I first heard about Chieftain Pale Ale via twitter, when someone mentioned that it would be on sale in Aldi the week leading up to Burns Night.
It appeared in store last Thursday, but as I don’t normally shop in Aldi, I have no idea how long it will be in store for. It wasn’t with the rest of their beer on what passes for shelving, rather, it was stuffed into a basket in the middle of a random aisle along with a a load of other "Scottish" goods.
While the attractiveness of the display was questionable, there’s was no denying the attractiveness of the price, being a very reasonable £1.39 a bottle. This puts it slap bang in the middle of the 4 for £5 (£1.25 a bottle), or 4 for £6 (£1.50 a bottle) supermarket offers that have been available for the last couple of months. Having said that, it’s only a great price, if the contents of the bottle are any good, so what was Chieftain Pale Ale like?
It poured a pale yellow colour, with a loose white head. The head didn’t hang around for long, dropping to a thin ring round the edge of the glass. Think of the colour of a Czech Pilsner and you’re in the right ballpark. The nose wasn’t overly powerful, but did reveal some bitter orange notes.
It was quite lively with an initial rush of carbonation round the mouth, before it settled down a bit, although it wasn’t overly carbonated. It was the lighter side of full bodied, but not watery, just that really refreshing type of body from a beer that isn’t too sweet. Just like the nose, the flavours were on the restrained side too; with some light, almost faint, citric marmalade flavours, leading to a slightly sweet lingering aftertaste.
It wasn’t a complicated beer, but that was sort of explained on the label:
... designed to slake the thirst of all you folk in need of well-earned refreshment.
I’d just come home from work and wanted a beer that wouldn’t make me think, that I could just drink, rapidly, and feel all the better for doing so. I had three bottles, one after the other. The first hardly touched the sides and I didn’t take notes. The second, felt slightly sweeter, maybe because I was concentrating, so I could try and get something coherent down on paper. The third bottle slipped down much as the first had and didn’t seem overly sweet.
So as a don’t think thirst quencher, this fitted the bill perfectly; that £1.39 per bottle in Aldi at the moment, is pretty good value as far as I’m concerned.
I’ve always passed over the Waitrose own brand beers, probably because they stock Thornbridge Jaipur. I thought it was about time I tried them and found out what they were like.
First up was their German Pils, which poured a pale yellow colour, that lightened, or darkened depending on what you held it up against. The head was one of those that was reluctant to get going, but then burst to life and produced a massive, very loose, fluffy white head. It didn’t last and dropped to pretty much nothing after a few minutes.
During the pour, a noble hop aroma came streaming out of the bottle, but after the pour, you had to cup your hands over the glass to really get anything. It was a sweet marmalade kind of aroma, with vague remnants of stale carbon dioxide.
It felt pretty full bodied in the mouth, with lots in the way of sweetness and little in the way of counteracting bitterness. There was a bit of a mouth tickle after the initial sweet onslaught, but it was brief and made little impact in the building sickly sweetness. The aftertaste was all sweetness, with vague hints of orange about it.
I normally get about halfway down a bottle of German Helles or Pils before being put off my the sweetness, but this was just too much for me right from the outset. If it had had a decent level of bitterness like Jever, for instance, it might have been OK, but it was just sweet, sweet, sweet, followed by a bit more sweetness for good measure. Really not my cup of tea at all…
To be fair, once I got to the bottom of the glass, it did feel slightly less sweet and that it had slightly more bitterness about it, but only just.
Next up was the Czech Pilsner, which poured a similar colour to the German Pils, maybe slightly more golden, with less of an anemic urine kind of appearance. The head was good and solid, with little bubbles forming the thick frothy topping. While it didn’t last very long, it didn’t disappear completely, leaving a thin skin of bubbles over the surface.
There’s only so many ways a noble hopped beer can smell, it was as you’d expect; slightly grassy, with sweet orangey malt undertones. It didn’t smell anywhere near as sweet as the German Pils, but it wasn’t overly fresh with hop aroma either.
It felt pretty full bodied in the mouth, with the initial malty sweetness kept in check by a nice wave of bitterness and carbonation. The sweet orangey malt soon reasserted itself, before a, slightly sweet, but at the sametime, satisfyingly bitter aftertaste lingered for a while.
I really liked this one, there was a nice balance between the bitterness and the sweet orangey maltiness, with maybe the bitterness just edging it. I thought it was dangerously drinkable and wouldn’t hesitate to buy it over something like Budvar in the future.
I broke out my proper wheat beer glass for the Bavarian Hefe Weissbier, which poured as you’d expect, a murky copper, with a large fluffy white head. The nose wasn’t overly bready, clovey or bananay; having instead a spiciness about it that I couldn’t place.
It was a similar story with the taste, it wasn’t overly anything, other than having a strong generic spiciness about it. Cloves have a really pungent and distinct aroma and taste, this wasn’t like that, it was more the spiciness you get from lots wheat or rye malt, which is a bit unsurprising in a wheat beer.
If I stuck my neck out a bit, I’d say it mostly reminded me of bubble gum, but not overly so; it seemed to be pandering to a middle ground and you could say was pretty forgettable because of it. It was nice enough, in that it slipped down without too much though, which was maybe the problem.
I had a feeling the Belgian Blonde would be similar to something Duvel, after all, it ‘s in the same style of 330ml bottle. It poured a slightly hazy golden straw colour, due to a tiny touch of sediment in the bottle. The head was white, thick and creamy and in my Duvel tulip glass, fed by a constant stream of bubbles, it remained at about a finger thick.
The nose had some spicy undertones to it, but also smelled vaguely like the Bavarian Hefe, with some banana type aromas too.
The spiciness was carried over into mouth being there both at the beginning and the end. There was also a touch of orange and a sweetness that could be the honey that was mentioned on the label. Given the ABV, it was unsurprisingly full bodied, but at the same time, there was a certain flabbiness about it, that made it feel a touch lighter of body than maybe it actually was.
Overall they weren’t bad. I really didn’t get on with the German Pils and wouldn’t buy it again. The Bavarian Hefe was too anonymous and I think there are better wheat beers available in most supermarkets, similarly I would buy Duvel over the Belgian Blonde any day of the week. That just leaves the Czech Pilsner, which I’d have no qualms about buying again and again, I thought it was really nice.
I popped into my local Waitrose in Newmarket the other morning, I needed to pick up some breakfast and lunch. While I was there, I did what I always do, which is to have a quick scan of the beer and cider shelves, to see if there’s anything new and interesting worth buying. I noticed that they had an own label Bavarian Dunkel Weissbier sitting next to their own label Bavarian Hefe Weissbier.
This one is also made by Arcobräu and for my money, is nicer than the Hefe. Which was a surprise, as I normally much prefer Hefe to Dunkel when it comes to wheat beers. It poured a murky brown, with a massive head that dropped to a covering after a while.
The nose was full of those Germanic wheat beers aromas; a bit of crusty bread, a touch of banana, a hint of clove and a smidgen of bubblegum. In the mouth it felt just about right, with a lightish body, but with enough flavour to carry it off, so it never felt watery or flabby. The finish was all spicy, malty and yeasty, but all nicely blended together, rather than competing.
I can’t tell you the last time I had any beer from Shepherd Neame, it’s been an absolute age. I’m not a fan of beer in clear glass and I’ve found over the years that they just don’t produce beer to my tastes.
This pair made a bit of an impression when they were released a while back though, they were in brown glass for starters and also popped up on various beer blogs that I read. They certainly looked more appealing to me than the ubiquitous Spitfire and Whitstable Bay (the later of which appears to have undergone some sort of rebranding lately).
I happened to be in ASDA just before Christmas, as they had the best N beers for X pounds deal on and I needed some beer. Given that the Double Stout retails normally for around £2.20 odd, four of them for a fiver would be ludicrously good value, if I liked it.
I started with the India Pale Ale though, which wasn’t quite as expensive as the Double Stout. It poured a dark coppery brown, with a loose tan coloured head. The head didn’t last dropping to a thin covering, before dissipating completely. I had just washed my glass, so your milage may vary on this one. There wasn’t much on the nose to start with, some stale carbon dioxide and a faint whiff of bitter orange. Once the carbonic notes had dissipated, it just meant there was even less going on.
The first mouthful felt almost thin, subsequently though, the initial mouthfeel was quite full, but a slight excess of faded carbonation made it feel a bit thin at the end. There was also a slight dusty, peppery mankiness at the death, which was a bit off putting. It was a bit of a shame, as there was some nice bitter orange marmalade notes going on underneath.
I know buying beer from the supermarket is running a bit of a gauntlet, as you haven’t a clue how old the bottle is, or how its been stored. Considering you can get Jaipur in Waitrose, Crafty Dan in Sainsbury’s and White Shield in Tesco for about the same money, I see little to recommend buying this over any of them. Unless that is, that you do all your shopping in ASDA and find you quite like it, then at £1.25 for a bottle in the current offer, it’s a steal. It’s just not for me though.
The Double Stout poured a pretty much impenetrable black, with just the faintest mahogany showing when held up to a strong light. A light and frothy tan coloured head was easily formed, but dropped back fairly quickly to a patchy covering. While the nose was mostly chocolate, with hints of coffee, it was tempered every so slightly by a bit of wishy washiness, so it didn’t feel quite as full on as it could have been. That said, once it had sat in the glass for a bit, the wishy washiness did seem to depart, as the nose did appear to become slightly more powerful.
I thought it felt a bit light of body in the mouth, if I’m being honest. The flavours were nice though, subtle coffee and bitter dark chocolate, with a lingering, slightly watery aftertaste. Which I think was the issue; I just found it to be a bit wishy washy. If it had had a touch more body, it would have been really really good, as right at the death, once the wateriness had gone, the flavours were fantastic.
It was a beer I desperately wanted to like, especially with that ASDA deal making it £1.25 a bottle, rather than the normal £2.20 odd, which is a massive saving. Unfortunately, as far as my tastes go, I felt it just missed the mark, so even at that price, I’d rather pay a bit more for something else..
I saw quite a lot of love for Old Dan when it first came out, but for some reason I never bothered tracking it down to try. I thought it was about time I tried it, so picked up a bottle when I saw one in a local supermarket.
For a beer that has Bottle Conditioned front and centre on the label, it sure didn’t appear to be bottle conditioned at all. There was no sediment sliding down the bottle during the pour and none left in the bottle after the pour; just a complete absence of yeast sediment. To be honest, the first thing I thought of was that they must tank condition it and then centrifuge it, before bottling, but from the horses mouth:
Lack of yeast sediment aside, it poured a lovely chestnut brown colour with a compact head. The head didn’t last and disappeared completely after a relatively short while. The nose was all classic rich plummy stewed fruit and quite appealing. Taste wise, it was pretty much the same, full bodied, malty, with just enough of a tickle of bitterness to stop it going all sickly. The aftertaste was a lengthy affair of bitter sweet subtle marmalade flavours and was really quite moreish.
I don’t know if Marks & Spencer stocking a Black IPA is a good thing, or a sign of the end of times. Either way, I thought I should give it a try.
It poured a seriously, seriously deep mahogany red, so that it sat black in the glass. You could just get a hint of the mahogany colour when shining a very bright light through the glass. A good tan head was easily formed and sat proudly on top for some time. It eventually dropped to a good covering, before breaking up.
The nose was just chock full of roasted coffee and chocolate notes, there’s not much else to say about it. In the mouth it wasn’t as full bodied as I was expecting for the ABV, in fact, I’d go as far as to say it was too thin. Not just a touch too thin either, I thought it was seriously lacking in body.
This meant that the really nice bitter chocolate and roasted coffee flavours were all washed out and the mouth was left feeling a bit on the watery side. There didn’t feel like there was a lot of bitterness either, which I think was due to the roasted coffee flavours, as these may be masked any hop flavour and bitterness that was there.
While I was impressed to see a Black IPA on the shelves in the local M&S, I couldn’t help but be disappointed by the actual beer. Considering the selection of beers they have, there are better beers on their shelves than this…
I’m currently sitting on a train on my way to London, for the Grand Final of the Sainsbury’s Great British Beer Hunt 2013. I’m going to attempt to live blog the event, so updates might be a bit patchy and at the death, will probably appear on Twitter before they appear here. The format for the day looks similar to last year; turn up and drink some beer, have lunch while drinking more beer, find out who wins while drinking beer, then stand around chatting while drinking the winning beer until we’re thrown out, where upon we decamp to the pub.
The region I’m least shocked at is the West, as I had a feeling that’s how it would turn out. I’m agog that the Hawkshead Windermere Pale didn’t make it through in the North region though, as that semed to be the popular choice amongst the people I’d been talking to and I thought the two Maxim beers were forgetable. While I’m secretly glad that Ridgeway didn’t make it through the East region, I’m also a bit annoyed, as it means that both the Batemans beers are through. I know that this is all a matter of opinion and that I don’t like spiced beers, but I was really shocked that the Hilden Barney’s Brew made it through in the Scotland and Northern Ireland group; I’ll be avoiding that like the plague laster on.
So, I’m nearly in London. Update will come as and when, so check back…
Too busy chatting to brewers to update the blog…
The judges have all finished, the votes are being counted. It’s time for lunch…
Today is the last day of this years Sainsbury’s Great British Beer Hunt. So if you want your favorite to have any chance of reaching Friday’s grand final, you’d better pop into your local store and clear the shelves. That is, if they haven’t been cleared already, as I’ve been trying to get hold of some more Harbour IPA and Thwaites Crafty Dan, but both my local stores have been out of stock for some time.
The format has been tweaked again this year, with the beers coming from four regions, rather than five. This means that the top three beers from each region go through, so there will be twelve rather than ten beers contesting for the Sainsbury’s listing on Friday. Unlike last year, where I thought a lot of the entries weren’t so good, this year has seen some pretty damn good beer, from all over the country. Before I try and predict which ones will make it to the grand final, you can read what I thought of them by clicking on the links below:
Now for the standard disclaimer. I can only comment on the bottles that I’ve bought (or been sent, although I bought all of them anyway), as with everything on this blog, the reviews I’ve given these twenty beers are just my opinion. You may very well find that you don’t agree with me and that the bottles you have bought tasted completely different; that’s fine, beer is like art, it’s just a matter of opinion. Based on my reviews though, here’s who I’d like to see in the grand final, not that I’d necessarily put all of these beers forward given the choice:
I was very pleased to see only one clear bottle sitting on the shelves, when I first went to pick up some of this year’s Great British Beer Hunt finalists. I’m not sure I’ve had a finalist from previous years in a clear bottle that’s been any good, they’ve all seemed to suffer to a greater or lesser extent from their time in clear glass (see here, here, here and here). So while having only the one clear bottle is a definite improvement over previous years, it’s still sad to see that brewers are happily allowing their beer to go out in this kind of packaging.
I had my fingers crossed that Serendipity would buck the clear bottle trend and actually taste of something other than boiled sweet esters. It poured a light coppery colour, with a compact white head. The head didn’t last and dropped to a covering fairly quickly. I thought there was a definite penny chew ester thing going on on the nose, but my wife didn’t think it smelt of anything. Either way, there wasn’t a lot going on, especially none of the tropical fruit aromas that the label claimed would be there.
It felt quite nicely balanced in the mouth, and wasn’t too light of body. Having said that, the aftertaste was a bit on the wishy washy side and while some might say it was refreshing because of that, for me, it just felt a bit of a watery let down. I was expecting far more penny chew ester flavour, but this was pretty subdued, although there wasn’t a lot else competing with it though, especially not the dry citrus flavour of grapefruit and peaches. While there might very well have been a bit of peach in there if you visualised eating a juicy peach while drinking it, there certainly wasn’t any citric grapefruit.
While it wasn’t as bad as I feared, it wasn’t particularly good either. I have a feeling that even if it had been stored in a brown bottle, it wouldn’t have been any better.
So the big question with all these competitions is, have I saved the best till last…? I’ve known about ThwaitesCrafty Dan for a while, but I’ve not bothered tracking it down; I’m not sure why. It might be due to a preconceived idea that as a regional brewer, their output will be a tad on the conservative side and thus not very interesting. Having said that, I’ve enjoyed the few pints of Wainwright I’ve had when our paths have crossed.
Crafty Dan poured a deep burnished copper brown, with a good frothy white head. The nose was interesting, with a subtle, yet distinct freshly picked green hop kind of aroma. After a while though, you could also pick out… [It’s at this point my notes just stop, nada, nothing. I tried to buy another bottle, but my two local stores were both out of stock. So I’ll have to leave it up to you to decide what else I could pick out.]
It was massive in the mouth, with a huge body and massive upfront flavour and bitterness. Waves of sweet marmalade malt and bitter orange flavour rolled through the mouth and into the bitter drying aftertaste. You could still feel bitter marmalade tingling the tongue minutes after having a mouthful, it was absolutely gorgeous.
Having one of these is an absolute must, I’ll be shocked if it doesn’t do well.
Lavender Honey poured a light copper, burnt golden colour, with a loose fluffy white head. The head dropped to a covering fairly quickly. I didn’t get much on the nose, just a general fresh feeling.
It initially felt quite full bodied in the mouth, but as it washed down the throat, it felt a touch light. The honey flavour was pretty subdued and subtle, it was there, but you really needed to concentrate, especially to pick up any of the lavender. The generally honey flavour and sweetness built with each mouthful and whatever lavender quality was there, was more detectable in the aftertaste. It wasn’t particularly bitter, at least it didn’t feel that way, as what bitterness there was, wasn’t quite enough to counteract the honey flavours and sweetness.
It was quite a nice, light and refreshing beer, although I thought it could do with a touch more body and a touch less sweetness.
I’ve not had any beers from the Gower Brewery before, so I Wasn’t sure what to expect. Given the wording on the label, I was quite intrigued to see if it lived up to them. Gower Gold poured a slightly hazy light coppery amber colour, with a thick white head. It was slightly hazy, as it had thrown some sediment and I hadn’t noticed, so tipped it all into the glass. The head didn’t last and dropped pretty quickly to a patchy covering.
As the back label claimed that the beer had the lovely aroma of Cascade hops, I was expecting something with a pretty powerful bouquet. It didn’t really deliver, as you had to cup your hands over the glass and inhale a lungful to get any real idea of what the aroma actually was.
It felt pretty nice in the mouth, just on the lighter side of full bodied, so it was nice and juicy and refreshing. While it wasn’t overly bitter, it was balanced more toward the bitter side of things than the malt side of things. The bitterness was quite flavourful though, with subtle floral citric flavours, to complement the slightly sweet maltiness.
It was quite a nice beer, just balanced the way I prefer, with more flavour from the hops, than from the malt. While it’s more solid than stellar, it’s certainly one to try if you haven’t already.
Devon Dreamer on the other hand, has Citra in it, according to the back label; that alone should be enough to excite a few people. It poured a very slightly hazey marmalade amber colour, with a loose off white head. The haze was due to a bit of the sediment getting into the glass, mainly as this bottle was a touch over carbonated, so some of it got lifted from the bottom of the bottle when I cracked it open.
I was surprised that there wasn’t much in the way of an aroma, I was expecting a hint of ripe mango at the least. You could tell it was a touch over carbonated in the mouth, as it was tending to soft bubbles the moment it hit the tongue. Flavour wise, it was nice enough, in a subtle and well balanced kind of way, although it did had a nice bitter tickle about it. The effect of the Citra was muted, but definitely there, lending a slightly tropical flavour to the end of the mouth.
Given the other Hunter’s beers I’ve had, this one is certainly more adventurous. Although I have a colleague at work who wasn’t too impressed as he was expecting more Citra influence. As with rest of the beers I’ve tried from them, it’s not going to get a beer geeks heart racing, it’s just a good solid effort. If you like your beer on the well balanced and subtler side of things, but fancy something with just a bit more, then this might just be for you.
Let’s get the branding of this beer out of the way first. I don’t like it, but then, I don’t like the branding on any of Ridgeway’s Christmas beers Santa’s Butt; Bad Elf; Seriously Bad Elf; Criminally Bad Elf; etc. In my opinion, they’re all badly named and have bad artwork. I know they’re mainly for the US market and that you couldn’t even get them over here a few years ago, but still, I hope that the US drinkers don’t think all our beer is branded like that.
I remember at the regional heats last year, I asked a chap why he’d picked Bad Elf out of all those on offer. He said it was due to the comedy label, I could have cried. But then, that’s part of the competition, it’s not just about the beer in the bottle, it also about what’s on the bottle. So it’s definitely a case of each to their own with regards that that…
Reindeer Droppings poured a copper amber colour, with a good thick white head. The head dropped to a covering fairly quickly, but hung around for a bit before dissipating. I mentioned at the start, that this was bottled conditioned, you can’t tell from the bottle as it doesn’t mention it. Luckily, the yeast was all stuck to the bottom of the bottle, but I can imaging that some people won’t be as gentle when handling and pouring their bottles; I hope it doesn’t detract from their enjoyment.
There wasn’t a lot on the nose, just some subtle marmalade malt notes. The flavour was pretty one sided, with subtle sweet bitter orange flavours, leading to a slightly dusty, yeasty lingering aftertaste. There was a decent bitterness to it, but it didn’t feel particularly bitter, partly due to the sweetness and partly the slight dustiness from the yeast character.
The export version of this beer is 6% ABV, I can’t help but think that one of those would have been a more enjoyable experience. While it wasn’t bad, it just didn’t do anything for me, it was just a bit, well, meh.