Cisk Lager: The Worst Best Beer In The World

Is it possible that the world’s best beer is brewed in Malta, a nation of just 400,000 souls?
There’s a bus driver named Steve in the Maltese capital of Valletta who is quite certain it is. I was chatting with Steve, a half-Maltese, half-English immigrant who’s lived in Valletta for 25 years this week and as we passed a brewery on the outskirts of town, I asked him if their brew was any good.

“Good?” he said, stunned by my apparently dumb question. “They make Cisk Lager – it’s the best beer in the world.”

I thought he was kidding, but he wasn’t.

“It’s brilliant,” he said. “You’ve got to try it while you’re here.”

“It’s the best beer in the world?” I said, still not quite believing it.

“Absolutely it is,” he repeated in his thick English accent. “They had an international contest and it won – best beer in the world. It was in the papers here.”

The sun was shining and we were enjoying a glorious day in a beautiful city. I wanted to believe him. If someone tells me that I have to try some beer I’ve never had, they don’t have to ask twice.

I waited until later in the day when I’d build up a nice thirst and then went into a shop and picked up a can of the stuff for 1 euro. It was a warm day and I expected it to be a thirst quenching lager, if nothing else. Upon first taste, it seemed excessively bitter and almost completely devoid of any discernable flavor. I thought that perhaps I just needed to get used to it, so I kept sipping away.But The Best Beer in the World, or The Best Beer in Malta, if you like, didn’t get better. With half left, I found myself grimacing each time I willed the bright yellow can up to my lips for another sip. I wanted to throw it away, but it didn’t seem right. Throw away a can of The World’s Best Beer? How could I do that, when the whole rest of the world outside Malta can’t even get a can of this stuff?

But I couldn’t finish it. I made it 2/3rds of the way through the can and tossed it. I haven’t really quaffed much cheap, bland lager since college, other than the occasional crappy beer at a sporting event or wedding, so maybe I’m too picky, but this beer tasted like something that dripped out of a sewer. A few hours later, I conferred with my wife, who had tried the same brew, but on tap at a bar and she concurred that it was swill.

I wanted to board the #52 bus to Mdina again to track Steve down, ask what on Earth he was thinking, dubbing this beer the world’s best. But the more I thought about it, Steve was right to be stoked about his hometown beer.

I’m a seeker – the kind of person who is always convinced that there’s something better on the next block. Sometimes it takes me an hour to settle on a restaurant while traveling because no matter how good a place looks, I always have this sneaking suspicion that there’s someplace better and cheaper right nearby. Even when I make a great discovery, I tend to wonder if I might have missed something even better.

That mentality is a ticket to unhappiness and a lifetime of restless wandering. There’s nothing wrong with satisfying one’s curiosity through travel and exploration but you have to learn how to master the art of appreciating what you have in your own backyard. Maltese Steve really believes that Cisk, the beer he drinks, is the world’s best.

When I lived in Macedonia, the locals were certain that Skopsko, their national beer, is the best in the world. And thousands or perhaps millions of other people around the world are convinced that the local beer they drink is the best. The point is that there is no best beer in the world – there is only the one you drink. And figuring out how to believe it’s the best one might be one of life’s great lessons.