Friday, 30 January 2015

Craft Nerd vs Supermarket Beer - Part 1

My friend Ian kindly volunteered to write up this experiment and I for one salute his commitment to taking one for the team and sorting the wheat from the chaff for all hardened supermarket beer buyers amongst us. If you'd like to compliment his hard work (or send him abuse of any kind), he can be found on twitter or untappd and i'm he sure would welcome a chat with you. It's all Ian from this point onwards:

Craft Nerd vs Supermarket beer

There’s no doubt that the last few years have seen unprecedented growth in the UK craft beer scene, going against the general trend of a declining beer market, so of course the beer shelves of our supermarkets now look very different to even 3 or 4 years ago. Aside from the availability of beers from the better known craft breweries such as Brewdog and Thornbridge, the supermarkets are also trying to sell craft beer under their own labels. In a recent discussion with fellow “enthusiasts” we picked this as an area of the market that is likely to grow further in 2015. So this seemed like a good time to sample a selection of what is currently out there…..

I set myself the challenge (I realise not that much of a challenge….) of only drinking supermarket label craft beers for a week, with a minimum of 2 beers per evening. My beers were a pretty even split between Marks and Spencer, Sainsbury and Tesco. Would they be a decent set of accessible craft beers at a competitive price or just a cynical attempt to latch on to a growing trend?

Day 1 – Friday


Marks and Spencer Sovereign Golden Ale – Elgood and Sons – £2 as part of a 3 for £6 deal – 500ml
I have to admit I was more optimistic about the M&S selection as they use a number of different breweries to produce (mainly?) bespoke beers for them. This was a surprisingly distinctive beer, with a very dominant bubblegum flavour on top of a biscuit base. Sounds slightly odd, but it worked well. I would definitely buy this again at this price. Rating 7/10


Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference IPA – Marstons - £1.66 as part of a 3 for £5 deal – 500ml
After a good start I have to say this was back to earth with a bump. If I hadn't been writing this up it would have gone down the sink. Virtually no aroma, a bland beer with a dreadful metallic taste. This was a clear bottle and I wonder whether it was past its best. Why do breweries still put beer in clear bottles? Rating 3/10


Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference Celebration Ale – Black Sheep - £1.66 as part of a 3 for £5 deal – 500ml
After the previous disaster I wasn’t overly optimistic opening this. This stout seems to be well regarded and it was certainly an improvement, although pretty light in flavour, more like a porter for me. Drinkable but not one to seek out. Rating 6/10

Day 2 - Saturday



Marks and Spencer Greenwich Red Ale – Meantime - £5 – 750ml
This was easily the most expensive beer, so became my Saturday night “treat”. It’s a well made beer, but at 4.0% I think it is too weak and lacks a bit of body. It needs to be better than this to justify the high price tag, so on that basis I wouldn't buy it again, something like Moor RAW is a much better beer in a similar style at a lower price. Rating 6.5/10


Metropolitan Brewing Company Big Bad Wolf – Greene King - £1.25 - 330ml
The second shocker and a truly depressing beer all round. This is the most obviously “craft” of the Tesco own brand beers in terms of labelling and description. Described as having “huge hoppy character”, this actually tastes like a standard UK bitter that has gone a bit stale, no aroma, no hit of hops, no real flavour. Bordering on deceitful, this could put you off craft beer if you were trying it for the first time. Rating 2/10

Day 3 - Monday


The Bee 17 – Backyard Brewery/Carlsberg - £1.50 as part of a 4 for £6 deal – 330ml
The first can, which seems to be another growth market for 2015. Not strictly supermarket own brand but Carslberg’s attempt to cash in on the craft market. It’s not bad, a hoppier version of something similar to their standard lager, but I don’t really understand why anyone would buy this when Brooklyn Lager is so widely available at decent prices. Rating 5/10


Revisionist Rye Pale Ale – Marstons - £1.50 as part of a 4 for £6 deal – 500ml
This is Tesco’s other craft range and after the Greene King effort I was ready for the worst case scenario. It was actually a pleasant surprise, with all the flavours you would expect from a rye pale ale. It was just a bit watery which makes it difficult to recommend wholeheartedly, but at this price it is a decent introduction to something a bit different. Rating 6/10

Day 4 – Tuesday


Revisionist Hefeweizen Wheat Beer - Marstons - £1.50 as part of a 4 for £6 deal – 500ml
By this stage I have to say I was beginning to crave the serious flavour hit that I get from the sort of beers I usually drink. This beer didn’t give me that, it was similar to the previous beer in that the profile was right, but it was watery. There are lots of top hefe weizens available for £2 or so, such as the classic Weihenstephaner or Franziskaner, so no need to buy this even with a 50 pence saving. Rating 5/10


Marks and Spencer Southwold Winter IPA – Adnams - £2 as part of a 3 for £6 deal
Another beer with a bit of pedigree from a good brewery. This had the most flavour of any beer I sampled, a pretty serious bitter hop hit, not the most subtle drink in the world, but a damn site better than much of what I drank this week. I’d buy this again for £2. Rating 7/10

Final three days to follow

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