First, the newest country: Lithuania. Quite unexpectedly, I came across Švyturys Maksimum at a local package store. A little research after the fact reveals that this brewery, along with one in Latvia, is part of the same consortium that exports the Russian Baltika label to the U.S. The brewery has been around since 1784, reaching back impressively to a time when it was still controlled by Prussia! This brew is a hefty 7.5% abv, and it comes in a 500 ml bottle, so be prepared to take one on the chin if you haven’t had enough to eat beforehand. I think this is why I found the website so positively mesmerizing!
Maksimum is not bad. It’s a very pale staw-colored malt liquor, with a big creamy head and nice lacing. The mouthfeel is heavy, and it reminds me of nothing so much as an ancient Northern mead. I can imagine a group of kolbítar — Norse, I know; but give me a little longitude here; my Lithuanian needs brushing up! — gathered around the hearth, passing bottles of this back and forth to keep warm. It’s a little on the heavy side, like a “chewier” European version of Dogfish Head’s Palo Santo or Midas Touch. It’s maltier than it looks, but overall, not bad.
Much nicer was a French beer from the Alsace region (pictured above right). I had to try this for two reasons: it’s from Alsace, hence it’s sort of a German beer in France, or vice versa; and it’s called Fischer Amber! This is a 6% abv brew, in a 1 pt 6 oz bottle. The brewery is younger than Švyturys, dating to the year of Napoleon’s death (1821). A short creamy head tops off a lovely amber ale. Lightly carbonated, with strong herbal and mineral notes, resembling a Dortmunder-style beer. More yeast than hops, and almost no malt. Very dry and crisp, with quite a nice, refreshing flavor. This is only the second French beer I’ve gotten hold of (the other is the ubiquitous Kronenbourg 1664).
The second new (?) country I’ve visited is Singapore. The question mark indicates that I may have tried this before. I can’t quite recall. Singapore is on my list, but it left absolutely no trace in my memory. Anyway, I just tied — again? — Singapore’s Tiger Lager (est. 1932). A serviceable, medium-bodied lager, pale amber in color. Very drinkable, but not particularly memorable. (Hence why I’m not altogether certain the beer is new to me.)
Other recent brews I’ve sampled include several from Rio Blanco, a microbrewery in Texas, including a wonderful rye pale ale; new seasonal ales from Magic Hat in Vermont (including Spring ’10, Lucky Kat, Vinyl, and one or two others that escape my memory); and Fröst, a new (and coincidentally) Dortmunder-style ale from Shiner, also in Texas. If you ever visit Texas, Shiner is the beer to try. We have several good breweries here (including also Rahr in Fort Worth, and St. Arnold in Houston), but Shiner is king, and for good reason.