Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Oettinger Pils, Hefeweizen, Export, and Super Forte – Living life on the cheap


While the goal of this blog is to review beers from the finer side of life (yes, call me a beer snob if you want), I sometimes like to describe the beer availability I encounter during my travels. At times, this inevitably means reviewing cheaper beer, and this is certainly the case from my close encounters with four different Oettinger brews during my recent trip to Tenerife (please visit the Tacoa 1 and Tacoa 2 posts for additional details on other beer encounters in Tenerife). While these four were probably the lowest priced German beer that ever crossed my palate, three of them at least were reasonably decent concoctions, and if you are travelling on a budget (like my glorious days as a poverty-stricken student), or if you’d simply like to spend less coin on beer, then Oettinger’s brews will certainly offer you an excellent value. 

The Brewery

Having five different breweries scattered throughout Germanyin Bayern, Gotha, Schwerin, Mönchengladbach, and Braunschweig, Oettinger, or Oetti as it is widely called, is one of Germany’s larger brewers. In fact, in terms of output, Oettinger is Germany’s bestselling beer brand largely because of its reputation for producing lower-priced, widely-available, supermarket beer varieties. And since Oettinger brews 14 different beer varieties all according to the “Reinheitsgebot” (Germany’s purity laws), I’m solidly sure that even the most discriminating palate will manage to find at least one that’s not…well…too bad anyway.

The Beer

When visiting a local supermarket in Tenerife, you’ll immediately notice the predominance of cheaply-presented canned beer: Dorada, Sofiero, Cruzcampo (with 10% gratis, by the way), and Tropical, to name a few, although Paulaner, Guinness, and Franziskaner are also widely found. Nestled among these, you’ll also find shelves of four different Oettinger offerings.

Oettinger Pils (4.7% ABV): In terms of its aspirations as a German-style pilsner, Oettinger Pils more or less gets the basics right, although the overall weakness in flavor does not do justice to what is otherwise an excellent beer style. Life in the glass begins with a transparent, light-golden color and a two-finger white head that quickly runs and hides and imparts a rather sparse lacing matrix. In terms of appearance, Oettinger Pils misses the mark completely. Still, appearance matters not if you’re looking for budget beer.

The aroma is rather weak, but definitely malt forward, as evident in the obvious grainy note. Along with the malt, a light florally and spicy aroma is clearly indicative of a German-style pilsner. While the sweet and yeasty dough note is perhaps a bit too forward for this style, and the faint metallic tone in the nose is a tad bit astringent, the aroma profile is not a bad blend really.

Taking a generous sip reveals a medium-bodied brew and a considerable amount of carbonation almost ideal for Tenerife’s warm and sunny climate. The taste is definitely bland and far less flavorful than some of the better quality pilsners out there. But, when juxtaposed with a moderately sweet and grainy taste and a decently spiced up and bitter finish, Oettinger Pils comes off as a reasonably refreshing brew and fair pilsner representation. Still, the slightly metallic aftertaste does detract a bit from the beer’s enjoyability.

While Oettinger Pils is nothing special, it’s still fairly well-balanced and delivers a nice zesty bitter finish that’s loyal to the pilsner style. And the price makes Oettinger Pils a very solid choice if you’re drinking on a tight budget and looking for a lower ABV alternative to a pale lager.

Oettinger Hefeweizen (4.9% ABV): In terms of its style aspirations, Oettinger’s Hefeweizen performs somewhat better than the Pils and, in my view, is significantly more enjoyable to drink. Emptying the can’s contents into a glass (the small on in the picture is all I had at the time) reveals a bright and translucent golden color and a relatively tall and well-retained head that imparts a respectable lacing matrix. So far, it feels like any other robust hefeweizen.

The aroma is definitely potent, with banana as the feature flavor, and is supported by bready and spicy notes. While the aroma profile is pleasant to be sure, it’s still a far cry from the more complex blends found in a Paulaner or a Weihenstephaner and speaks to Oettinger’s lower price-point offering.

Taking a generous sip comes with a medium and somewhat creamy-bodied brew and a high amount of carbonation. Oettinger’s Hefeweizen is very tasty and an excellent choice if you happen to be in Tenerife, or elsewhere for that matter, and tired of blander lagers. The banana note clearly dominates, but is accompanied by some citrusy and spicy notes. Still, it’s lack of complexity makes it significantly inferior to many other similarly-styled beers I’ve tried: It delivers just the basics and, when considering the price, that’s about all one should really expect anyway.

Oettinger Export (5.4% ABV): Oettinger’s Export aspires to embody the soft and rounded Dortmund style, but is instead a tad on the rough side, where it’s less than pleasing aspects seem to stand out more sharply when compared to the Pils or the Hefeweizen. The pour reveals a clear, slightly dark-golden color and a small white head that vanishes in about the same amount of time it took to open up the can and fill the glass. Lacing? Well, forget about that! In only one instance did I manage to find a discernable lacing trail clinging to the side of the glass (again, that crappy glass is all I had at the time).

So, what about the aroma? Well, it comes off as a decent balance between the grainy side of the malt and the grassy side of the hops. Citrus notes also permeate the profile, and like the Pils, Oettinger’s Export produces a metallic note that makes the aroma a tad bit astringent, although the note in the Export is considerably stronger than what was found in the Pils.

A medium-body and a generous amount of carbonation characterizes the mouthfeel. In terms of taste, Oettinger’s Export favors the sweeter side, with a substantial bready and grainy feel, coupled with hints of vegetables and, again, a rather unsavory metallic taste. Equally unpleasant, the malt flavors come off as flat kind of like stale bread that’s been left out overnight on the cutting board. The finish is bitter and does not feel fundamentally different than the Pils. Overall, I found very little to really appreciate about Oettinger’s Export, and if you are looking for something on the bitter side, I recommend going for the Pils instead.

Oettinger Super Forte (8.9% ABV): Out of all four Oettinger brews reviewed here, I found their Super Forte to be the most robust in appearance, although the Hefeweizen has to be mentioned as the most flavorful. Emptying the can’s contents into a glass reveals a clear golden-colored body and a towering and well-retained white head. The lacing is a bit timid but considerably better than what is found in the Export or the Pils.

The aroma heavily favors the malty side and comes off as dry hey, like the smell you get when entering a poorly ventilated barn. A bready note and maybe a nutty note are also present in the nose. Giving the glass a few good swirls releases the smells of super-sweet sugar: Think of cotton candy at the fair and that about captures the nose here.

A medium-body and soft carbonation characterizes the mouthfeel, and the taste is seriously sweet and sugary, almost too much for my palate. While the alcohol note is present, it’s certainly not overpowering and provides a nice warming sensation in the finish. Unfortunately, the intensely sugary feel really undermines the ability to find much more in the way of flavor.

All in all, Oettinger’s Super Forte is very robust in its appearance, but the taste is wildly out of balance and highly simplistic, especially for an 8.9% ABV product. If you like cotton candy, however, then this one should be a real treat for the palate. And the price makes it all the sweeter for an empty wallet.

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