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The Great Ethiopian Beer Review

Meta Ethiopia Beer

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 Beer Ethiopia

St. George’s, aka Giorgis
ABV: 4.75%
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.
Grade: C

Castel Beer Ethiopia

Castel Beer Poured Ethiopia

Castel
ABV: 5.5%
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.
Grade: B

Meta Beer Ethiopia

Meta/Meta Premium
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.
Grade: B+

Bedele Beer Ethiopia

Bedele/Bedele Special
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.
Grade: A-

Hakim Stout Ethiopia

Hakim Sout Poured Ethiopia

Hakim Stout
ABV: 5.5%
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.
Grade: C-

Amber Beer Ethiopia

Amber
ABV: 5.5%
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.
Grade: B

Dashen

Dashen Beer Ethiopia

Dashen
ABV: 4.5%
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.
Grade:A

Royal
ABV: ?
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.
Grade: B

Harar Beer Ethiopia

Harar
ABV: 5%
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.
Grade:A-

Is there a type of beer or other drink that you associate with “home”?

{ 61 comments… add one }
  • Sue Sharpe (@suesharpe1) June 4, 2014, 2:56 pm

    Great post! I love hearing about beers from around the world. We miss a good ale, here in Spain, which is why we brew our own. There are many micro-breweries setting up in our region and I’m trying as many as I can, but I’ve yet to find anything on a par with Sharp’s Doom Bar from Cornwall – I do miss that beer!

    • Dave June 4, 2014, 3:50 pm

      Thanks, Sue! I looked up Sharp’s, would love to try it some day. That micro-brew you were trying from Spain the other day looked pretty intriguing.

  • Bianca @itsallbee June 5, 2014, 10:56 pm

    Its almost criminal for me to utter these words but I dont like beer. Never did and I think that ship has sailed. This looks like an interesting list for those that love a good cold beer. Nice ring to it but not for me :(

    • Dave June 9, 2014, 5:49 am

      Don’t worry, Bianca – I’ll have a post on a new batch of Ethiopian wines coming out before too long. If you don’t like wine, coffee is also around the corner :)

  • Calli June 6, 2014, 6:19 pm

    Any post that requires the sampling and comparison of beers is my favorite to write – and read! Great job, I can’t really wrap my head around the overly sweet sounding beers but that still wouldn’t stop me from trying them during a visit. Very interesting read, I wish we could get some of those “A” rated beers imported so I could give them a try :)

    • Dave June 9, 2014, 5:50 am

      Thanks, Calli! Sometimes I have to sacrifice my time for important posts like this one :) I only had Ethiopian food once before coming here, so I’m interested to see which ones are available back in North America.

  • Damn I’m thirsty now! Am yet to try any African beers but from your reviews there seems to be a great range to try. I imagine they taste even better in an African setting too!

    My favourite non-obvious beer from Thailand is Leo (with a leopard on it). It’s drunk more in regional Thailand, which is where I taught English on my gap year, and is a great sundowner. Nice reviews!
    Cheers,
    William
    NomadHead – Your Guide to Gap Year Travel

    • Dave June 9, 2014, 5:51 am

      There are few things I enjoy more than sitting on a plastic chair in a bush bar with a slightly cooled local beer. Thanks for the recommendation on the Thai beer, looks forward to seeking it out when I make it there!

  • Marie-Carmen June 7, 2014, 8:45 am

    I sure do love a post about beer!
    I’m from the North of France, near the Belgium border so you can imagine I swear by their beer and every time I see a Chimay Bleue I’m in heaven!

    In Asia we’ve been a bit dissapointed by the beer except maybe in Laos with the beer Lao Dark. We’re considering brewing our own if we stay in China (and go to their beer festival too… Got to try all the beers don’t we!)

    • Dave June 9, 2014, 5:52 am

      Lao Dark is now on my list of beers to try – thank you, Marie-Carmen. Would love to read about the experience of home brewing in China!

  • Manouk for Bunch of Backpackers June 7, 2014, 10:01 am

    Love this post Dave :)! I’ll have to try them all when I visit Ethiopia one day! So far, I only try the standard local beers (e.g. Lao, Chang etc.), but for my next travels I’ll try to taste other local beers as well! I think (judging from what you wrote) I’d prefer the Meta one :)!

    • Dave June 9, 2014, 5:54 am

      Thanks, Manouk! I’m becoming more of a Meta convert by the day. Can’t wait to hear about your new beer experiences the next time you’re on the road.

  • Jeanette June 7, 2014, 11:52 am

    Thanks for the Ethiopian beer lesson! Dashen sounds like the beer for me!

    • Dave June 9, 2014, 5:55 am

      Hi Jeanette – It’s a perfect beer for a meal or with a group of friends. You’d really like it!

  • Laura June 7, 2014, 10:05 pm

    Being someone who judges books by their covers, I’d definitely go for that George and the Dragon one :). I associate mulled wine with home, and gin and tonic. Ha.

    • Dave June 9, 2014, 5:57 am

      I liked the Amber better during the rainy season, when it’s a bit cooler at night. Definitely a homey feel to it!

  • Emma June 8, 2014, 6:54 am

    That’s a great selection of beers! Living in Bavaria, I know how important bier can be to a country! 😀

    • Dave June 9, 2014, 6:00 am

      Can’t wait to have access to German beer again. Miss it dearly! Thanks for stopping by, Emma.

  • Anda June 8, 2014, 7:26 am

    I am not a beer drinker, but your post made me very curious.

  • Corinne June 8, 2014, 7:49 am

    Perfect post for me Dave! One of my joys in life is trying all the beers around the world. I love an Amber, so would definitely have to try that one…although sweet? Likened to Port? Interesting.

    • Dave June 9, 2014, 6:09 am

      Hi Corinne, glad you enjoyed the post! I likened it to Port for its sweetness – there’s not really any crossover with respect to taste (although I’d be intrigued by a Port-ish beer). Still worth a try!

  • Margherita @The Crowded Planet June 8, 2014, 9:41 am

    Great post Dave. Love the idea, and as a beer lover I always try beers wherever I go, this is really interesting. Sweet beer must be an African thing, I had Malian beer a few weeks ago and it was so sickeningly sweet I couldn’t finish it. I did try Ethiopian beer once, I think it was Dashen, and I remember being underwhelmed. I would love to try Harar!

    • Dave June 9, 2014, 6:12 am

      Thanks, Marghe! Interesting to know about Malian beer. I’ve been satisfied, but not impressed, with the Kenyan beers I’ve tried, but they’re mostly light lagers. Will see what I can do to get some Harar up to you…

  • Ryan Biddulph June 8, 2014, 12:19 pm

    Loving the bottle designs Dave! Thanks for sharing the review of the brew 😉

    • Dave June 9, 2014, 6:12 am

      Thanks for stopping by, Ryan! Looking forward to checking out your site.

  • Phoebe @ Lou Messugo June 8, 2014, 4:19 pm

    I would have loved to help you with the research for this post! I always make it a thing to try local beers wherever I am and am amazed when I see people drinking Carlsberg/Heineken in some exotic place! Why aren’t they drinking local?

    • Dave June 9, 2014, 6:17 am

      Agree with you 100% Phoebe. When you are traveling off the beaten path, the beer is one of the safest things to ingest given the alcohol content. I am a firm believer in its health benefits!

  • Brittany @ Paws for Beer June 8, 2014, 6:02 pm

    Great reviews! I love tasting beers as I travel – it is usually how I start planning a trip – by locating the breweries and then building around them.

    • Dave June 9, 2014, 6:20 am

      Isn’t it a great part of traveling? Trying the local drinks makes me feel like I am experiencing the destination more like the locals do.

  • Samantha June 9, 2014, 3:39 am

    Even though I don’t drink, I love learning about the local beers because it says so much about a country. My boyfriend always says to learn about the integrity of a place, check out their beer. Also that the price of beer reflects the economy. I love the design of the bottles, they love their white horses!

    • Dave June 9, 2014, 6:22 am

      Hi Sammi – Couldn’t agree with Yeison more! The bottle designs are definitely unique…much more interesting than a lot of American beers.

  • Jonny Jenkins @ Step Up... Dive In June 9, 2014, 5:17 am

    Hey Dave,
    Cool post man. I’m looking at landing in Addis in late summer to early fall and kicking around for a few months… Will certainly be referring back to this post to compare some notes with ya.
    And hey who knows, maybe I’ll find you somewhere on the continent.

    • Dave June 9, 2014, 6:25 am

      Thanks, Jonny! Let me know about your travel in Ethiopia, would be happy to provide any advice.

  • Rachel@safari254 June 9, 2014, 7:08 am

    I’m also not a beer drinker so the ABV percentages and grades don’t make any sense to me, but I love the fact you show another perspective of Ethiopia a country known more for its cuisine than beer.

    • Dave June 9, 2014, 7:59 am

      Hi Rachel! The ABV is alcohol by volume and the grades are American-style, so the higher the letter, the better :) Many of these beers pair very nicely with the delicious Ethiopian food.

  • Brad Frankel June 9, 2014, 8:02 am

    Great post Dave, I’m really getting into my craft beers so really enjoyed it and love the pics. Sure it was fun to gather the information 😉

    • Dave June 9, 2014, 9:26 am

      Thanks, Brad! No complaints about this self-assigned task :)

  • Elena June 9, 2014, 8:55 am

    Who would think that they have so many kinds of beer in Ethiopia! Not a beer specialist but I love the bottles design!

    • Dave June 9, 2014, 9:27 am

      Hi Elena! Agreed – those designs really stand out and give some character to the beers.

  • Lauren June 9, 2014, 9:44 pm

    Wow that is awesome you’ve gotten to try so many different types of beer! I always like to try different beer from different places that I visit. We tried some brewed locally in Watkins Glen, NY recently! At home, I really enjoy Mill Street Organic brewed in Toronto. It’s one of my favorite beers and I order it whenever possible!

    • Dave June 12, 2014, 12:02 pm

      Will need to try that Toronto brew next time I’m in the area. I really miss visiting breweries in the US – will be one of the first things I do whenever I get home.

  • Carmen @ CarmensTravelTips June 9, 2014, 9:53 pm

    I’m not a beer drinker but my husband loves to drink the local beers when we travel. Great post.

    • Dave June 12, 2014, 12:02 pm

      Thanks, Carmen! I’m sure your husband has made some great – and not-so-great – finds over the years.

  • Adelina | PackMeTo June 9, 2014, 11:10 pm

    I like trying out the local brew when I’m traveling, but I’m not really a beer connoisseur. Sweet beer sounds kind of interesting, and a little bit gross. The fruit beers I had in Europe were sweet, but it still had a bit of that bitter beer taste in it too. Some I liked and others were just too weird.

    • Dave June 12, 2014, 12:04 pm

      I really like the way those fruit beers in Europe taste. Not too sweet, but you certainly don’t want to have more than a couple.

  • frankaboutcroatia June 10, 2014, 12:02 pm

    This is an interesting post, Dave! Seems like you had to drink a lot so we, your readers, can have a great roundup on Ethiopian beer. Bad that the only local stout tastes so terrible that you don’t want to drink it again. I’m not a huge beer connoisseur, but it still surprises me that the beer can be so sweet (as St. George).

    • Dave June 12, 2014, 12:09 pm

      I do sacrifice myself for my readers, thanks for the recognition! I miss having a dark beer once in a while, so hopefully they will work out the taste with the stout.

  • Brianna June 10, 2014, 6:43 pm

    I’m sure the research for this article was terrible exhausting work and I commend you for giving us such a thorough review. We also have a local St. George’s brewery here in Virginia, it would be interesting to see how the two compare.

    • Dave June 12, 2014, 12:11 pm

      Thanks, Brianna – appreciate you acknowledging my efforts :) Would love to try the St. George’s in Virginia sometime.

  • Bob R June 10, 2014, 7:41 pm

    VERY useful, and fun research too. Are there any microbrews or brewpubs in Addis? I saw your mention of wines in the comments above – very curious about those. Just about every nation on the planet produces wine and more often than not, even in non-traditional wine areas such as Ethiopia, we can be pleasantly surprised by the wines being produced.

    • Dave June 12, 2014, 12:14 pm

      Hi Bob – There’s a German place that brews two beers, both of which are pretty good. Other than that, not any microbrews or brewpubs that I’m aware of in Addis. There’s a new slew of wines that came out a couple of months ago, so I’ll be posting a review before the end of the month. Already found one that I like quite a bit.

  • Mary {The World Is A Book} June 12, 2014, 7:10 am

    I’m not a beer drinker but my husband is and I can’t wait to show him this post. He likes to try the different beers around the world. We live in San Diego where there has been an increasing amount of microbreweries. This was an interesting read.

  • Maria | Travelling Buzz June 12, 2014, 5:31 pm

    I’m not a beer-loving person but it’s always curious and interesting to see other countries beverages! You should come to Bulgaria and taste our local beers and FOOD for sure :)))

    • Dave June 14, 2014, 8:58 am

      Hi Maria – I’d love to travel to Bulgaria soon! I’ve always enjoyed the food and drink in Eastern Europe, but have not made it there yet. I’ll be sure to get some good leads from you before I go.

  • Samantha June 12, 2014, 5:53 pm

    I am not a huge beer drinker myself but I love collecting the beer labels from each country visit. My partner misses Ales! He is all beered out here in the Czech Republic! We even have chocolate beer!

    • Dave June 14, 2014, 9:30 am

      That’s a nice way to collect souvenirs! I will often pick up any beer paraphernalia available – a good memory and a unique gift for friends at home.

  • Ashley and Alex June 12, 2014, 6:58 pm

    Great post! Alex and I are always trying to find local beer (and wine) when we travel. Loved your breakdown of all the beers and their ratings. I will definitely stay away from some of those sweet lagers!

    • Dave June 14, 2014, 9:35 am

      Thanks, Ashley! It was a labor of love. Glad to hear that you guys search out the local beer and wine when you travel, I find it really enhances your experience in the destination.

  • Jules June 14, 2014, 9:49 am

    As a beer lover I was excited to read this post! Awesome reviews. Shame we can’t get any of those beers in Australia, or maybe we can, I’ll have to keep my eye out now at some of the international liquor stores. That made me thirsty, time for a cold one!

  • Ashley @ A Southern Gypsy June 15, 2014, 10:10 am

    Great reviews Dave – I love beer – I’ll have to remember these when i make it there or if I happen to see them in the stores. Thanks for linking up to the #SundayTraveler

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