Every so often in Beer and Metal, I review something that’s clearly not a craft beer, either because I’m having a snit about an evasive press release from a macrobrewer or because I’m hoping to stumble across a bargain in an unlikely place. (The less said about the Super Brew 15 fiasco, the better.) I’ve accomplished little in the effort, but it has produced some ridiculous columns.
Lucky Buddha, which immodestly calls itself “Enlightened Beer,” has been available in the States since at least 2007, so I’m not writing about it because I think it’s novel—rather I figure other people have, like me, walked past it in shops for years and wondered if it’s bullshit. And maybe those people want an answer from me, not from some other weirdo on the Internet.
Hangzhou Qiandaohu Beer, which is also responsible for the popular Cheerday brand, makes Lucky Buddha near Qiandao Lake in the eastern Chinese coastal province of Zhejiang. It used to be contract brewed in Australia, but the operation responsible went into receivership in July 2012. I think the beer is still distributed abroad by an Australian firm called the Lucky Drink Company.
Obviously Lucky Buddha relies on its novelty bottle, not its brewer’s reputation, to hook customers. And it’s quite a bottle. Look at that happy little fellow! Hee hee!
No, wait. His eyes. He has blank, dead eyes, with no pupils. The eyes of an abomination.
Don’t worry, there’s not a little green Buddha ass on the other side of the bottle.
The brand’s English-language website points out that the laughing figure isn’t Buddha as in Siddhartha, but rather Budai or Pu-Tai (“Cloth Sack”), who according to Wikipedia is “usually identified with or seen as an incarnation of Maitreya, the future Buddha.” I guess “Lucky Pu-Tai” didn’t test as well.
Last summer Good Morning America noted the beer’s increasing stateside popularity (“Revenue was four times higher in 2014 than it was in 2013, according to a spokesman”), but in the process repeatedly referred to this pale lager as a “pale ale,” which in the beer world is nearly as serious a faux pas as confusing Star Trek and Star Wars.
Lucky Buddha scores 63 (“poor”) at Beer Advocate and 2 of 100 overall at RateBeer (28 in its style). Now that I’ve tried it, I feel like many of the citizen reviews are just piling on: “Smells like cream corn and bong water,” reads one. “The aftertaste reminds me of a mouth full of Flintstones vitamins,” says another. “A distinct aroma of cigarettes and skunk.” “Smells of pork.” “Sweat and beef broth.” And then there’s this, from some guy calling himself Cousin Larry, who’d apparently suffered some sort of traumatic cerebral event while typing: “Basement aromas, barnyard, barnyard, leather, basement aromas, basement aromas, basement aromas.”
Jokes aside, the most common comparison is to Heineken, which has been hot garbage for years. Folks also frequently complain of skunking, or of a metallic flavor in the finish.
Lucky Buddha is 4.8 percent alcohol, and like many popular Asian beers, it’s an adjunct lager—that is, it’s brewed with rice as well as malted barley. It’s a pale straw color with a fleeting head.
- Well, I almost got that glass clean. And no, I didn’t take notes from the bottle I’d parked in the sun to photograph.
At first it does smell a little dubious—I get tin-can lid and something musty and mineral like wet concrete, but neither is overwhelming, and both taper off quickly and disappear. Otherwise the aroma is of sweet, light grains, like honey and rice porridge, maybe with a bit of apple juice or white grape. Blindfolded I might mistake it for a watery Kölsch, except there’s no hop presence at all.
Despite its lackluster head, Lucky Buddha is vigorously carbonated—I can see this working to scrub your palate between dishes during a family-style meal at a Chinese restaurant. If anything, the flavor is even more straightforward than the smell. The gently sweet malts have been caramelized to the smallest perceptible degree, and though I can’t isolate the hops, I know they’re in there—otherwise the finish would be cloying and gross, not slightly dry and chalky.
The test of a lager like this, which isn’t trying to be bold or complex, is what it doesn’t do—a light body and subtle, simple flavors make flaws hugely obvious. Can I detect anything untoward? Maybe a little green apple—an off flavor often characteristic of acetaldehyde, which you can get in a lager if the production process is rushed.
Otherwise, not much. A hint of copper penny? Boiled carrot? I’m really reaching here. Though I will say that this beer gets less palatable in a hurry as it warms. The theatrical expressions of disgust I found online appear to be from beer assholes attempting to demonstrate their superior palates by recoiling in horror at a harmless, mediocre Asian lager.
The pseudonymous Henry Deltoid, a Badoink Magazine contributor and fellow Chicagoan, described Lucky Buddha in December as “almost as exciting as watching old people sleeping,” which I guess is fair enough. Unless Henry really gets off on watching old people sleep.
To get back to my original question: Considering the ten bucks I paid for a six-pack at Binny’s, yes, this is bullshit. Metropolitan’s excellent year-round lagers cost that much. Even if Lucky Buddha is exactly the kind of beer you want—if somehow you find Flywheel or Krankshaft overbearing but you can handle Tsingtao or Singha—you’ve got cheaper options.
I don’t know. Maybe you’re one of those Etsy motherfuckers who makes expensive drinking glasses out of beer bottles. In that case, go nuts. Just don’t expect much from the beer.
Now for something Chinese that I can recommend wholeheartedly. Enemite (probably a mistranslation of “Enmity”) is the ritualistic ambient solo project of Li Chao, front man of Beijing black-metal band Evilthorn. The YouTube video above is titled “The Head / Stream / River of Death,” but I hear only two distinct tracks. (I suspect another mistranslation, but I don’t read a lick of Chinese.) At any rate, this material comes from what I think is a 2005 release called Wuyuan.
The album covers a fair amount of ground, but here Li Chao surrounds his demented vocals (he rasps, howls, gargles, and mutters) with sinister drones, layers of ghostly strings (some synthetic, some likely real), and mantralike patterns on what I’m guessing are hand drums and gongs. I hope you don’t think less of me for saying this, but if I were exploring a lightless ancient temple of uncertain denomination and heard this stuff coming through a door, I might not knock.