A country’s beer is strongly connected to its people. For those living in the country, it is synonymous with gatherings and nights out. For anyone living abroad, a sip of their land’s beer can be a reminder of home. After several months traveling around Ethiopia and Africa with Addis Ababa as my base, I’ve had the opportunity to taste all of the local brews. As I was excited about this post even before I started this blog, I have done my best to track down every bottle and draft iteration of beer in the country and here are the tasting results. In addition to the beers below, I have previously provided my thoughts on the beers brewed at the Beer Garden Inn in Addis. The one type of brew missing from this review is tela, Ethiopian homemade beer. I hope to try it soon and will dedicate an entire post to that experience.
St. George’s, aka Giorgis
Tasting notes: Named after the saint that slayed the dragon (memorialized on the label), this lager is the most popular beer in Ethiopia. Probably because it’s as sweet as a macchiato with five spoonsful of sugar. Not bad for a night out, but terrible as a session beer. Honey and faint overripe fruit flavors dominate.
Tasting notes: Another sweet lager but, but subtler than Giorgis. A slight candy corn taste. It tastes much better than it sounds and is not bad for a couple drinks on a sunny afternoon. Many places have it on draft, which is preferable to bottled Castel.
ABV: 5% (Meta)/5.5% (Meta Premium)
Tasting notes: I have found no discernible taste distinction between the two Metas. Citrus flavors and not too much sweetness. The aftertaste varied from nonexistent to slightly skunked. Meta Premium can be purchased in a big bottle. The higher alcohol content is evident, but not a distraction. Overall, not a bad choice.
ABV: 5% (Bedele)/5.5% (Bedele Special)
Tasting notes: As of spring 2014, this is Ethiopia’s first canned beer. Like Meta Premium, Bedele Special is served in a half-liter bottle and is slightly stronger. My cab driver tells me that the larger bottle is the driving force behind Bedele’s popularity, but I believe otherwise. Bedele is much crisper than its competitor Meta and is a nice accompaniment to a meal, as it has a light, smooth aftertaste. Bonus points for the colobus monkey on the bottle.
Tasting notes: Ethiopia’s only stout beer is produced by Harar Brewery, which makes a much finer lager, as noted below. Strong caramel flavors and coffee scents. Looks and tastes more like an amber than a stout. I poured it in a glass and the flavor deteriorated. Not planning to drink it again.
Tasting notes: Along with Hakim, this is the only other non-lager produced domestically in Ethiopia. It is made by the same folks who brew St. George, so it is unsurprisingly sweet. However, the flavors are a bit deeper and more complex. The finish is clean and it drinks very easily overall. Have it for dessert and consider it the country’s answer to Port wine.
Tasting notes: Dashen is brewed in the northern city of Gondar and, like other Ethiopian breweries, has benefited from an injection of foreign capital. The brewery recently added a biergarten and is conveniently located on the road to Gondar’s airport. This beer is omnipresent in the north and I order it whenever possible in Addis. Dashen is a crisp, light lager with a hint of hops. The first time I tasted it I was reminded of a summer afternoon at a picnic table at a German restaurant surrounded by pitchers of kölsch. The ideal session beer for a warm, dry season afternoon or early evening.
Tasting notes: This draft beer produced by Dashen is more difficult to find in Addis and the café that usually carries it was out a couple of days before this post was published. Nonetheless, I’ve tasted Royal a few times and found it to be average and non-offensive. Not as smooth as Dashen, not as sweet as Giorgis. Hopefully I’ll be able to sample it again soon and will revise its review accordingly.
Tasting notes: This beer is named for and hails from one of my favorite cities in Ethiopia. Harar was purchased by Heineken in 2011 and, although I have no reference with respect to its taste three years ago, it’s much better than its Dutch parent now. The beer smells remarkably like a Budweiser upon popping the cap, the first sip is slightly acidic but leads to lemon undertones and a clean finish. Once the beer is poured into a glass and allowed to open, the acidity disappears. A very pleasant brew.
Is there a type of beer or other drink that you associate with “home”?