Monday, December 08, 2008

99 Bottles of Beer on the Blog: Amstel Light and Heineken Light

Here's a little twist on my usual format of writing a review of one beer at a time. Tonight, I'm drinking two light beers from Holland and trying to provide a little guidance for those who face the choice between Amstel Light and Heineken Light.

First, a few words about the style. Light lagers are generally scorned by beer snobs like me. They carry little alcohol, less flavor, and they're simply not as interesting as a nice porter or even a good pilsner. The removal of calories necessarily means removing some of the flavors that make beer the satisfying beverage it is. It's kind of like comparing a good burgundy to a wine spritzer.

As a homebrewer, though, I deeply respect the light beers. There's nowhere to hide in a beer as transparent as Amstel Light or Heineken Light. Any off-flavor dominates the palate, while it would be covered up in a more flavorful beer. I'd probably never be able to make a beer with as little flavor as these beers, so it's just as well that I don't really want to try.

For years, Amstel was the light version of Heineken. Like a lot of brewers back when light beers came out, Heineken did not want to risk its good name on a watery imitation beer, so it assigned the name of a river in Holland. If Amstel Light flopped, the main brand wouldn't be damaged.

Now, light beers are not so risky, and Heineken has introduced a light beer with the flagship name on the bottle. Last week, I bought a bottle of each at World Market. Tonight I decided to see if they differ, and, if so, which is the better beer.

Cutting to the chase, they differ, but neither is better. Heineken Light is a little maltier, a little skunkier, and a little more full-bodied. Amstel has a bit more bite, and probably a better choice for nights when you want to have more than one.

Both poured light yellow, with Amstel Light having a slightly more amber shade. Heineken's head was fizzy and dissipated almost immediately. Amstel's head was slightly longer-lived and slightly creamier, but it, too, was gone within a few minutes.

Neither offers a come-hither aroma. Amstel has very little aroma at all, while Heineken comes forward with the skunkiness for which the flagship brand is famous. I've come to expect Heineken to be skunky, so I accept the odor as a characteristic more than a flaw. If you like Heineken, you know what to expect.

Flavor wise, Heineken Light is a passable pale imitation of its big brother. It's not really a bad beer if you can tolerate the skunky sweet flavor of Heineken. In fact, I think I might like it better than the original - the original's flaws are less offensive when they're a little less intense. There's also a touch of DMS in there, giving it a slight cooked-corn flavor, arising from the use of pale pilsner malt.

Amstel tastes more like a proper pilsner than Heineken. It's a bit more bitter, and there is just a touch of hop flavor. To me, the beer has a slight chemical flavor, almost like chlorine off a summer pool. It has a good balance to it - for a light beer, it has a reasonable malt backbone to it, with a hop bitterness to play off it. It's not a completely satisfactory beer by any means, but it has all the basic elements. Just too much water.

There are good reasons to drink light beer. I imagine light beer will be my post-practice beer of choice after I get snapped up by the Wizards. If you're drinking light beer, Amstel and Heineken offer two decent options.

My next review, however, will be something more satisfying.

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Blogger Jim said...

Skunkier - friggin' green bottles.

12/08/2008 9:56 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Try the Canadian beers. Moose Head, Molson or Labatts. When poured, it makes very large bubbles which is the sign of a quality beer I've been told. Don't know about the hoppy or malty thing, but it's very good beer served cold, of course. Molson Ice has excellent alchohol content.

12/08/2008 11:28 PM  
Blogger bigsmithdude said...

this is a bit late i suppose, but...

i drank regular amstel a lot in europe, but have failed to acquire it here in the states. does it exist? it was really good, and drastically different from it's lighter counterpart. if you ever find it, give it a go.

and buy me a case...

7/20/2009 10:40 PM  

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