Live Blog: Sainsbury’s Great British Beer Hunt 2013 Grand Final

Sainsbury's Great British Beer Hunt 2013

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.

To be honest, I’m quite surprised by some of the beer we’ll be drinking, as the final twelve are quite different from those I mentioned in my round-up. They are:

Scotland and Northern Ireland

North

West

East

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…

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Too busy chatting to brewers to update the blog…

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The judges have all finished, the votes are being counted. It’s time for lunch…

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Lunch is over, time to get down to business…

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Annnnnnnnnnd…

Runner-Up

Thwaites Crafty Dan

Winner

Bateman’s B Bock

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Sainsbury’s Great British Beer Hunt 2013 Round-Up

Sainsbury's Great British Beer Hunt 2013

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:

Scotland and Northern Ireland

North

West

East

  • Reindeer Droppings — Ridgeway Brewing
  • Querkus — Ridgeway Brewing
  • Lavender Honey — Wolf Brewery

If attending the last couple of grand finals has taught me anything, it’s that the judges and I don’t agree. So while I’d love to see something like the Harbour IPA, Thwaites Crafty Dan, Hawkshead Windermere Pale, Harbour Porter No. 6 or Hardknott Infra Red win, I’m not even going to stick my neck out. What will be, will be.

I’ll be attempting to live blog from the grand final on Friday. The last time I tried to live blog, I ended up consuming a ridiculous amount of beer, taking twice as long as normal to cycle home, crashing the bike on the driveway and sleeping on the sofa. I think this attempt will go slightly better, although I may end up just posting stuff to twitter

Great British Beer Hunt: Black Pepper Ale and B Bock

Sainsbury's Great British Beer Hunt 2013

I’d not been looking forward to this pair of Great British Beer Hunt entries, so I decided to try them on a single night and get them over and done with. It’s not that I dislike Batemans, I’ve drunk my fair share of XB and XXXB over the years, I’m just not a fan of gimmicky beers and I’m definitely not a fan of Bock beer; that much should be obvious from the name of the blog.

Batemans Black Pepper AleI started with the Black Pepper Ale, which poured the colour of a good Olde English Marmalade and had a loose tan colour head sitting on top. The head dropped fairly quickly to a patchy covering and then to a ring round the edge of the glass. The nose was interesting, with subtle marmalade malt notes underneath a powerful ground black pepper aroma.

The bottle came with a sachet of pepper to sprinkle on top of the beer, I didn’t use it to start with, as I wanted to get a feel for the base beer. It was nothing special to be honest, a pretty bog standard bitter, without much in the way of the bitter; all malt and no interest. Orangey malt flavours dominated, with a slight hint of mid-mouth bitterness, before an sweet, slightly dusty aftertaste.

I wasn’t quite sure what to do with the packet of pepper, was I just supposed to sprinkle it on top, or to mix it in; initially I just left it sitting on top. This had the obvious effect of making the pepper aroma even more pungent, but did pretty much nothing for the taste. So I mixed it in, although this again, didn’t really have any effect on the taste, which was a shame.

I thought this beer was going to be an absolute horror show, but it wasn’t quite that bad; I just found it boring and I doubt I’ll be seeking it out for another taste. The notes on the bottles claimed it would be clean and beautifully balanced, I didn’t think it was either of those things; it was far too malty to be balanced and too dusty, with too much character from the Batemans yeast to be clean. Finally, I’m sure some people will love the gimmick of the pepper sachet, but I don’t think it needed it, it just needed to be a bit less boring.

  • RateBeer Batemans
  • Black Pepper Ale, 5.1%, 500ml

The B Bock poured a rubyish mahogany colour, with an exceedingly loose tan coloured head. The head frothed, foamed and disappeared completely, within a minute or two. There really wasn’t much to the aroma at all, some slightly stale carbonic notes and a hint of the malt and yeast that were used in the brewing process.

Batemans B BockIn the mouth it was exactly as you would expect, full bodied and sweet, with that unmistakable Batemans character. It was almost like drinking an amped up version of the Black Pepper Ale, without the black pepper, or any hint of bitterness. There’s nothing much else I can say, it was just malty and sweet and got maltier and sweeter with each mouthful.

Working behind the foreign and bottled beer bar at the various Cambridge beer festivals, I’ve tried a fair few Bocks and Doppelbocks in my time; mainly so I can give the festival goers an honest opinion if they ask what one’s like. This beer is about as far from any German Bock, or Doppelbock, as I’ve ever had, it’s tastes like an overly malty English Ale, which I’m putting down to the use of the Batemans house yeast, rather than the use of a proper lager yeast.

To say that neither of these beers floated my boat, would be an understatement. I’m not saying they’re bad, they’re not, they’re just not for me.

Sainsbury’s Great British Beer Hunt 2013

Sainsbury's Great British Beer Hunt 2013

Yes, it’s that time of year again, the Sainsbury’s Great British Beer Hunt 2013 finals are underway, with the final twenty beers on the shelves of stores nationwide for the next three weeks. The format is similar to last years, but with five beers from each of four regions, rather than four beers from five regions. Which also means that the top three beers from each region will progress to the grand final, meaning twelve, rather than last years ten, will battle it out on the 4th of October for a guaranteed, minimum six-month listing in stores nationwide.

The pricing of the bottles in store has also changed this year. Last year, it was buy three for £4, with each of the beers having an variable individual price if you didn’t want to buy three. This year, all beers appear to be a flat £1.50, which makes some of them absolutely ridiculously good value for money. It’s also good the see that only one of this years finalists is in a clear bottle, so a definite improvement there.

Sainsbury's Great British Beer Hunt 2013 bottles 1

Sainsbury's Great British Beer Hunt 2013 bottles 2

This year the regions are broken down as follows:

Scotland and Northern Ireland

North

West

East

  • B Bock — Batemans
  • Black Pepper Ale — Batemans
  • Reindeer Droppings — Ridgeway Brewing
  • Querkus — Ridgeway Brewing
  • Lavender Honey — Wolf Brewery

As in previous years, the beers aren’t in the main beer section of the store, you’ll find them in the season aisle; this causes the same confusion every year, but there you go. I’ll be posting reviews of all of the beers as and when I try them, and I’ll be blogging live from the grand final on the 4th of October.

Sainsbury’s Great British Beer Hunt 2013 bottles on the shelf of my local store.

It Pays To Shop Around

I’m back home in Scotland this week, it’s half term, so I brought the kids up to see their Grandparents. I was quite shocked by the cost of petrol at the local garage, it’s 4p more expensive than back home, so I popped up to Dunfermline to see if it was cheaper at the big Tesco, it was.

As it happens, there’s also an Aldi, right next to the Tesco. I always have a look at what beer is available in any supermarket I visit in Scotland, there’s normally something I can’t get back in Cambridge. I also vaguely remembered someone on Twitter posting about Aldi having had a beer festival in the past, so I thought I’d pop in and see what they had. The Aldi near where we live, seems to major in beer from Batemans, so it was interesting to see that this one had more Williams Brothers than anything else. I noted the prices and wandered into Tesco to do some shopping.

When I got to the beer aisle in Tesco, I wasn’t really surprised to see that, even with a discount, they were selling the same beer at a higher price. So after picking up some supplies for a hill walking trip, I popped back across the road to Aldi and picked up a few of the cheaper bottles. Even if you wouldn’t normally darken the door of somewhere like Aldi, I’d rather not, it doesn’t hurt to occasionally pop in and see what they have. It would appear that just like with petrol, it pays to shop around for your beer too.

Sainsbury’s Great British Beer Hunt 2012 Grand Final

Sainsbury's Great British Beer Hunt 2012

I haven’t had time to write up my day at the Sainsbury’s Great British Beer Hunt 2012 Grand Final yesterday and now it’s the weekend and I have two young kids, so it’ll have to wait until next week. In the mean time, here’s the results:

Winner
Bateman’s Mocha

Runner-up
J.W. Lees Manchester Star Ale

Congratulation to them, not the result I was expecting, but I did say that I thought the judges would have different palates to mine. Here’s a few photos I took during the event:

Signage...

All the grand finalists out for tasting...

Reacquainting myself with one of the grand finalists...

Everyone getting ready for the presentations...

The winners getting their trophy...

Had to try the winner again, still don't like it...

J.W. Lees' certificates...

The winners...

Sainsbury’s Great British Beer Hunt 2012 Round-Up

Sainsbury's Great British Beer Hunt 2012

Today sees the grand final of the Sainsbury’s Great British Beer Hunt and I’ll be there! So while I drink free beer, eat cheese and listen to Jolly Olly, you can see if you agree with who I’d like to see in the Grand Final. Firstly though, you might want to re-familiarise yourselves with what I though of each of the entries, but if you don’t want to take my word for it, then you can get a quick overview of nearly all of them on Landells’ Rock n Roll Beverage. Here’s the links:

The format of the competition has slightly changed for this year, so instead of the top ten going through to today’s Grand Final, it’s the top two from each of the five regions. While this at least guarantees that the whole country has representation in the Grand Final, it could mean that some beer that deserves to be in the final isn’t. I don’t think that’s going to be the case though, as to be honest, quite a lot of the beer in this years competition wasn’t that great, at least in my opinion.

I can only comment on the bottles that I’ve bought, 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. Based on my reviews though, here’s who I’d like to see in the Grand Final:

Scotland
Williams Bros Brewing Co. – Prodigal Sun
Harviestoun Brewery – Wild Hop Gold

South East (East, Home Counties, South Coast)
Sambrooks Brewery – Pumphouse Pale Ale
Wolf Brewery Ltd – Poppy Ale
South West (Wales / West Of England)
S A Brain – Willy Nilly
Wye Valley Brewery – Dorothy Goodbody’s Blissful Brown Ale
North England
Wold Top Brewery – Scarborough Fair IPA
Beartown Brewery – Wojtek
The Midlands
Blue Monkey Brewing Ltd – 99 Red Baboons
Ridgeway Brewing Co. – Ivanhoe

I’ve no idea who’ll win, as the Grand Final judging panel will no doubt be a diverse bunch and I doubt they all share my tastes. For me though, there were three standouts, Harviestoun’s Wild Hop Gold, Sambrooks’ Pumphouse Pale Ale and Wold Top’s Scarborough Fair IPA. The Scarborough Fair IPA was my favorite, it beat the Wild Hop Gold, mainly due to it having the bitterness that I thought the latter was lacking.

By the time you’ve read this far, I’ll know who the Grand Finalists are, so you may want to check my twitter feed, as I’ll be trying to keep it up to date with developments. To be honest, I’m quite excited, I can’t wait to find out who’ll win.

99 Red Baboons and Double Espresso Premio Caffè Birra

Sainsbury's Great British Beer Hunt 2012

Blue Monkey aren’t a brewer you see much of down these parts, I think I’ve had a couple of their beers in places like The Cambridge Blue, but can’t be sure. If Twitter is anything to go by, they have a pretty good reputation, so I was pretty pleased to see a bottle of theirs through to this stage of teh competition, so that I could finally get to try one of their beers.

99 Red Baboons poured a near impenetrable black, although when held up to a light, it revealed itself to be a very, very dark reddish brown. The tan coloured head was formed without much fuss, starting off slowly and building towards the end of the pour. It looked quite compact and steady, but dropped to a patchy covering fairly quickly. I didn’t get much on the nose, in fact, there was so little, I thought for a moment that it smelt of nothing. Just at the end of a lungful though, I could a slight roasted note, there one millisecond, gone the next.

The body had a nice weight to it, it could easily have been a bit lighter, but it felt nice and substantial. There was the impression right at the start that there would be a load of roasted flavours, but they never really materialised and there was always a feeling that they were just underneath everything, but refusing to come out and show themselves. Except right at the end of the aftertaste, like a flasher exposing themselves, some roasted flavours made an entrance for a bit of an encore. It was quite nicely balanced, probably tending just toward the malty side overall, with soft, smooth chocolatey flavours. While the bitterness was quite fruity and juicy, it also felt like there was a bit green and vegetal character in there too, not much, but that’s the impression I got.

I thought this was quite a nice beer, not perfect by any means, but certainly miles better than some of the others we’ve tried so far.

Traditional Scottish Ales don’t have the greatest of reputations, some folks on online claim that the beers they contract brew for others are better than their own. However, I’ve always found their bottled beers to be fine; they’re not exactly genre busting, just decent middle of the road beers. I especially like their Glencoe, which is an Oat Stout, which I can get in my local Tesco, so I was quite looking forward to this one.

Double Espresso Premio Caffè Birra poured a jet black in the glass, only showing the slightest of brown colours when tilted and held up to a light. The deep tan coloured head wouldn’t have looked out of place on a cup of coffee, although I’m sure the head on a coffee would have lasted longer than this one, as it dropped to nothing within a couple of minutes. The nose was immense, with massive hazelnut coffee aromas piling out of the glass. It was almost reminiscent of Camp Coffee, so those hazelnut aromas might very well have been chicory, but it’s a long time since I smelt any of that stuff.

It was quite thick in the mouth, almost oily, with a massive body and lots of flavour. Again, the hazelnut / Camp Coffee aromas were present in the taste, in a massive way, pretty much wall to wall full of the stuff. There was some bitterness to it, but it was difficult to tell if that was from some bitter roasted malts, or from some hops, either way, it was a massively malt led beer. In a similar way to the Batemans Mocha feeling like it had used synthetic chocolate, this also felt like the coffee flavours weren’t quite natural, they were just too big and bold and in yer face, not integrated with the rest of it. They also felt a little on the chemically side, just not real, but then I don’t drink coffee, so I’ve no idea what kind of variety of flavours you can get from a cup.
Once it had sat for a bit, the flavours became even more in yer face and jarring. There was a lot of rediculously sweet chocolate in there as well, but again, in the same way as the Batemans Mocha, it just tasted wrong.

I’m not sure what to say about this beer at this point, I didn’t want to like it, but there was something about it. It certainly not the best coffee beer I’ve had, in fact it’s a long, long way down that list, but it wasn’t that bad and I’m sure there are plenty of people out there who’ll like it.

Prodigal Sun and Mocha

Sainsbury's Great British Beer Hunt 2012

I’d been looking forward to this one, as I’m a bit of a fan of Williams Brothers and their beer, so I bought two in anticipation of it being great. Since then I’ve read a few comments about it on Twitter and in blogs, mostly about the fact that it tastes like raspberry jam; since I love raspberry jam, I’ve been eager to crack into one, not sure why I’ve wait so long.

Billed as an Aromatic Golden Ale, I was surprised to see it pour a red tinged brown colour, it certainly wasn’t golden. A loose white head was easily formed, but dropped to a patchy covering fairly quickly. It certainly lived up the aromatic part of its billing, the nose was substantial and pretty complex. It was quite thick with general red berry type notes; I’d love to say what kind of red berries, but I couldn’t pick any one particular type out.

The initial taste in the mouth wasn’t so great, it felt a bit light of body and had a slightly carbonic edge to it. Then the raspberry jam cut in and it was like drinking a liquidised jammy dodger, it was most unusual. The mouth was then treated to quite a cutting bitter sharpness, that rolled around in a slightly watery, carbonic fashion for a bit. It was hard to know if this was from the carbonation or from the hops, but it didn’t feel particularly integrated with the rest of the beer. The aftertaste was slightly sweet, but at the same time not so sweet and mainly tasted of red fruits, but not raspberry in particular, just general red fruits.

I was picking hops while drinking this, so I wasn’t drinking very quickly and it took well over an hour and a half to finish. In that time it changed, all the carbonic edges disappeared and it became more integrated, slightly softer and rounder and the flavours flowed all the way through without interruption. It was a much better beer having sat for a bit, but it was getting a bit flabby as I finished it. I’m still not sure what to make of it though, it was odd, but not necessarily in a bad way.

The first thing I noticed as I inspected the Batemans Mocha bottle, was the little picture on the back label telling me to Serve in a large wine glass, I used my dimpled mug thank you very much. Who do Batemans think I am, Zak Avery? I also noticed that it’s a Vegan beer, with the The Vegan Society trademark logo on there as well, which is quite nice to know.

It poured a serious dark reddish brown colour, not quite what I would describe as mahogany as it was maybe a bit too dark for that, but pretty close. While the tan coloured head was a decent size, it wasn’t until I’d poured about half the bottle that I realised that the head wasn’t really forming. A swift bit of high pouring later, a semi-decent head was formed, shame it dropped to a thin patchy covering fairly quickly. The nose was rather intense, in fact, it absolutely reeked, mainly of chocolate, but with a little bit of coffee hiding around the edges. It was also really annoying, as it smelt exactly like a kind of chocolate I know, but I just couldn’t remember which one, my mind went blank. Unfortunately for me, it just reminded me of the kind of chocolate that I don’t like, I prefer mine to be dark, intensely bitter and complicated, this was all sweet and sickly.

It felt relatively full bodied, but not as full bodied as it could have been, I’m not sure if there was a lack of a bit of body, or the perception of a lack of a bit of body. To me, this beer was all about the chocolate, with pretty much no coffee at all. It reminded me in some ways of Rogue’s Double Chocolate Stout, with the chocolate flavours being almost synthetic; I think that’s what I couldn’t put my finger on with the aroma, it wasn’t an actual bar of chocolate it reminded me of, but another beer. There was a bit of effervescent bitterness around the mouth before the sweet chocolate aftertaste cut in and lingered for an absolute age. Right at the death I think I managed to find a bit of coffee flavour, which was a bit disappointing. Having said that, the coffee in the aftertaste increased the more I drank, so by the end, there was a noticeable coffee flavour, but it still wasn’t as much as I was expecting.

Not really my kind of beer, the chocolate flavours were too much and there wasn’t enough coffee.

Sainsbury’s Great British Beer Hunt 2012

Sainsbury's Great British Beer Hunt 2012

Yesterday saw the finalists in this years version of the Sainsbury’s Great British Beer Hunt hit the shelves of 300 Sainsbury’s stores nationwide. They should be in the seasonal aisle of your local store, if you’re lucky to live near one, until Tuesday the 2nd of October, with the Grand Final taking place in London on Friday the 5th October.

This year’s twenty finalists, four more than last year, have been split into regions. The top two performing beers form each region will go forward to the final, where two overall winners will be announced. The winners will receive a guaranteed minimum six-month listing in stores nationwide from November. The twenty finalists, which are currently on a 3 for £4 offer, are:

Scotland

Traditional Scottish Ales – Double Espresso Premio Caffe Birra
Brewed with double strength coffee beans which give this beer a unique character. A superb silky texture. Great with a good steak or beef dish.
Williams Bros Brewing Co. – Prodigal Sun
A delicate, fruity and aromatic blonde beer. Enjoy with fish and chips.
Cairngorm Brewery – White Lady
Bavarian style wheat beer, with additional hints of roasted malt for colour. Brewed with orange peel & coriander to give fruit flavours with a hint of spice. Good with curries, spicy food, or with barbecue dishes.
Harviestoun Brewery – Wild Hop Gold

A simple malt background and earthy English hops overlaid with citrus and spicy character from the Citra and Simcoe hops. Complements spicy foods such as Thai green curry.

South East (East, Home Counties, South Coast)

Sambrooks Brewery – Pumphouse Pale Ale
A fine citric aroma leads into sweetish cereal notes then hoppy marmalade tones. Drink with barbequed meats.
Wolf Brewery Ltd – Poppy Ale
A delicately flavoured golden ale infused with honey and fruity hops. A must with a variety of world cheeses.
Cotswold Brewing Co. for Beer Counter Ltd – Bad Elf
A light bright and floral pale ale with a bit of a punch. Try with a Thai curry.
Nethergate Brewery – Lemon Head
Lemon and ginger combine to create a wonderful zesty beer. Ideal with spicy food.

South West (Wales / West Of England)

Cotleigh Brewery – Snowy
A straw coloured golden winter ale made with pale Flagon malt and Goldings hops for a full bodied long lasting and morish ale with hints of citrus fruits. Delicious with fish.
S A Brain – Willy Nilly
A distinctive ruby ale with a traditional rich hop aroma, complemented with a fruity and more-ish finish. Goes exceptionally well with chicken.
Wadworth Brewery – Horizon
Pale gold colour with zesty, citrus and hop aromas and a crisp, tangy finish on the palate. Goes well with any spicy food.
Wye Valley Brewery – Dorothy Goodbody’s Blissful Brown Ale
A bottle-conditioned brown ale with a fruity aroma and rich full flavour. It features raisin and malt sweetness and a rounded roast-grain finish.

North England

Batemans – Batemans Mocha
A rich smooth coffee and chocolate beer made with real Arabica coffee and Belgian chocolate
JW Lees – Manchester Star Ale
Hefty body and a deep smoothness. Malt, caramel and unsweetened dark chocolate flavours with modest hopping for balance. Fruity alcohol with a long lingering finish of ripe fruit. Great with game.
Wold Top Brewery – Scarborough Fair IPA
Strong and well hopped with a pale Wold grown malt base, a triple hop blend and maize for good head retention. Serve with hot, full flavoured foods
Beartown Brewery – Wojtek
A powerful, deep golden beer full of character. Tremendous with spicy sausages.

The Midlands

Castle Rock – Screech Owl
A pale amber beer with a distinctive rich pungent hop. There’s fresh upfront bitterness, smooth citrus and a long hop finish. Drink with Lamb Dhansak.
Elgood & Sons Ltd – Indian Summer
A Premium style pale ale, with a golden hue and refreshing slightly sweet palate. Ideal accompaniment for summer foods, fish & curry dishes.
Blue Monkey Brewing Ltd – 99 Red Baboons
A dark and interesting ale, combining fruity hoppiness with a dark, malty side. Great with roasted meats and game.
Ridgeway Brewing Co. – Ivanhoe
An old fashioned, balanced, 100% English, red ale which is neither malty sweet nor overly bitter. Try with good nutty English cheddar cheese.

Sainsbury's Great British Beer Hunt beers on the shelves

I said it last year and I think it’s worth repeating again, I think that this is competition is a great thing and we should all applaud Sainsbury’s for doing it. I was lucky enough to attend one of this year’s regional selection heats and it was really interesting to chat with the members of the public who had been invited along to try all the beers and pick their favourites. I think it’s fantastic that one of the big four supermarkets is engaging with its customers in this way and I’m really looking forward to trying all the beers.