From 1973 until 2011, Carlsberg Lager marketed itself as "Probably the best beer in the world." That bald-assed lie made it the shame of Copenhagen, and it led all discerning citizens of the beer-drinking world to question if any Dane could ever be trusted under any circumstance. Of course, sales were always fine, especially in the soccer-watching precincts of Europe, but strength of sales is never any indication of a product's quality—McDonald's still sells the most hamburgers in America, after all—never mind an accurate gauge of a nation's soul.
But a few years ago, Carlsberg finally wised up and toned down the slogan, at least in the United States. Now they push it over here with the tagline of "That Calls for a Carlsberg," which is less outlandish but also kinda vague. What, exactly, calls for a Carlsberg? The birth of your first or perhaps best-looking child? Graduation from a locally respected community college? Completion of a court-ordered anger-management course? Fuckin' Thursday afternoon?
So while I applauded Carlsberg for removing blatant deceit from their advertising repertoire, I was still skeptical. We're dealing with a 5-percent alcohol-by-volume green-bottled imported lager (which they sometimes try to pass off as a pilsner, because I guess you can lead a Dane to the fountain of truth, but you can't make him drink). That's not a genre of beer with a real strong track record in the United States. As we've discussed before in this space, those beers don't travel well; it's entirely possible that Carlsberg tastes just fine in Denmark, but not too many Drunkspinners do too much drinking out that way. So for our purposes, it needs to still be worth a damn by the time it reaches us on our turf.
Before conducting my taste test, I had to figure out just what, in my life, might reasonably be expected to "call for a Carlsberg." It seems to be big in the Irish bars near me—I see it on tap at the sorts of places where I generally stick to Guinness and whiskey. I'm not sure I've ever seen anyone order it, but I don't go to those places at the peak hours for watching second-tier European sports. Maybe Carlsberg is big among expat followers of rugby or hurling or Formula One racing?
This is a busy season for a beer blogger, what with stout listicles and March Madness beer brackets and all the rest of that garbage, so I haven't found time to duck into the Irish bar down the street, but I tried to simulate the experience by cracking a Carlsberg while I watched the Atlantic 10 men's basketball tournament today on my lunch break. That seemed suitably sneaky, desperate, and fun.
Carlsberg is horrible! It's a total disaster from the second you pop the cap—maybe even worse than Heineken, which is not an epithet I toss around lightly. It has all of Heinie's skunk-butt traits, along with a touch of rotten banana cream.
Carlsberg is hideous. I'm getting tired of calling out shitty European lagers here, but after last week's pleasant surprise with Pilsner Urquell, and given that Carlsberg has reined in the marketing bombast, I thought it was worth a try. It was mistaken. Please don't get within an 11-foot pole of this fetid bullshit.
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Will Gordon loves life and tolerates dissent. He lives in Cambridge, Mass., and some of his closest friends have met Certified Cicerones. Find him on Twitter @WillGordonAgain. Image by Jim Cooke.
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