This blog documents my attempt to drink a beer from every country in the world and every state in the United States.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Country #32: Dominican Republic

Beer: Presidente

Brewery: Cervecería Nacional Dominicana, Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic

ABV: 5.0%

When a beer isn't very good, it is best served cold to mask its rank flavor. See: the marketing strategy of these guys.
Hispaniola is one of the few islands in the world that are divided between two or more countries. Ireland, Borneo, Tierra del Fuego, New Guinea, and Timor are the only other major examples, but there are a few more. Anyway, Hispaniola is divided almost evenly between two very, very different countries, Haiti and the Dominican Republic. Dominicans speak Spanish (spicy!), while Haitians speak French Creole (sacre bleu?). Dominicans excel at baseball, while Haitians excel at… well, not soccer, which is their favorite sport, but has seen them in only one World Cup, almost 40 years ago. The Dominican, while still a developing country, has long been stable politically and economically and is a booming tourist destination, while visitors to Haiti are typically sequestered in a cruise-ship-owned enclave, never to see the squalor of the rest of the country caused by the idiocy of the Duvaliers. The Dominican is still largely forested, while there are approximately three trees left in Haiti. 

While Haiti's natural resources have been terribly mismanaged for years (cutting down all their trees being the most visible problem), the Dominican government has been espousing good environmental policy for a long time. Next step for the DR: make a better beer.
And yet, despite its sad deficiencies relative to its next-door neighbor, Haiti makes the far superior beer. In addition to winning a medal at the World Beer Cop in 2000, it’s Crap National Lager, Prestige, wins the Best Beer on Hispaniola Award (presented by me) by a wide margin,because Presidente, from the Dominican Republic, tastes like complete and utter ass. There’s not really a more polite way of saying it.

Sometimes I like to translate the non-English words on beer packaging for my dear readers. I'll let y'all figure this one out for yourself, though.
In the past, when drinking pale lagers from tropical countries, I’ve remarked at how not bad they are (there have been exceptions, of course). Presidente is just bad. It has that skunky, corny flavor to it that can found in such fine concoctions as Natural Ice and Coors Light. The green bottle and its spot on the sunny shelf at the package store probably contributed to its skunkiness, so it might taste better in different circumstances, but the stuff I had was up to no good. While its name is surely intended to lend it an air of sophistication, this president is much closer to George W. Bush than Abraham Lincoln.

Danilo Medina, the actual presidente of the Dominican Republic. I have no idea if he's any good or not.
Despite its rank flavor, Presidente is available all over the New York Metro area, including in my hometown in Connecticut, because of the massive Dominican population there. I guess if you grow up drinking the stuff, you get nostalgic for it. Also, perhaps enough people with bad taste in beer have stopped off in Punta Cana while on a cruise and picked up a taste for it Regardless, it’s pretty easy to find in the Northeast. So be warned.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Country #31: Lithuania

Beer: Baltas White Ale

Brewery: Svyturys Brewery, Klaipeda, Lithuania

ABV: 5.0%

Tall, white, Lithuanian, and good: the Arvydas Sabonis of beers.
When I read about an American craft brewery, I’m often impressed to find that it was founded in the 1980s or, even more rarely, the 1970s. For example, the Boston Beer Company (Samuel Adams) was founded in 1984, and Sierra Nevada in 1980. The Svyturys Brewery, in Klaipeda, Lithuania was founded 1784, only 8 years after the Declaration of Independence was signed. Sure, lots of things in Europe are much older than their counterparts in America, but this is still pretty extraordinary. It’s by no means the oldest brewery in Europe—Stella Artois was first brewed in 1366 according to the bottle I had this weekend, even though drunken Brits might not give it the respect it deserves. But it’s still really, really old, and it’s been in almost continuous operation since then.

Baltas means "white" in Lithuanian, so Baltas White Ale means White White Ale, which is dumb (kvietinis alus means "wheat beer."). Also dumb: storing unfiltered, yeasty beer on its side for several months on the fridge. You can see the caked layer of yeast on the inside of the bottle, post-pour, at right.
This is particularly impressive given the history of conquests that have swept over what is now Lithuania. When the brewery was founded, its home city of Klaipeda, on the Baltic Coast, was part of the Kingdom of Prussia. Its strategic location as an ice-free port, however, meant that it was destined to change hands often. Germany unified with Prussia in the late 1800s, then lost it in World War I, after which it was controlled by the post-war Entente states (which pretty much meant Russia at the time). The Lithuanian people rose up in 1923 and created an independent Lithuanian state, but Hitler took it back less than 20 years later. Then the Nazis got kicked out, but not before the brewery was destroyed, and the USSR took over. The brewery was rebuilt in 1946, and then in 1990 Lithuania declared its independence again as the Soviet Union crumbled. Then, in 1998, somebody finally figured out how the hell to pronounce the brewery’s name*.

*I may have actually made that last one up. Svytruys just means "lighthouse" in Lithuanian. See? There it is on the fancypants bottle.
You don’t stay in business without making good beer, and Baltas White Ale is pretty tasty. It’s a white ale, similar to Hoegaarden, but a bit thicker and more flavorful than its most popular Belgian cousin. Both times I’ve had it I haven’t given it justice, however. The first time I had it I drank it out of the bottle, and it foamed up every time I tipped it to my lips. More recently, I had stored a bottle of the stuff in my fridge for quite a while, but it was too tall to store upright on my stupid fridge shelves, so a lot of the yeast caked itself to one side of the bottle. I still enjoyed it immensely, despite my idiocy.

Lithuania's other white export that's better than you'd expect it to be.