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I'm a huge fan of Beck's lager due to it's peerless taste and quality. From the bottle it is utter perfection, while if well kept then the keg version is just as excellent. There aren't many pubs that do keep it well mind you, so perhaps you'll bear that in mind while reading this review; it's entirely possible that the pub I was in when I first tried Beck's Vier may not have been the best place to try a new beer.
To be honest, I don't do 4%. I find that most beers less than the continental 5% alcohol are generally tasteless and watery, typified by the ubiquitous Fosters and Carling that you see perched on every bar counter from the Highlands to Cornwall. They are, to me, a mere session drink that some of my skinnier friends partake of during a Leo Sayer, their skeletal frames not being conducive to effectively assimilating continental strength brews such as Stella Artois, Kronenbourg 1664 or Beck's. Whether or not they are merely taking a more sensible approach to all-day drinking is immaterial and moot; if I'm so much more inebriated as a result of the extra 1% I'll at least be pleased that I wasn't having to grimace while I forced down yet another pint of Foster's piss.
So, when I saw the new Vier on tap in one of my favourite bars I was mildly interested. I wanted to see whether a beer could taste as good at 4% as it could at 5%, or, at least be well ahead of the other 4% brews; it'd have to be pretty spectacular to taste as good as normal Beck's, for a start, something I couldn't see happening.
It's actually ok - for a 4% beer. It has that usual watery blandness that you'd expect from a 4%, but they've clearly added more hops to the brewing process to give the taste more punch, which partly works. The initial taste is fine, but you don't get that sharpness in the aftertaste that the extra alcohol gives, just a vague hoppy flavour. The taste is certainly superior to Carling etc., but that is in no way an accolade - I'd rather walk round Sunderland with a stone in my shoe than drink Carling.
I suppose the problem Beck's have is simply that their original beer is so good; when you come to diversify - like Guinness did in the 90s with their bitter and lager experiments - then people expect the same level of excellence in your new product as they're used to in the product they know. That said however, I do think that Beck's Vier will be a success because it is infinitely better tasting than any other 4% lager on the market, including Heineken and Carlsberg. It is a little more expensive but not prohibitively so - a matter of 20 pence or whatever, hardly a difference in the grand scheme of things, especially when you're blowing £100 or more on the lash.
I can also see my skinnier pals of inferior drinking ability liking this, not least because they can pretend they're hard by saying they had 15 pints of Beck's and not actually be lying about it. Which I hope is a pattern repeated across the country; if Carling and Fosters realise they're not gonna have things all their own way from now on then maybe they'll get their act together and produce (gasp!) drinkable beer. Or maybe they'll just piss off altogether. Either's fine by me, preferably the latter as the former is about as likely as me sending Roy Keane a Christmas card.