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Beer Reviews

We Taste Test 'Probably' The World's Best Beer & Give Our Take: Carlsberg Danish Pilsner, Smooth Draught, Special Brew

 

Probably the best beer in the world? You may have chuckled at the audacity of that slogan. It’s that kind of bold claim that makes you raise an eyebrow and think, “Well, let’s see about that.” But that’s exactly what the Danish brewing giant wants you to do.

Carlsberg is one of the largest brewing companies in the world with an extensive international presence that stretches far beyond its humble beginnings in 19th century Copenhagen. And it's not just the iconic green bottles that make this brand so beloved; Carlsberg boasts a diverse portfolio of brands, brewing for Brooklyn Brewery, Kronenbourg 1664, Somersby’s Cider and even Japan’s Sapporo Beer under license.

But behind every great beer is a story, and Carlsberg's tale begins with a visionary named J.C. Jacobsen. J.C.’s brewing journey began around the mid 1800s when Copenhagen's beer scene was dominated by top-fermented thick "white" beers. However, his travels to Bavaria exposed him to the wonders of Bavarian-style bottom-fermented lager.

 

 

Intrigued by the more refined quality of Bavarian-style lager, he established his brewery on a hill in the outskirts of Copenhagen, which his named Carlsberg – after his 5-year-old son, Carl Jacobsen. The “-berg” in the brand name was a reference to the fact that the brewery was built on a hill ( bjerg in Danish).

 

Members of the Carlsberg Laboratory in its early years.

 

Now, J.C. wasn’t just a brewer. He had a fervent passion for science, which led him to establish the Carlsberg Laboratory in 1875 which became a pioneering research institution that would go on to make groundbreaking contributions to chemistry and food science. The Laboratory was responsible for developing a game-changing lager yeast in 1883, a discovery which the company generously shared with the rest of the brewing industry and raised standards. Cleverly, this yeast was named Saccharomyces carlsbergensis.

 

Carlsberg had been essential to the success of some of the world's most popular lager yeast strains today. 

 

This yeast discovery remains relevant today. In fact, a variant of the carlsbergensis is now the most widely used lager strain in the world. Carlsberg Laboratory was even responsible for developing the concept of pH – the universal measure of acidity which you may remember from science lessons during your teenage years.

Despite the name of the brewery, the relationship between J.C. and his son, Carl, was a complex one. While J.C. entrusted Carl with a small brewery, he underestimated his son’s desire to not just follow in his footsteps but to surpass them. Carl improved upon his father's recipe, and favoured a beer that apparently tasted better despite being aged for a shorter period of time. Their disagreement led to a surprising turn of events: the creation of a rival brewery. Carl, undeterred by his father's disapproval, established his own company, aptly named New Carlsberg. In a twist of irony, father and son became competitors, each striving to brew the finest beer in Copenhagen. Thankfully, before J.C. passed away, they reconciled their differences. Father and son’s companies were eventually merged.

 

The iconic Elephant Gate at the original Carlsberg Brewery in Copenhagen was specially commissioned by Carl Jacobson who had a fondness for elephants.

 

Carlsberg’s current flagship lager called the Carlsberg Danish Pilsner was first developed by Carl in 1904. Its crisp, refreshing flavour has made it a global favourite. Another interesting variant is the Carlsberg Special Brew which was specially crafted in 1950 for none other than Winston Churchill, the indomitable British Prime Minister. By then, the Danes held Churchill in high esteem for his leadership during World War II, and this beer was a gesture of goodwill and admiration for old Winston when he was visiting Denmark. The Special Brew had a stronger alcohol content and specially incorporates notes of Cognac, a nod to Churchill’s partiality to brandy. In May 1951, two crates were delivered to Churchill's London home, prompting a heartfelt thank you note from the Prime Minister himself.

 

(Source: Ian Rankin)

 

Today, Carlsberg's reach extends far beyond Denmark. The company has established a global presence, with breweries and operations around the world. Here in our part of the world, the Carlsberg you enjoy is likely produced by Carlsberg Brewery Malaysia – a huge operation that is even listed on the Kuala Lumpur stock exchange. Carlsberg Malaysia began in the 1970s and produces 3 main lines – Carlsberg Danish Pilsner, Carlsberg Smooth Draught and Carlsberg Special Brew.

 

 

Their portfolio also includes other popular brands like Kronenbourg 1664 Blanc, Asahi Super Dry, and Connor's Stout Porter. But today, we’ll be trying the 3 iconic Carlsbergs.

Carlsberg Danish Pilsner, 5% ABV – Review 

  

Tasting Notes

Nose: A sweet, honeyed maltiness, with a touch more hop presence than expected.

Palate: A thick, yeasty texture. A dominant yeastiness quickly gives way to a refreshing hop bitterness that dances with grapefruit rind and citrus. A musty grain note persists, accompanied by a prominent minty coolness. This lager is decently robust, with its 5% ABV subtly warming the palate, and its hoppiness feels a bit more pronounced than other Carlsberg variants.

Finish: Clean and brief, leaving behind a lingering mintiness and the distinct sweetness of dried apricots.

 

 

My Thoughts:

I find Carlsberg Danish Pilsner offers more complexity than expected. It's a balancing act of yeast, citrus, and hops, with a nice fruitiness of dried apricots right at the end. The aroma does carry a noticeable ethanol presence, which, while not unpleasant, is certainly discernible. There’s also a slightly musty grain undertone might not be for everyone, but it adds to the beer's complexity.

My Rating: 6.5/10

Score/Rating Scale :

  • 9-10 : Exceptional, highly memorable, 10/10 would buy if I could.
  • 7-8 : Excellent, well above most in its category, worth considering buy-zone.
  • 4-6 : Good, okay, alright; a few flaws, but acceptable; not bad, but not my personal preference; still worth trying, could be a buy if the price is right.
  • 1-3 : Not good; really did not enjoy; wouldn't even recommend trying.
  • 0 : Un-scored, might be damaged, new make, or very unusual.

Carlsberg Smooth Draught, 4.8% ABV – Review

 

Tasting Notes

Nose: A delicate, lightly fruity medley. Gentle apple sweetness mingles with bright citrus notes reminiscent of grapefruit zest. There’s a subtle hint of hops underneath.

Palate: Mirrors the Danish Pilsner in its thick, yeasty texture. It opens with a burst of citrus, quickly followed by a balanced interplay of malt sweetness and a growing dryness. The familiar musty grain note once again makes an appearance, persisting throughout the tasting. But this also has a light spiciness that dances on the palate, reminiscent of chili peppers and other warm spices, which transitions around mid-palate into a refreshing mintiness that gradually intensifies.

Finish: Clean and relatively short, leaving a faint trace of yeastiness and mint. A whisper of apricot notes appears at the very end, but quickly fades away.

 

 

My Thoughts:

In my opinion, the Smooth Draught and Danish Pilsner are really similar, but the differences are just noticable. The Pilsner boasts a more robust flavour profile, while the Smooth Draught offers a smoother, cleaner experience with enough layers to keep things interesting. The layers of citrus, malt, and spice are all present, but in a more delicate balance here, while the minty character adds a refreshing touch. That said, the persistent musty grain note might not appeal to everyone.

This refreshing brew would make a decent pairing with any local hawker food.

My Rating: 6.5/10

Score/Rating Scale :

  • 9-10 : Exceptional, highly memorable, 10/10 would buy if I could.
  • 7-8 : Excellent, well above most in its category, worth considering buy-zone.
  • 4-6 : Good, okay, alright; a few flaws, but acceptable; not bad, but not my personal preference; still worth trying, could be a buy if the price is right.
  • 1-3 : Not good; really did not enjoy; wouldn't even recommend trying.
  • 0 : Un-scored, might be damaged, new make, or very unusual.

Carlsberg Special Brew, 6.5% ABV – Review 

 

Tasting Notes

Nose: It’s immediately evident from the nose that this is an entirely different beast. Rich, malty aromas fill the glass, reminiscent of freshly baked biscuits and warm cereal grains.

Palate: Taking a sip coats the tongue with a velvety texture and a dense, satisfying foam. Now that you mention Cognac, it does have a nice sweet core reminiscent of aged brandy. Apricot jam and grapefruit sweetness washes over, intertwined with a luscious maltiness that dominates the flavour profile. Notes of slightly roasted malts add depth, evoking hints of coffee, while a light sprinkling of lemon zest cuts through the sweetness.

Finish: Fairly dry, with a more pronounced hop bitterness reminiscent of grapefruit pith, which lingers along with a metallic coppery note that takes form at the end.

 

 

My Thoughts:

The Carlsberg Special Brew does remind me a little of aged brandy with its sweet core – although that’s as far as it goes. It’s a delightfully robust offering that bridges the gap between lager and stout. While quite hoppy and bitter, I do find it well moderated – closer in intensity to a nice American pale ale rather than some really hoppy lagers of IPAs.

This is really satisfying – it’s rich enough to be paired with some heartier foods, but also layered enough to be a satisfying beer to be enjoyed on its own.

My Rating: 7/10

Score/Rating Scale :

  • 9-10 : Exceptional, highly memorable, 10/10 would buy if I could.
  • 7-8 : Excellent, well above most in its category, worth considering buy-zone.
  • 4-6 : Good, okay, alright; a few flaws, but acceptable; not bad, but not my personal preference; still worth trying, could be a buy if the price is right.
  • 1-3 : Not good; really did not enjoy; wouldn't even recommend trying.
  • 0 : Un-scored, might be damaged, new make, or very unusual.

Final Thoughts

Overall, Carlsberg’s lagers are fairly solid offerings that appear to show a bit more complexity than what you'd typically expect from a large brewery. They’re not mind-blowing, but they’re very solid choices for those seeking a refreshing, easy-drinking European-style lager.

If you're looking for a beer to pair with Asian or local hawker fare, the Smooth Draught would be my pick. Its got a lighter body, refreshing-ness and subtle spice notes complement a variety of dishes without overpowering them. On the other hand, if you're after something with more character and depth, or a more contemplative sipping experience, the Special Brew's rich maltiness and warming alcohol content make it a great choice. Amongst the trio, this is the standout offering that's well worth trying – so do keep an eye out for that bronze label the next time you get groceries and beer!

 

@CharsiuCharlie