Amstel & Beck’s Ice Battle It Out
Indian Beer sales by volume are dominated by one style – lagers however there is a much more complex category system that exists that separates normal lagers from “strong” lagers. The system has to do with price points. Did you know that 85% of all Beer sold in India at present are in fact strong beers?
Entry Level, Mid, Premium, Super Premium are the categories you’ll find here.
UB lager Portfolio
Entry Level – UB Export (normal), KF Strong (strong)
Mid Level – KF Blue (normal), KF Storm (strong)
Premium – KF Ultra (normal), KF Ultra Max (strong), Heineken (normal)
Super Premium – Amstel (strong)
Price points determine target audience and they make a huge difference especially in Tier 2 markets.
The big players are definitely engaged in a battle for volume share. At this time, the two players really going head to head with each other are UB/Heineken and AB InBev.
UB holds 51% Market Share Vs. AB InBev 25% (Source: Economic Times – (https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/industry/cons-products/liquor/ab-inbev-sees-a-tippling-point-to-uncork-new-products-in-india/articleshow/63406293.cms)
AB InBev India Portfolio
Image Source: https://www.beveragedaily.com
Entry Level – Royal Challenge (normal), Foster’s (normal), Knock Out (strong), Hayward’s 5000 (strong)
Mid Level – Beck’s Ice (strong)
Premium – Budweiser (normal)
Super Premium – Budweiser Magnum (strong)
Let’s take a look at their latest IMFL (Indian Made Foreign Liquor) Beer offerings and see how they stack up against each other from a consumers’ perspective.
I’ve chosen to pit UB’s Super Premium offering, Amstel Vs. AB InBev’s Mid level offering, Beck’s Ice. Honestly both these labels are new in the market and I see both being European brands that can actually be pitted against each other instead of Bud Magnum. Besides this there is only a mere 5 Rupee difference in pricing between Amstel’s 500 ml Can and the equivalent Beck’s Ice offering. Bud’s Magnum on the other hand is a Rs. 150 for a 500 ml for a 500 ml can – 40/45 Rupees more than either Amstel or Beck’s.
Let’s see how they stack up.
Amstel Super Premium Lager
Price (Karnataka): Rs. 105/ 500 ml can
Brewed in Mysore by UB and part of the Heineken family, this new Premium Lager was launched at the end of May 2018. It is designed to compete against Carlsberg’s Elephant & Budweiser’s Magnum.
It is available in 500 ml cans and 650 ml bottles.
This lager is brewed with several adjuncts similar to others in the UB portfolio. Base grain of Malted Barley followed by Rice/Maize/Millet, Corn Syrup and Sugar.
Amstel – The Brand
- Found in 1870 in Amsterdam as Amstelbrouwerij (Amstel Brewery)
- Named after the Amstel River that was used as a cooling source for brewing.
- The first Dutch brewery to export cans in the 1950’s.
- Acquired by Heineken in 1968.
- Dutch Variants – Amstel Light, Amstel Lager & Amstel Zero.
- International Markets – Amstel Radler, Amstel 1870, Amstel Free.
- India – Amstel Super Premium Strong Beer
The packaging is similar to a traditional Amstel bottle or can in the Netherlands. The same green, gold and red colors, logo and design.
Pours clear, pale golden with a thin white head and light lacing. Carbonation is good for a lager and head retention average to poor. The rocky light head doesn’t last a long time and eventually collapses.
On the nose definitely malty and no fusel alcohols. On warming, you may pick up some alcoholic notes and some floral spiciness from the hops used.
On the palate, super smooth, light bodied, clean and crisp. Sweetness here from the malts/adjuncts is minimal unlike most other strong lagers in the same category, which tend to be cloying. Bitterness is minimal.
You wouldn’t realize this is a strong lager which for India is quite a statement in itself. Well made and it is a worthy competitor in the premium strong beer segment.
What I don’t understand is why UB would add adjuncts to this version when the original Amstel Lager recipe has none? If you’re branding this is a Super Premium Lager, why do that?
The answer lies within the product range manufactured locally. None of the domestic beers made are all malt. Kingfisher’s Ultra Max which is priced at Rs. 120 (15 Rupees higher than Amstel) is also made with the same set of adjuncts.
My guesses are you’ll see an all malt product with their yet to launch Craft Beer line up!
Price (Karnataka): Rs. 110/500 ml can
Becks Ice is available in 500 ml cans & 330 ml bottles. These batches are from Maharashtra but expect local batches eventually from their brand new Mysore state of the art factory. You will also start to see Beck’s Ice on tap shortly.
What makes this Beer stand out from the rest is it’s ingredients. No adjuncts whatsoever meaning a Beer made from the 4 basic ingredients – Malted Barley, Hops, Water and Yeast.
Beck’s – The Brand
- Established 1873, Bremen – Germany
- Beck’s is from the surname of one of the founders, Heinrich Beck.
- The original Beck’s recipe has never changed. Still brewed according to the 1516 Purity Law (Reinheitsgebot). Water, Barley Malt, Hops (From the Hallertau Region) and Beck’s own propitiatory yeast strain.
The packaging is certainly very different from the traditional Green Beck’s bottles and cans once is used to seeing abroad. The all Silver livery is modern, simple, classy and streamlined.
For the 330 ml bottle, Beck’s have introduced a flip top similar to what you will see on a Tuborg or Kingfisher Ultra bottle. The bottle is also clear. Normally, Beer is best preserved when you use brown bottles and less so with green bottles. Clear bottles are generally avoided to prevent skunking.
The only exception to this rule is you use modified hop extracts that do not react to UV rays and hence do not get skunked.
Yellow, clear, excellent carbonation with a fluffy white head. Definitely the best head retention, Froth and lacing I’ve seen in the Indian strong lager segment. Outstanding!
Malty almost nutty/biscuit like. No detectable fusel alcohols on warming. Slight skunky hop aroma reveals itself on warming.
Super smooth mouthfeel, light bodied , low hop bitterness and not overly smooth on the palate. No harsh bitterness in the finish.
Not as hoppy as the Beck’s I remember from Germany but the recipe will work for India. In a media release they did mention that they have kept the purity law intact but have in fact modified the recipe for India by dialing back some of the bitterness.
The samples I originally tried were from cans but I did find a difference with the bottles – they tasted slightly skunked/stale compared to the cans.
An update this post will be made once both the can and bottle from the same/similar production/batches are taste tested side by side. The reason being, you’d assume AB InBev to use hop extracts so the product is immune to UV skunking in bottles.
Check the reference section at the bottom of the post to read more about beers getting light struck and the right way to store and serve Beer.
Leaving that anomaly aside, for a premium strong lager brewed in India, AB InBev have rolled out a clear winner with Beck’s Ice.
It is safe to say that both UB and AB InBev have come out with two excellent variants for the Strong Beer market.
My personal choice over both would be Beck’s Ice for a couple of simple reasons – no adjuncts , better head retention and overall flavor profile. It’s been confirmed that Beck’s Ice will have a draft offering on tap sometime in 2019. I’m a huge fan of draft. Nothing on the grapevine yet about Amstel on tap!
Of course, both would benefit from an IBU bump with more hops but aren’t all of you sick of hearing that India is not ready for hoppy beers? Really?
All that can change with YOU! Start drinking and demanding hoppier beers at your local bar, brewpub and from Beer manufacturers both Commercial and Craft.
Aren’t you all fed up, no wait – not just fed up but FUCKING fed up of Sugar in everything? I see a change slowly happening in the spirits/cocktail world in India with a shift to fresher ingredients and bitters. That only indicates one thing, Indian palates at least in more developed or “mature” metros are changing. The same applies to Beer.
We all know that Bangalore loves Hops. Local reputable craft brewpubs now have at least 2 or 3 types of Pale Ales/India Pale Ales on tap now.
So, start embracing HOPS!!! Who knows maybe we’ll get Hoppier beers from both Commercial and Craft brands alike.
If you were wondering why the frequency of blog posts slowed down towards the latter half of 2018, it’s because of events, conferences, travel and falling ill that put a spanner in the works.
A proper blog post takes hours to do from mentally preparing the structure to doing background research and finally formatting the finished piece. I don’t believe in falthoo (slang for BS) work!
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Happy New Year Frothers – May all your dreams, visions and goals come to pass this year. Stay Focused and Positive. Drink Responsibly and Enjoy Every Sip!
Cheers & Stay Frothy!
JJ The Keg
- Beer Storage & Serving – Click HERE
- Beck’s Ice India Facebook Page – Click HERE
- AB InBev Facebook Page – Click HERE
- Amstel Facebook Page – Click HERE
- UB Home Page – Click HERE
All Images Courtesy: Tales Of Froth, UB/Amstel, AB InBev or as otherwise indicated