- Asahi Super Dry (Japan)
- Beck's (Germany)
- Carlsberg (Denmark)
- Foster's (Australia)
- Heineken (Netherlands)
- Peroni (Italy)
- Steinlager (New Zealand)
- Stella Artois (Belgium)
- Warsteiner (Germany)
So first off, what characterizes these beers generally? It's not that mass market lagers have less flavor than some other styles. Rather, the flavors are just more overly-processed and hard to distinguish. A helles is no tour de force of intensity, but you are able to distinguish the malt and hop flavors. In mass market lagers, you get a sweetness without malt definition and usually just a tiny sprinkle of hop spice. I've forgotten how fizzy and gassy they are, too. When you're drinking a bunch in a row (not that I drank anywhere near all of any single beer), you instantly start to bloat and burp. This is what the mass of men like in a beer.
By far the best was Peroni. More a true pils than a mass-market lager, it had less carbonation and a warm bready malting. The hops were--at least in comparison to every other beer we tried--vivid with spicy herbal quality. In a blind tasting, I would have been certain it was a German beer. In the next tier down was, quite surprisingly, Foster's. It's a full beer with toasty malting. Many of these wear badly, as the sugars begin to cloy, but the toastiness of Foster's makes it far more moreish. I threw Warsteiner in partly as a ringer, but it disappointed me and was only good, not great. It had the nice malt character you expect from a German beer but only a tiny blush of peppery hops. Smooth and easy-drinking, but very, very mild. Sally was also picking up a strong honey ester that put her off it.
By far the worst beer was Carlsberg. I'm not sure I've ever even had the beer before, and I certainly won't again. It had a wicked combination of tin and sweet corn in a very watery solution. It is an august brand (lager yeast was first isolated there) and I expected better.
Stella and Beck's were both lightstruck. It wasn't too horrible in the case of Stella, which was otherwise quite a bit like club soda. Beck's is a fairly hoppy beer by comparison, but has a watery consistency--like a watered-down pils.
Asahi has almost no flavor whatsoever, and because it is dry, it finishes without a whisper. Heineken, the most familiar to me of all these beers, is a medium-bodied, fairly sweet beer that is on the upper end for mass market hopping. Steinlager is actually pushing the upper tier--it's closer to a pils and has grainy malts and fairly decent hopping.
I did toss a Session Lager in there just to see what to make of it. It stuck out like a sore thumb. Lots of husky, thick American malts and obvious citrus hopping. I joked to Sally that it tasted like an imperial stout next to the others. I was really hoping it would stick out, but I had to make it run the gauntlet to see.
Stay tuned for round two...