Lion Lager and Lion Stout by “Bob the Brit”
During that trip we visited the town of Nuwara Eliya (pronounced Noora Eleeya), high in the hills above the tea plantations. The town was home, in Victorian times, of the ex-pat British planters who owned and operated the vast plantations. Like many ex-pats they strove to recreate their home comforts and several breweries were opened. These breweries were able to brew alternatives to India Pale Ale.
One brewery was opened in Nuwara Eliya in 1849 by the British explorer Sir Samuel Baker; in 1881 this became the Ceylon Brewing Company.
As our tour bus approached Nuwara Eliya our tour guide (imagine an Indian version of Sallah – Indiana Jones’ friend in Cairo – “Indy my friend!”) leaned over to us conspiratorially :
“I’ve noticed that you gentlemen quite enjoy the ‘Lion’ beers. If you’re interested, we have some spare time in Nuwara Eliya, would you like to visit the bar attached to the brewery?”
Would we? Bring it on! So this group of about a dozen British tourists spent a most unusual hour in the sparse, cinder block ‘brewery tap’ enjoying both the Lion Stout and Lion Lager!
That same year, the Ceylon Brewing Company was acquired by Carlsberg and a larger second brewery opened in Biyagama, outside the Sri Lankan capital, Colombo. As far as I can ascertain the Lion Stout is still brewed up in the hills in Nuwara Eliya.
Last month we returned to Sri Lanka, visiting a hotel on the beach at Kalutara. It’s impossible to describe just how bad the roads, and how minimal the infrastructure in Sri Lanka actually is. The thirty mile drive from the airport to our resort on the coast took over two hours, and this was on the A2, one of the main highways, so a return visit to Nuwara Eliya, some hundred and twenty miles by tortuous mountain roads was out of the question.
Fortunately our hotel served Lion Lager, and (when pressed) Lion Stout.
Lion Lager is brewed to a respectable 4.8% ABV and is available both in bottles and on draught. It presents a classic pale amber colour with a bright foaming head and gently hoppy nose.
While it’s described as a pilsner style lager, I would suggest that it’s closer to a classic Budweis style of beer than a Pilsner. I spoke about this to a German tourist and her view was that it tasted “Dutch – not German” which is a good way of looking at it.
It’s still clean and crisp but with an underlying sweetness, possibly caused by the soft water in Sri Lanka.
Still very pleasant and refreshing, particularly in the Sri Lankan climate, it’s certainly worthy of four stars.
Lion Stout is only available in large 600ml bottles, and is brewed to a hefty 8.8% ABV. As such it should be treated with the utmost respect.
It’s served chilled, like other ‘tropical stouts’ and delivers a healthy caramel coloured head.
The nose is strong mocha coffee (the one with extra espresso shots); and the colour fully meets Scott’s recent description of ‘Liquid Night’ – I could not get a light to shine through this beer at all!
The taste that hits you first is of rich fruitcake, followed by the coffee and hints of dark chocolate. Then the taste of liquorice comes in and hits your taste buds until the next sip when the whole experience starts again.
Michael Jackson described Lion Stout as “a wonderfully assertive example of a tropical stout” – I’d go further and say that this is one of the world’s great brews, it’s been a number of years since I last enjoyed it, and I give it five stars without hesitation.