Saturday, May 1, 2010

Celebrating Peace and Prosperity

On Wednesday, as I mentioned, Liz and I took a trip to Africa. After we got back from Africa, we drank three beers that my magnanimous uncle Chris sent me from that very continent: Sierra Porter (not to be confused with Sierra Nevada or Sierra Dorado), White Bull Lager, and Tusker Lager. We drank them in that exact order, but for dramatic purposes, that's not the order I am going to talk about them in. You'll see why.

First up: Sierra Porter.

Here's the note that Chris wrote about this beer for me:
Sierra Porter - Microbrewery in Nairobi, you won't find this outside of Nairobi. They make a Porter, an Amber, and a Blonde. I only like the Porter - the only porter I can find in eastern Africa.

Googling Sierra Porter, the first thing you find is the facebook page for someone named "Sierra Porter." It would be amazing if she was named after the beer, but unfortunately for her I doubt her parents are that cool/in-the-know about east African beers. If, like me, you had no idea what a microbrewery in Kenya would look like, well, it essentially looks like every microbrewery in the United States, if not way fancier than most you'll find here. Looking at the brewery's website, it reminds me a lot of Thirsty Bear Brewing Co. in San Francisco.

The Porter itself is okay. Not the greatest in the world, a little thin and watery, but also not bad either. It certainly is pretty drinkable. To contrast it with my actual world travels, it was certainly better than any beer I had in Korea. Interestingly enough, Sierra's website makes a big deal about following Germany's brewing purity laws, so that's kind of cool. I think the main thing I took away from this beer was that citizens around the world want quality craft brew. I wouldn't think you'd be able to find a microbrewery in Kenya. I'd be wrong.

Next up: Tusker Lager

Chris's note: Ok, you can find this in NYC. It'd be macro (kinda) but it is so quintessentially Kenyan that I had to include it. It's also quintessentially blah - enjoy!!

It's quite possible many of you have had Tusker before. I actually haven't seen it in NYC, but I did have it, on tap no less!, in Blacksburg, VA at the Rivermill a couple of years ago. Prior to the arrival of the beers from Chris, I actually couldn't name a beer from Africa outside of Tusker. In contrast to Sierra, and in the grand American macro-brew tradition, Tusker uses adjuncts! The bottle lists the ingredients as "barley malt, corn starch, sugar, hops, CO2, and water" (weird that it doesn't list yeast as an ingredient). Here's where I respect Tusker, and I guess by extension African macro brew, more than Bud and other American brews. Tusker has the common decency to let the consumer know they are using adjuncts. None of this Miller Lite "triple-hopped" bullshit. Don't be fooled. Your Buds, Bud Lights, et al are made with corn. You know how Coke and Pepsi use corn-syrup because it's a cheaper substitute for sugar? Well, macrobrewers use corn instead of actual barley or wheat for the exact same reason. And much like corn syrup, it makes the quality of the brew plummet and contributes to corn making up 90% of the average American's diet. So if you're one of those people trying to avoid consuming corn syrup, you should avoid macrobrews for those exact same reasons (and many others)!

I actually think Tusker tastes better than most U.S. macrobrews. I don't know if it's a cognitive bias or something, but given the choice between a Tusker and a Bud, I will take the Tusker every time.

Finally: White Bull Lager

Chris's note: From South Sudan. Actually, a pretty crappy beer I think, but hey I doubt you'll find another bottle of this in the Western Hemisphere (actually, anywhere outside of Southern Sudan). And you have to love the motto "Celebrating Peace and Prosperity." That's what beer is for!

Chris is right, you can't find this anywhere outside of Sudan. It's not even rated on and they have ratings for everything (including the two previous beers). Believe you me when I say that I really, truly appreciated being the first person to drink this beer in the United States. There aren't really too many opportunities I'll have to be the first to do anything beer related. Being the first person to drink a beer, and this specific beer no less, in the United States, was a really humbling experience.

I don't know how much you know about Sudan. You probably have heard that it has had a pretty violent and unsettling past. You've probably heard of the Lost Boys of Sudan. America has recognized the conflict in Darfur as a "genocide," and, as is evident from even Obama tap-dancing around calling Turkey killing over one million Armenians in World War I a "genocide," that's not a term the U.S. throws around lightly. Between the 1970s and now, upwards of 2.5 million Sudanese citizens have been killed in one of the many different conflicts involving what is now Southern Sudan. Suffice it to say, Southern Sudan has had its troubles.

It's with that back ground that White Bull Lager becomes a phenomenal beer. White Bull Lager first launched in 2009, less than four years after Southern Sudan signed its comprehensive peace agreement with Sudan, as Southern Sudan's first domestically produced beer. Normally, press releases about new beers don't get me misty-eyed, but you'll excuse me if White Bull Lager's press release gets me a little choked up. "Our product's motto means more than just Celebrating Peace and Prosperity. It is a snapshot of the collective will of every Southern Sudanese we've met. An emerging and diverse community like Southern Sudan has had its challenges, but what's important is that there is an intense set of common ambitions throughout the country: a desire for peace, prosperity, a need for celebration and most importantly a strong hope in our future."

The country recently emerges from an intensely bloody civil war and what does it do? It makes beer. Not only that, it makes a beer free of adjuncts. Elsewhere in the press release, White Bull Lager states that it not only wanted to make a beer, but a beer that could stand toe-to-toe with any beer in the world. While the beer was what you might expect it to be, I would still prefer it to any American macrobrew (not only because it's made without corn, but also because I thought it genuinely tasted better).

While this beer might not end all of Sudanese problems, one can only hope White Bull Lager brings some people together and gives them something to celebrate. Because, as Chris so wisely noted, that's what beer is for.

(Thursday night I had 3 beers, two Simpler Times Lagers and 1 McSorleys while watching the Suns put an end to the Blazers. Yesterday I had some beers at some bars. I'll talk about those and do the numbers tomorrow. I think I'd rather just have this post stand as it.)


  1. Not to be "that guy" but Bud actually uses rice to give it a "dry" taste. Miller and Coors use corn. Also, the macrobrews do use malted barley for the bulk of the fermentable sugar, though the corn and rice has been increasingly used over the years to cheapen the beer. I guess the point here is that rice is also the culprit as far as watering down beer is concerned.

    Originally (as in late 1800s), US lagers were a sweet beer that had corn in them. The reason they had corn is because the US grows a lot of six row barley. Most beer is made with two row barley because it's more readily available in traditional beer rowing nations, but it turns out that two row is better from a brewer's perspective because it's easier to extract the sugars (which are essential for fermentation into delicious alcohol) from two row barley than it is from six row barley.

    Anyway, to aid in mashing the six row malted barley (i.e. extracting sugars from malt), corn was used. I guess the point of this aside is to say that corn in beer isn't intrinsically bad. In fact, there were apparently very flavorful American Lagers way back when, but now they're a shell of their former selves due to the increase of corn and the lessening of hops. Also, 'adjunct' could be used to describe anything that can be fermented that doesn't have enzymes. So, for instance, oatmeal is considered an adjunct, and since oatmeal stouts are amazing, not all adjuncts are intrinsically bad.

    In other news, the African beer post was epic and I'm pretty jealous. Also, I was offered soju at 10 am while I was hiking (because, you know, older Koreans can't manage the rigors of hiking without soju). Did I oblige the old man? You know it. I should've started a 1000 soju blog...I would've been way more drunk and it STILL would've cost less.

    Also, one final aside, I watched "Julie and Julia" and decided that her blog idea was super tight, but her posts (at least in the movie) paled in comparison to yours, so in conclusion hopefully Julia Childs (or Meryl Streep acting as Julia Childs since Julia Childs is in fact dead) will grant you more than she granted Julie by reading your blog and saying it's awesome.

  2. Ryan - excellent post - you did my African beers proud! And I whole heartedly agree - whilst these are not tremendous beers, I'd take any of them over a Bud, Miller, or other beer of that ilk any day. And indeed, sometimes it's the back story (not the back wash) that makes a beer great.

    Next month I will be back in southern Sudan and I will think of you when I drink the first round of White Bulls with my friends there. And I will endeavor to pass your way some more obscure beers from this side of the world if I can. And, if I’m a lucky man, perhaps I will be able to crack one open with you in your neck of the woods one day while you show and tell the taste and stories of the beers of Brooklyn.

    Until then, to paraphrase Charles Papazian, “Relax, Don’t Worry, Have A Brew.”

    - Uncle Chris