Heady praise as tasters tackle Sevens brews
FOR the Romans it was bread and circuses; in Hongkong this weekend it is a case of beer and rugby. Today, like yesterday, bar staff at the Sevens face a relentless demand for beer to assuage the thirsts of 33,000 spectators at the Government Stadium.
This year the ales being offered include a number of low and no alcohol beers. Much of the impetus for the change has come in the wake of the Lan Kwai Fong tragedy on New Year's Eve when 21 people died, and the recommendations made about drinking alcoholin public.
But the brewers were also responding to the demands of the health-conscious demanding more low-alcohol brews.
To sample the new beers next to their full-strength counterparts, the Sunday Morning Post organised a blind tasting.
Four panellists drank their way through eight offerings from local brewers Carlsberg and San Miguel as well as Australian beer giants Carlton United.
The panel consisted of Laurie Ward, of BBC Enterprises, who is in charge of worldwide TV coverage of the Sevens; Dick Airth, one of the team of volunteers from the Hongkong Rugby Union organising the tournament; fellow organiser Peter Tung Nam-fung and former Post reporter Jennifer Cooke, who has returned from Sydney for the rugby.
First up was Foster's. ''Very bland,'' said Cooke tartly; Ward was more impressed, saying: ''Light, very nice - I could have more of this.'' Tung said he approved, while Airth remarked about the ''sweetness''.
Next up was the first of the lower strength offerings, Foster's Special Bitter, which at 2.8 per cent alcohol is almost half the strength of the original brew. Tung thought it was stronger, but Airth likened it to ''a soft-drink'', although he approved of the taste.
Ward smacked his lips favourably before turning to the Foster's representatives and saying: ''It's too cold for me; can you warm it up? I am English after all.'' Cooke described regular Carlsberg as ''a drink to take in moderation'', Tung believed it tasted like water, and Airth was unimpressed, calling it ''acrid''.
Carlsberg's Rugby Light low alcohol beer was well-received, with comments like ''thirst-quenching'', ''nice and light'' and ''refreshing''.
Lowenbrau, from the San Miguel Brewery, was fourth up, and it appeared the team's delicate palates might be suffering from hop overload. ''A good choice for the multitudes,'' said Cooke; ''very nice and very sweet'', remarked Airth; while Tung thought ittasted like the Rugby Light.
San Miguel, Hongkong's best-selling beer, was reasonably warmly received with Airth saying it ''would go well with an Aussie pie to wash it down''.
Tung was a big fan of the San Miguel Super Dry, calling it his favourite. Cooke and Airth - Ward having dropped out - were less than impressed, calling it ''bland'' and ''acidic''.
The reaction to San Miguel's NAB, or no alcohol beer being sold in bottles, brought a broad smile from public relations man Jeff Mann.
''A nice drop, it tastes like the last jug on a Sevens' Sunday would,'' Cooke said. ''A special smell; I would drink it during breaks from work,'' commented Tung.
Airth was effusive in his praise. ''It's like a sparkling water with something else; very refreshing and nice to drink at the Sevens. I would be happy to have this if they can keep it as cold.''