Saturday, February 11, 2012

Safari Lager – Consistently inconsistent

Every country – or region of the world at least – has their own unique beer culture, some of which is driven by well-financed macro-breweries and standardized pale lagers and some of which is driven by more artful breweries and their crafty beverages. My recent trip to Tanzania unearthed the former: A country seemingly devoid of a craft-beer milieu, yet a country that still manages to  boast a decent variety of fairly tasty lagers that are perfect for the warmth brought on by the equatorial sun.

This was not my first trip to Tanzania or the East African region for that matter. In some sense, I consider Dar es Salaam to be my third home, next to Norway and the United States. However, this was my first trip where I actually paid close attention to the beer availability with the intent of reviewing some of them on this blog.

Over the coming weeks, I will be writing out my tasting notes on what I consider to be some of the more notable beers available in Tanzania: Safari Lager, Kilimanjaro Lager, Serengeti Lager, Serengeti’s Pilsner, Ndovu Special Malt, Castle Lager, Castle Milk Stout, Tusker Lager, Tusker Malt Lager, and Windhoek Lager. This post will cover Safari Lager, by Tanzania Breweries, which was wholly state-owned during Tanzania’s single-party era, but was partially acquired by SABMiller during partial privatization in 1993. As a joint venture between the government of Tanzania, SABMiller, and a variety of shareholders, the company today operates four breweries scattered throughout the country – Dar es Salaam, Mwanza, Arusha, and Moshi – and manufactures a wide variety of alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages.

Safari Lager was launched in 1977, and today is one of the country’s most popular and, in my view at least, best beers. At 5.5 percent ABV, Safari Lager is highly gendered brew, being successfully branded by the company as the country’s “masculine” beer compared to some of the weaker, and presumably “feminine” brews commonly available. I’ve probably consumed about a scillion Safari Lagers over the years, and if there is one thing consistent among them, it’s the inconsistency between them: Some are obviously contaminated, but still somewhat tasty; some are more akin to an okay-quality pilsner; some have banana-like Belgian wit qualities. While the lack of consistency, and the sometimes deviant flavors that come from what is essentially a pale lager should earn Safari some rather low marks, the inconsistency does allow for some surprises and variations to the otherwise bland selection of beers available in the East African region.

The one consistency I’ve found is that Safari Lager is never flat when served at appropriate temperatures, although depending on where you are in Tanzania, this might be an insurmountable challenge. When properly chilled, the pour yields a very nice two- to three-finger, decently retained white head. When served at temperatures above 5 degrees (41 F) or so, the head vanishes in about 30 seconds. The lacing is not much to speak off: It’s quite shy and runny. The body appears as a light straw color – exactly what one would expect from a pale lager. 

Safari’s aroma is highly variable from bottle to bottle, ranging from a generous hop note that reminds me of a decent pilsner, to fruitier notes – banana for example – that remind me of a Belgian wit. Definite paper notes are present in some of the less savory samples, and on occasion, I’ve been confronted with the tell-tale funkiness that comes with contamination.

As for the taste, I should preface by stating that, when served properly, I’ve never had a Safari Lager that I failed to enjoy – even the contaminated ones. The majority of the cases, Safari Lager tastes rather bland up front, but culminates in a surprisingly powerful bitter finish. That said, it’s quite refreshing in the sometimes unbearable equatorial heat. At other times, Safari Lager is incredibly sweet, where bananas make an appearance before the bitter finish. Once again, on a few occasions, I’ve found the initial blandness to be followed by a slight sour note imparted by a contaminant. In most cases, the bitterness is accompanies by a slight metallic note that somewhat detracts from the smoothness.

All-in-all, Safari Lager is full of surprises. But it’s always drinkable and largely refreshing, no matter which variant you might happen to stumble upon. Perhaps this is the reason for the Safari name: As a product, Safari has “traversed” or “travelled across” a plethora of different flavors, each of which is reminiscent of a variety of different beer styles.


Safari Lager on Ratebeer

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