Bottom Shelf Beer: Kingfisher, Taj Mahal, and Flying Horse

Drinking the Bottom Shelf

Will Gordon drinks his way through the bottom shelf of the liquor you don’t have to.


My friends Tim and Katey got engaged last week and hey, good for them. When I saw their online announcement I spent several seconds being legitimately and selflessly pleased for them. Then I finally got around to making the whole thing about me, and I got pissed all over again at some of the reactions to my own recent engagement to Bottom Shelf research director Emily.

Why do so many engagement well-wishers feel compelled to takes sides regarding who got lucky? Tim and Katey's announcement was met with the usual assortment of harmless "Yay"s and "Good going"s and "Katey has a boyfriend?"s, but also quite a few of the maddening pronouncements "Tim is sooo lucky" and "I guess Katey isn't necessarily UNlucky" and so on. I mean, if I had to marry one of them, I'd probably pick Katey, who is blonde and smart, but it's not as if Tim is without his charms. He provides her with discounted beer and sporting goods; she provides him with everything else. It's a fair trade, and their friends need to stop keeping score. I blame myself, though, because we share a lot of friends and I should have had the troublemakers put down in early January when they made good on their impromptu resolution to make me feel unworthy of my own fiancée.

We've spent a lot of time singing Emily's praises here on the Bottom Shelf; in fact, sometimes we get so caught up discussing her youth and beauty and stain-removal skills that there's no time left to address Indian beer (this won't be one of those times, though: Just another six or eight paragraphs to go). But that's no reason for all of our friends to keep telling me how lucky I am to be marrying her. She's great, but the woman is not without flaws. Did you know, for instance, that I am settling for a woman who has never made me a hamburger?

It's true. We've known each other for nearly three years, and in that time she has never so much as heated me up a frozen premade patty. Don't get me wrong, I love her anyway. But would I love her more if she cooked me a hamburger? Well, one would have to assume so, but I'm sure I'll never know. We don't even bother to fight about it anymore. I just get my hamburgers elsewhere.

On rare occasion, however, we reach the sort of perfect compromise upon which all successful relationships are built. These are the occasions when Emily procures hamburgers for me, and Sunday afternoon was a grand example of such procurement.

Emily has friends with a grill and a backyard, and one of these friends is my new best friend. Her name is Amy and she is the best person in the world. These are the things I know about her: She made me a great hamburger; she seems to be an engineer of some kind, and an aspiring boxer; she has tattoos on both forearms. One says "Odyssey" and I didn't get a good look at the other one, so let's assume it says "I Am Perfect In Every Way Or At Least The Only Way That Counts, i.e., The Way Of Making Will A Very Good Hamburger."

After this kind and gifted hamburgress made my lunch and saved my happy home, I rewarded Emily with a tour of some of Allston's filthier bars and then dinner at her favorite kind of ethnic restaurant, which is the Indian kind, which I like for the eating but not much for the drinking. To me, Indian food's best taken out or maybe buffeted at lunch, because if I'm having dinner at a restaurant, I would like to drink beer, and if I would like to drink beer, I would like it to not be shitty, and that's often a problem at restaurants featuring the cuisine of less-alcoholically inclined regions. I don't like Indian restaurant staples Heineken and Amstel, plus I'm way too worldly to get drunk on geographically mismatched booze anyway. I always order whatever seems most exotic and am almost always disappointed.

I was prepared this time, though, because a couple weeks ago I did an in-home taste test of the three Indian beers at my liquor store: Taj Mahal, Kingfisher (actually brewed in New York, but we'll call it Indian-inspired, since they sell it at most Indian restaurants), and Flying Horse.

Kingfisher was the worst of the bunch. It tasted like knockoff Heineken, which I realize might sound fine to a lot of people, but it's knocked off in an even mustier direction than the original. It was otherwise bland and simple, with little character other than a bitter metallic edge. Kingfisher tastes like your tongue got sprayed by a nickel-eating skunk.

Taj Mahal's not so bad. It starts with a sweet corny taste that marks it as a mass-produced cheapie, but it's not unpleasant. There's a nice light caramel malt note underneath the corn syrup, but it finishes up with a no-good vegetal blast that reminds me of bad tequila.

Flying Horse is the good stuff. It's crisp and serious, with a fruity-cidery essence that lingers over some nice yeast and malt. It tastes lighter than its 6% ABV, and it's your best choice the next time you're out celebrating a good hamburger.