Monday, 24 May 2010
Windhoek Lager is coming
There have been times when I have been accused of attending the opening of an envelope but I am firmly of the opinion that it is only polite to attend any beer event if someone goes to the effort of extending an invitation. It is also my experience that the more reliable you prove to be, the more good times you are likely to have.
Now, you know that I am no lagerboy so it was with some nervousness that I trotted off to the UK launch of Windhoek Lager, Namibia's most popular beer held last week at the National Geographic store in Regent Street. Windhoek (pronounced Vint-hook) is the capital city of Namibia and the lager of the same name is brewed and bottled by Namibian Breweries Limited. It also has a massive following in South Africa with output of over 2 million hectolitres and exports over 50% to 22 countries worldwide.
The UK launch is being led by mega drinks group, Diageo, who own 14% of Namibian breweries (Heineken own 14% too, the rest is still in private hands, I believe). Diageo is currently weak in the UK beer sector, notwithstanding the success of Guinness. They have the rights to distribute and market 13 or 14 other international lagers but it is Windhoek that has been chosen for their next major push into the World beer market and they hope to build it into a major UK seller within two years.
Namibian Breweries has a family heritage that remains with the founder's great grandson, Sven Thieme in charge today. Sven speaks passionately about the company (and the beer)'s heritage but is also just as proud of Namibia itself. Just a short conversation with him makes you want to visit such a beautiful country with its untouched landscapes and vast open wilderness. The head brewer, Christian Muller is even more passionate about the beer. While conceding that the output is massive, he is adamant that quality is never compromised by using the industrial size brewing plant and loves to talk about beer and brewing as much as any British brewer I have ever met. I have yet to meet someone in this business that I don't like but these two guys will do as much to make sure that Windhoek is a success in this country as any financial weight that Diageo are able to throw behind it.
The brand ambassador is an absolute headcase and it will be fun to see how much we see of him in the promotion of the beer here. Adventurer, Riaan Manser could talk the hind legs off a camel but he has plenty of stories to tell of his solo 38,000km cycle around Africa followed by paddling a canoe around the coast of Madagascar. Slightly mad ? Yes, I think so !
The main point of difference for the beer itself is that it is African and should do well due to the imminent world cup tournament and the subsequent legacy that Africa will enjoy but the real test is in the taste. The beer is brewed according to the German purity law, Reinheitsgebot, with a nod to the German founders of the brewery, and both the malted barley and the hops are imported from Germany.
Windhoek Lager is a 4% helles style lager, brewed slightly weaker at 4% to suit the African heat, and served ice chilled in a glass rather than from the neck. The head pours white and fluffy but disappears quickly. There is grassy hop aroma that increases if you let the beer warm up and the malty sweetness in the mouth gives a dry, crisp flavour without being cloying. In brief it is an accomplished, inoffensive, clean tasting, easy drinking beer.
This is never going to be my first choice beer, preferring a more full bodied ale with more distinct hop character. It would not even be my first choice lager style beer for the very same reason. I am not even in their target demographic customer base of 25 - 45 but there is definitely a place for this beer for me and a real chance that Windhoek is now my first choice barbecue beer - nudging aside my long term favourite to refresh while heating the coals, Becks.
The beer already has listings at Tesco and Morrisons and retails at a reasonable £4.29 for four 33cl bottles. The price in Namibia is less than a pound for a 75cl bottle and the scenery's nicer there too.