Advent Beer: BrewDog Black Hammer

My once yearly purchase of beer from the Scottish Brewery.

I have my reasons for not buying beer from the Scottish Brewery. They have a place though and are now pretty well known, even by non-beer drinkers. I do feel the need to try one occasionally. Mainly so I can point out to which ever non-beer drinking friend has brought them up, that they could do better. Mainly by going here, here, here or here and buying something more interesting, something you can’t get in every supermarket.

Evidently this is a variation on their regular Jack Hammer, which I’ve had once, in 2014; I didn’t think much of it according to Untappd. It poured a really dark mahogany, rather than jet black, it is a Black IPA after all. A loose (ish) tan coloured head formed slowly and dropped back to half a finger quite quickly.

The nose was thick with hops, positively reeking. Dank C hop aromas spilling out of both the can and glass. The same C hops provided a massive wave of prickly bitterness in the mouth. This upfront bitterness, was overwhelmed pretty quickly, by massive sweet coffee and chocolate roasted flavours. The segway wasn’t nicely integrated, it was quite a discordant change.

More dissonance followed, with the change from all that cloying roasted malt, back to the aftertaste of astringent C hop flavour. The brutality of the flavour change did lessen slightly as the beer warmed up, but it was pretty unrelenting. As was the sweetness; you’d think a beer with a theoretical 200+ IBUs would be searingly bitter, not cloyingly sweet.

It wasn’t that it was unpleasant, it was just far, far, far too sweet. The aggressive hops just couldn’t cope with all that dark malt. Who knows if it’s the beer, or just shoddy warehousing by Tesco. Either way, that’s my annual Scottish Brewery purchase done and dusted. Back to buying something more interesting…

Advent Beer: St Austell Korev

St Austell Korev, was the only can of beer in Tesco that fitted my Advent Beer constraints. When I buy lager from the supermarket, British brands aren’t generally high on my shopping list.

It’s not that I don’t drink lager, it’s just that I seem to need to be in a certain mood. I was hoping that this would be one of those clean and crip lagers and not one of those sweet and cerealy ones.

Sitting in the glass, with it’s large fluffy white head, atop the pale straw body, it certainly looked the part. Although, for me, that’s probably where it ended. There wasn’t really anything on the nose, initially a faint hint of stale carbon dioxide, but nothing of note.

In the mouth, it felt like it had a certain carbonation prickliness about it, not that it was particularly fizzy; it didn’t feel like the prickle was hop based. Flavour wise, it was relatively clean, with lots of those sweet grainy, cereal, flavours that some lagers seem to have. The sweetness wasn’t quite counteracted by any bitterness though, so the aftertaste was a long lingering sweet one. Not really the clean and crisp lager I was hoping for.

As I mentioned, sometime I just need to be in the right mood. Some I seem to be able to enjoy anytime of the year, others like Moravka, I can only seem to enjoy occasionally. Maybe it’s the weather, as I do seem to notice the cereal flavours less when it’s a blisteringly hot summers day. Or, it might just be that I prefer my lager to have more of a bitter bite, like Jever. Either way, Korev probably isn’t for me.

How Bad Can It Be…? Fagerhult

It turns out that Kopparberg, Swedish purveyors of apple and pear flavoured sugar water, also make beer. It can’t be that bad though, can it…?

Unfortunately, if you fancy trying this, you’ve got to buy a four pack. Currently on sale in your nearest Tesco for a fiver, it doesn’t look like there’s the opportunity to buy just the one. Which is a shame, as once you tasted it, you’re then stuck with another three cans of utter shite that you wont want to touch with a barge pole.

It didn’t smell to bad, which is probably the nicest thing I can say about it. The initial flavour and mouthfeel weren’t the greatest, but pretty par for the course for a macro lager. It then all went to hell in a handbasket, with what my wife described as an off wheat flavour, before finishing so sweet, you’d think you’d just been sucking on a sugar cube.

I thought it was absolutely, totally and utterly dire. It has no redeeming features at all and you should avoid it like the plague. If you do buy some though, then as my wife also commented, you could at least use the remaining three cans to make shandy with; presumably for someone you hate…

How Bad Can It Be…? Saigon Export

Sabeco Saigon Export

I’ll admit that I thought Saigon Export was going to be absolutely terrible, a proper sex in a punt beer. I was pleasantly surprised though.

It poured a pin bright golden colour, with a lovely fluffy white head. The head didn’t last, dropping fairly quickly, before all but disappearing after a couple of minutes. I really didn’t get much at all on the nose, even with my hands cupped over the glass and taking in a lung full. There was maybe the merest hint that the beer had been shown a hop, a fleeting wisp of grassiness amongst some vague, vague, sweet malt notes.

The initial taste wasn’t as bad as I’d feared it was going to be. I was expecting it to be cloyingly sweet from beginning to end, with pretty much zero bitterness. Instead, it was initially quite refreshing, with a tickle of bitterness riding on a wave of carbonation, that swept round the mouth, before sweet, slightly orangey flavours took over and swept down into a slightly flabby after taste.

It didn’t feel particularly full bodied, but at the same time, it wasn’t totally wishy washy, although the aforementioned flabby aftertaste was a tad on the watery side. I was also surprised at the sweetness, it didn’t grow as much as I thought it would. I’m not saying it wasn’t sweet, nor that it didn’t get sweeter, it’s just that it wasn’t and didn’t get as sweet as I was expecting. It was, shock, horror, quite easy drinking and refreshing; although I doubt I’ll be rushing out to buy more.

To be honest I was quite surprised by this, I’d already written it off in my mind, but it wasn’t actually that bad. Imagine for a moment that you’re Leonardo DiCaprio chasing after Virginie Ledoyen on one of Koh Phi Phi’s beaches, I can imagine that once you’d frolicked in the sea for a bit, a really cold one of these would be the perfect thirst quencher. It would probably work very well with a barbeque on a hot and balmy summers evening in this country too…

India Pale Ale and Double Stout

Shepherd Neame India Pale Ale and Double Stout

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. Shepherd Neame India Pale AleOnce 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. Shepherd Neame Double StoutThat 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..

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.

How Bad Can It Be…? Krombacher Pils and Dark

The bottle of Krombacher Pils states that it’s the No. 1 premium beer in Germany, so is it the German version of Carling…?

Tesco also had Krombacher Dark for sale, so in similar fashion to the Kaiserdom beers I reviewed the other week, lets find out how bad, or not, they both are.

The Pils a crystal clear golden straw colour, it was a much deeper colour than I was expecting. The head started out as a huge rocky white tower that almost cascaded over the edge of the glass, but it dropped fairly fast though and ended up as a patchy covering. It smelt sort of as I expected, with fresh grassy notes, under that though, there was a sweet maltiness.

It was quite full in the mouth, with lots of sweetness. There was a bitter prickle that cut in about a third of the way through and rode the sweetness into the after taste. However, the bitterness wasn’t enough to counteract the sweetness and it left a nasty cereal tinged flavour lingering. As I got further down the glass, the lingering flavour changed and had a distinct ash tray quality about it.

If I’m being honest, I thought this beer was pretty horrific, it was just far too sweet for my tastes. After a long hot day in the sun with the kids, I needed a nice cold and refreshing pils, this totally missed the mark…

The Dark poured an almost black, but when held up to a light revealed itself as a really dark brown, with reddish tints. A large tan head was easily formed and while it nearly spilled out of the glass like the Pils, it dropped to a ring round the inside of the glass pretty quickly. There wasn’t a lot on the nose to start with, after it had been sitting for a while though, some roasted, malty notes revealed themselves.

The body was relatively full, but it felt a touch watery. It was like it started out full bodied, but then got thinner as it sat in the mouth, which felt a bit odd. The main flavours were malty, roasted notes, but while they weren’t overly subtle, they weren’t exactly in your face either. There also appeared to be a prickle that appeared and rode into the aftertaste, but it wasn’t much.

I didn’t think this was as bad as the Pils, but I was disappointed none the less, as it was just a bit meh.

Shouting lager, lager, lager, lager…

There was an article in Sunday’s Observer, I say article, it was more of an infomercial for Tesco than an actual article. Titled “After real ale, brewers cash in on trend for ‘real lagers’“, it caused rather a lot of brewers, beer geeks and other assorted twitterers to spit their cornflakes out in disgust. According to the article, the lager industry is mounting a fight back against real ale and imported US craft brews are leading the charge.

Evidently Tesco is to launch four of the most popular; Blue Moon, Sierra Nevada Pale Ale (SNPA), Goose Island IPA and Brooklyn Lager. Blue Moon is of course brewed by Coors that well know small brewer and is a wheat beer, so not a lager. Goose Island are now owned by the behemoth that is AB InBev and again an IPA is not a lager. Similarly SNPA is not a lager and has been stocked by Tesco for a while now, so hardly being launched. Even Brooklyn Lager wouldn’t be classed as a lager by the majority of UK lager drinkers, it’s brown for a start.

It’s like the person who wrote the article just copied down what they’d been sent by Tesco and didn’t bother checking any facts. Then there’s the quote from Iain Loe of CAMRA, I really hope that isn’t what he said, as it makes no sense to me. Even if he was talking about US craft beer, it still makes no sense as the British brewing scene of older years didn’t brew anything like the Americans are brewing at the moment.

If the Observer article wasn’t bad enough, Robert Marshall then tweeted the following just before lunch time:!/RobGMarshall/status/105230405380214784

So not only is SNPA being called a lager again (the clue is in the name Pale ALE), but Innis and Gunn Rum Cask is now a lager too! I’d love to know which hops impart a smooth creamy taste, while that’s what you might get from the diacetyl bomb that is any Innis and Gunn beer, SNPA certainly isn’t smooth and creamy. I had a look in one of my local Tesco stores for the offending sign, I’d taken a marker pen to correct it, but they didn’t have one on display.

It seems to me that someone at Tesco who, on this evidence, doesn’t know anything about beer, has cobbled together a press release to advertise the fact that they’re now stocking some US beer. At the same time, they’ve produced some point of sale signage that hasn’t been checked by anyone with a clue. Then the Observer has rephrased the press release and again, not had it checked by anyone who knows anything about beer. Depressing beyond words.

We keep getting told that one of the barriers that stops people from getting into beer, is the lack of good clear information. Point of sale signage and articles like this, that are so technically wrong are not going to help matters.

Belgian Wheat Beer and Belgian Abbey Beer

This is the last supermarket beer post for a bit, I’ve still got three bottles in the store, but I really can’t get any motivation to drink them. In the meantime, here’s a couple of reviews of big bottles from Tesco’s Finest range.

The Belgian Wheat Beer poured a hazy pale yllow, with a compact white head that disipated to a ring round the edge of the glass fairly quickly. It smelt exactly like I remember Hoegarden smelling, slightly spicy, floral and with a watery lemony undertone, although my wife thought it smelt of dishwater…

Taste wise, it was nothing spectacular. I thought it was a bit on the watery side, with a bit too much lemon up front. There was a nice spiciness at the end, but it soon ended up leaving my mouth tasting of ashtray, which wasn’t so good. It was OK, but nothing spectacular.

The Belgian Abbey Beer poured a light amber colour, with a large fluffy white head. The head lasted for a long time, as it was being fed by a constant stream of bubbles. It didn’t smell of much to be honest, there was a touch of Belgian yeast character, but not much.

It was pretty much the same with the taste, totally inoffensive. There was plenty of body and the mouth feel was nice and smooth, with a bit of pepper and ash tray at the end. There was maybe some Belgian yeast character, but again, not much.

They were both OK, but pretty inoffensive and middle of the road.

Belgian Kriek Bier, Traditional Porter and American Double IPA

More supermarket beer, three different ones from Tesco’s Finest range.

Van Honsebrouck - Tesco Finest Belgian Kriek BierFirst up was a small bottle of what was claimed to be a Belgian lambic style kriek. It poured a vibrant red, with tinges of auburn. It was topped by a loose pink head that quickly dropped to a patchy covering. The nose was all sweet cherry, like a can of cheap fizzy drink. There was also some almond notes around the edges, but mainly just the overpowering aroma of sweet cherry.

The taste was similar to the smell, all sweet cherry. I could still detect a sweet cherry taste in my mouth five minutes after drinking it. For what is supposed to be a classic lambic style beer, there wasn’t even the tiniest hint of sourness. It was terrible, I’d avoid at all costs…

Harviestoun - Tesco Finest Traditional PorterTesco Finest Traditional Porter is essentially a re-badged Harviestoun Old Engine Oil, which is an old favorite. As I haven’t seen a bottle of Old Engine Oil down these parts for years, it’s a welcome addition to the shelves. It poured an ultra deep brown, so that it appeared black in the glass, you could only tell it was brown at the edges when the glass was tilted at a high angle. A dirty tan head was easily formed and dropped to a ring round the edge fairly quickly.

The nose was full of dark chocolate with hints of coffee and really appealing. The mouth feel was super smooth, with some subtle roasted notes coming through at the end. Coffee was more to the fore in the taste, with the bitter dark chocolate playing second fiddle. Really, really nice.

  • RateBeer Harviestoun
  • Tesco Finest Traditional Porter, 6%, 330ml

BrewDog - Tesco Finest American Double IPAFinally we get to Tesco Finest American Double IPA, which is a slightly tweaked BrewDog Hardcore IPA. You’ve got to give a bit of love to everyone involved for getting a beer this big and aggressive on to the shelves for a major UK supermarket. It poured a glorious deep amber colour, with an off white rocky head. The head dropped fairly quickly and formed a patchy ring around the edge of the glass. The nose was amazing, full on resinous hops. It was so powerful that I don’t even have to get very close to the glass to smell it.

The mouth feel was aggressive, with a big malty body that laid an excellent platform for the hops to invade. And what an invasion it was, full on mouth prickling bitterness that washed over everything and lingered long, long into the aftertaste. I may have had this bottle for a few months, so I think it may have lost a bit of its edge, as I’d had other bottles that have been even more in your face.

  • RateBeer BrewDog
  • Tesco Finest American Double IPA, 9.2%, 330ml