The 8 Best Super-Strength Lagers We Found In Our Local Off License
Despite the recent UK launch of low-strength, low-calorie, low-flavour Bud Light, there’s been a definite trend towards higher ABV beers in recent years. Anecdotal evidence (i.e. hanging around in bars) has shown us that imperial and export stouts as well as big IPAs and DIPAs have all exploded in popularity. Beers marketed as ‘session’ strength today (like Vocation’s ‘Heart & Soul’) are a fair bit stronger than the standard-strength lager Britons used to drink by the bucketload.
A few craft brewers have recently started offering stronger brews in a big tin format. This is nothing new. Big cans of strong beer have been around for ages, in the form of the super strength lager. Curmudgeon hits the nail on the head when he calls this ‘an odd hidden backwater of the beer market where there’s no advertising, and product innovation is virtually impossible.’ Unlike the stylish cans released by the likes of Magic Rock, these beers have a resoundingly bad reputation in every sense except perhaps value for money. In terms of taste, these beers were a bit of a mystery to us. There are a lot of them, and presumably plenty of dedicated drinkers. We got to wondering: is there more to them than alcohol content? Maybe some are actually good. Maybe we’ve been missing out on something wonderful. In the interest of furthering human knowledge, we popped down to our local corner shop and bought all of the super strength lagers knocking about in the back of their fridge.
Oranjeboom Black - 8.5% ABV
Most people will know Oranjeboom from the blue and orange cans of 'Quirkily Continental Dutch Lager'... brewed by Shepherd Neame in Kent. Organjeboom black is its bruiser of a big brother.
First impressions, this beer pours very flat with an uninspiring amber hue. The alcohol jumps off the brim of the glass with some interesting rum notes. On tasting, however, it's not unpleasantly boozy - we almost forgot we were drinking a super-strength here. The beer also has some interesting spicy undertones and a pleasant bitter finish. All in all a decent brew.
A strong start in more ways than one.
Okocim - 7% ABV
Never heard of Okocim? Neither had we. This Polish brew was the weakest of the lot, clocking in at a very sessionable 7% Abv. There is likely more to say about Okocim but we couldn't interpret the can, besides the part which we believe warns against driving under the influence.
Despite its run of the mill aroma and appearance Okocim has an interestingly fruity taste and a lingering dry bitterness. This beer improved as it warmed up and was well liked by our motley group of tasters.
Perla Mocna - 7.6% ABV
Browary Lubelskie is a polish brewery, which began brewing Bavarian style, bottom fermenting beers in 1844. Perla Mocna is their standard, super strength lager. Mocna does not translate to 'Mocha' as we first thought, but 'strong' - which we really should have guessed.
There was little remarkable about this beer to make it stand out from the others. It has a refreshing, slightly biscuity flavour, but was wholly ruined by an aftertaste variously equated to 'baby wipes' , 'toilet duck' and 'lemon cleaning products'. Still, kind of drinkable.
Kestrel Super - 9% ABV
The side of this can proudly proclaims that Kestrel is produced to the 'traditional Holy Brewing Method, a seven day fermentation that includes one sabbath - traditionally the day of rest'. This eye-wateringly strong beer has also apparently been recognised for its fine taste by a gold award from the International Institute for Quality Selections. Impressive.
This was by far the worst beer of the night. With all the suggested monastic trappings, we had hoped for some of that Trappist expertise to cleverly hide the alcohol with aromatic adjuncts. Not so. Drinking Kestrel Super is like drinking a pint of flat lager with a shot of rough vodka dropped in.
Nasty, nasty, avoid.
Carlsberg Special Brew - 8% ABV
Probably the best known SSL (that’s super strength lager) in the UK. Legend has it is was first brewed in honour of Winston Churchill’s first visit to Denmark after VE Day. Legend also has it that he finished the crate, so we guess he must have thought it was OK. The sharp eyed reader will notice this blog has a very similar name to this beer.
This beer has a slightly grassy aroma, and tastes predictably sweet. It was not totally unpleasant, despite a chemical after-taste (Dettol comes to mind). It got easier to drink as we got further down the can. Not the worst.
Apparently Kingsley Amis used to enjoy sipping on a half-and-half mix of Special Brew and regular Carlsberg. So we gave it a go. It was terrible. In fact, it was so bad we decided to chuck in the leftover Kestrel to see if it might improve matters. It made it even worse. It tasted like three beers mixed together. Three bad beers.
Don't try this at home. Tennent's Super - 8% ABV
Definitely one of the better-known beers of the night, Tennent's Super is an iconic, hard-hitting, industrial strength lager. Brewed in the Wellpark brewery in Glasgow, it refreshingly makes no claims to grand brewing traditions on its minimalist blue can.
It's not the greatest smelling beer: cardboard and metal come to mind. However, it is very sudsy and the high carbonation lifts the beer from nasty to relatively inoffensive. It is maltier than the other super tinnies but with the usual alcoholic sweetness. We don't love it, but we don't hate it either.
Skol Super - 8% ABV
Skol is another Carlsberg brand. We can only guess that they really wanted to own this part of the market. The can describes Skol super as 'a full bodied strong lager with a characteristic fruity aroma', as well as proudly declaring that there is a half litre of liquid within. Half a bleedin' litre!
Smoother than the rest, Skol went down easy, although this point we had grown a bit sick of the boozy aromas and weak carbonation. We still managed to sort of enjoy this middle of the road, high percentage lager. Average.
Karpackie - 9% ABV
This is another intimidating black Polish can with background information incomprehensible to us. We don't know if it was brewed by monks or not. What we do know is that this 'super mocna' beer is a strong contender for best beer of the night.
Although it does sort of smell like a box of nails, the taste is interesting, complex and fruity. There's a smoky, savoury side to this beer too which pairs well with the thick, cognac-like body.. Dark fruit comes to mind, and for the first time we could imagine drinking a SSL beer for taste (as you would a stonking great DIPA or imp stout) rather than for recreation. Karpackie is a dark horse that stole our hearts.
Kestral - Awful.
Perla Mocna, Special Brew, Tennent's Super, Skol Super - Not terrible, not great.
Ockocim - Slightly better than average.
Karpackie, Oranjeboom Black - Actually quite nice!