Having dealt with the dark stuff, it seems logical to progress with a look at some of the paler beers from central and eastern Europe that are available in the UK. Not surprisingly, there is a greater range of these beers than the darker ones, but careful selection produces some excellent results.
A goodly number of light-coloured beers follow a Pilsener-style format and while some can be pleasant enough, a fair few are, quite frankly, rather uninspiring. Drinking beer should be about having one’s taste buds challenged, surprised and ultimately kept happy. Thankfully, there are plenty of breweries that are equal to the task.
Bavaria is synonymous with brewing, but there are good beers to be found from all around Germany. Kölsch is the generic name given to beer from Cologne and this tends to be very pale, quite hoppy, dry and with a vinous tang. The two found most commonly in the UK are Fruh and Küppers, both weighing in at 4.8%. Both are distinctively pale and are crisp, clean-tasting beers. Küppers has a slightly more citric taste.
From Berlin, the Berliner Kindl Brewery produces a range of beers, including some of those rather annoying 2.5 to 3% concoctions that seem to serve little useful purpose. While Duck Holiday does not subscribe to the view that beer must exceed 5% ABV to be worthwhile, there is little depth in such thin offerings. At 4.9%, Berliner Bürgerbräu Pils has more of a kick and is a good example of a Pilsener style.
Dortmund’s Dortmunder Union brews the 5.3% Export, easily found in many places. This has a malty feel initially, but hop character comes through and lingers. These attributes are quite typical of the Dortmund style.
One must, of course, consider the brewing stronghold of Bavaria. Hacker Pschorr Münchener Gold (5.5%) is a typical Munich pale beer. The prolific Paulaner brewery has something for all tastes and their Original Müncher Hell is not as intimidating as it might sound, being a relatively sensible 4.9%.
The Czech Republic is also a country that specialises in beer. the widely available Krušovice Imperial (5%) is a pleasant and clean tasting lager, a good example of the Pilsener style, which of course has its origins in that country. Pilsen (Czech Plzeň) is still home to the Pilsener Urquell brewery, the maker of another familiar beer. At 4.4%, this is a lighter brew than Krušovice, and a little maltier and sweeter.
Neighbouring Slovakia is not as noted for its beer, but Zlatý Bažant (Golden Pheasant) is found throughout much of Europe and while it is not going to produce any revelations, is a nice enough beer, again in the mode of a Pilsener.
A lot of beer from central and eastern Europe is around the 5% mark, but there are beers more closely akin to the strength of a British session ale. One such is Ukraine’s Lvivske Svitle (Light) (Ukrainian Львiвське Свiтле), a very mild 3.7%, a golden beer with a refreshing taste. Obolon Light (Ukrainian Оболонь Світле) is a little stronger at 4.5%, a touch maltier than the Lvivske.
Lithuanian drinkers regard anything under 5% as mere child’s play, but Svyturys Gintarinis bucks the trend at a mere 4.7%. Although it is is Pilsener style lager, it has a pleasing hop bitterness that is appealing to those of us that favour hops over malt. The Utenos brewery also produces a similar, though less hoppy beer in the form of Utenos Pilsener (4.6%).
For a corresponding style in Latvia, the 4.5% Aldaris Gaisais has a nice hop aroma and quite bitter taste. An even lighter option, built for session work, is Bauskas Alus Gaisais, a gentle 4%, but still with plenty of flavour. For those preferring something stronger, there is Lacplesis Gaisais, a 5% beer brewed in the Dortmunder style.
Beer from the Balkans is quite hard to find, a pity since there are some worthy brews, notably from Croatia. The most commonly found is the Slovenian Lasko. Their Zlatorog lager is not, in truth, terribly exciting, but it is a perfectly drinkable beer that is 4.9%.
This quick trip around pale beer is, of course, far from exhaustive and is confined to the brews that are relatively simple to find in the UK. There is, happily, a microbrewery culture growing up all around Europe and plenty of bars, especially in the bigger cities, where you can find all sorts of delights. This brief introduction, it is to be hoped, provides the incentive to discover more.