Thursday, October 23, 2008

The McBone Beer Journal: Harp

Sometimes in life you have to read the fine print. Harp Lager, the label boasts, comes "from the brewers of Guinness." Maybe so, but the bottle in my hand did not come from the St. James Gate Brewery in Dublin, nor even the Great Northern Brewery, Dundalk, where Harp was born. Nay, this lager was not crafted in Ireland, as illumined by the inconspicuous lettering on the side of the bottle: "Brewed and bottled by Guinness Brewing Company, Saint John, New Brunswick, Canada. Product of Canada." Also, both Guinness and Harp are controlled by the parent company Diageo, a multinational firm that owned at one time--God help us--Burger King.

Should this bother me? I don't know. Is drinking a Harp the equivalent of scarfing a Whopper? I have an increasing love for local beers crafted in small batches. On the other hand, Guinness is a world-class stout with a worldwide demand. That demand is met by building breweries overseas. I would rather have Canadian-made, Diageo-owned Guinness than no Guinness at all and really I don't think I would even be having these issues if Harp weren't such a humdrum beer.

The problems begin almost right away. Nothing wrong with the bottle, of course, and the label is elegant and pleasing to the eye. Not so pleasing is the pale color of the lager itself, reminiscent of a certain American counterpart that begins with the letter "B." The pour produces a thin head and there is no nose to speak of, and from first sip to last this beer is stubbornly bland. What flavors are to be found, and boy was I searching, are so inconspicuous as to be irrelevant. Maybe a malty tone here, a half of a hop there. Bitter? Only very, very slightly.

It's not that Harp doesn't know what it wants to do, it's that it doesn't seem to want to do anything. Really though I'm sloshing the stuff around my mouth and mostly detecting certain tell-tale unpleasantries: that sort of imported macro-brew staleness that indicates maybe the bottle has been sitting around too long, has maybe traveled too far, perhaps underwent a temperature change or two and basically was made and handled without any love whatsoever. While there is slightly more flavor to be found here than in a typical American lager, the whole experience really smacks of the lamer "imports" of the world, like Heineken. One could argue that Harp is great with Guinness in a black and tan, but I say: codswallop! Don't ruin a good stout with a weak lager. Use Bass Ale instead.

Look, Harp is a somewhat serviceable beer and not too expensive. But really, why bother? The promise of the Guinness name is made early, and quickly proves hollow.

McBone Rating: 1.5 McBones.


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