” and “Jackpot!” brand pretzels, among a range of other downmarket beers. Peddling in processed grains is clearly this firm’s speciality, and some of this experience seems to have rubbed off on its efforts to churn out industrial quantities of very inexpensive beer.

The aroma is neither particularly flattering nor inappropriate. It is sweet and yeasty and brings to mind a sticky barroom floor, or a 5th-inning spill at a ballgame. At first taste, Bürger is hardly promising: a watery, noticeably carbonated, and slightly bitter mouthful awaits the sipper. Yet it was this touch of bitterness that maintained my interest in drinking more, and I found that it became fairly tasty after a while. Improbably, Bürger transforms itself from weak milksop to something with more body and a darker, nuttier flavor. I am not sure how this happens (alcohol + bloodstream???) or whether I am just imagining it, but it was a pleasant surprise. 

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Type: Lager
ABV: 5.0%
Manufacturer: Anheuser-Busch InBev
Price: 1/28/09: 1.59 RON = $0.497 @ Auchan (500 ML can)

Bergenbier was brewed originally in Blaj, very much within historic Transylvania, although from what I can tell it nowadays comes from Bucharest – most likely spewed forth from the bowels of a drab and monstrous plant. Being that Bergenbier is produced by the global beer colossus InBev, this speculation is more than simple, Transylvania-inspired prejudice against the south.

Rather than telling us what qualities the beer is supposed to have, InBev is cool with just letting us in on the “brand communication,” which is “based on male friendship, delivering conviviality and excitement. Bergenbier is friendly, dynamic and imaginative with a healthy sense of humour.” In fewer words, this beer is engineered to you get you drunk, possibly drunk enough (based on the description) to encourage those many submerged homoerotic desires kick the shit out of your superego.

But as with any drank, the journey to the liver begins at the mouth, and it is what happens there that concerns us most here. To the nose, Bergenbier smells as dry, faint, fizzy, and insubstantial as its light yellow (blond?) can suggests. The tongue reaches a similar conclusion, though it’s not all bad: the taste is manifestly aquatic and there isn’t much going on, but through these traits Bergenbier somehow encourages its own consumption as you are forced to take sip after sip to dry and detect the flavor. If you are patient and let some of the carbonation escape, this is a pleasantly lackluster beer to sit and sip, and I can easily imagine it being a refreshing choice on a summer’s day.


After this whole beer-off, I was feeling mighty fine, and so the REAL winner was ME. But if I, like Paris, were forced to choose who would get the apple of victory and who would go home to start a cross-Peloponnesian war, I would have to bestow that glorious fruit on Bürger because a) of its marginally more interesting flavor and b) because fucking InBev doesn’t have its filthy tentacles all over it.