Thursday, 19 May 2016

Lost In The Supermarket... (BEER REVIEW)


'Craft' beer in supermarkets is nothing new, after all Brewdog have had a presence in Tesco for over six years, but recently there appears to be a concerted effort amongst the big five (and discount retailers) to supercharge their beer aisles. With sales of beer stagnating across larger food retails outlets, it's about time there was a more diverse offering, and generally speaking, most drinkers are as receptive to a bargain pale ale as they are to a limited release Barrel-Aged Imperial Stout. 


With the increasing proliferation of beer-focused Independent shops in West Yorkshire, I don't often look to buy beer with my weekly shop, but Morrisons' new lines caught my attention and I picked up a mix of beers from established breweries that i already know i like and some intriguing efforts that i was hoping to be pleasantly surprised by. 


First up was Harbour Brewing's Session IPA. Sainsbury's also stock Harbour's IPA in bottles, so not exactly new to Supermarkets, but still promising - I've had quite a few Harbour beers on keg and cask and have always found them to be reliably satisfying. However, I wasnt massively keen on this can - initial taste was very metallic at first, quite muted and without the tantalising aroma i'd expect for the style. As it warmed up slightly there was a pleasant caramel maltiness, but it was slightly forgettable ultimately, nothing to dislike nor recommend. Harbour's Antipodean IPA was a significant improvement - dry, sweet and peppery hop character, golden hue, light bodied and fruity with a long bitter finish. I've never been a massive fan of Aussie hops, but this showcases them well and left me wishing i'd bought a couple more.
Next was an IPA from Sail and Anchor - a Australian Import bought over by Shepherd Neame. Shepherd Neame and import rings alarm bells for me, usually because if its half decent they'll start brewing it under licence and it'll end up as a pale imitation of the real thing. In comparison to Harbour's UK slant on the Antipodean IPA, it was clear i needn't have had that concern, as this IPA tasted papery and sweet, kind of like a craft-line IPA from a larger UK brewery trying to ice-pick their way back into relevance with a syrupy, halfway house effort. 


Hardknott have been here, done that as far as Morrisons are concerned. Azimuth and Infra Red have been widely available across the North for some time, as was Code Black until Morrisons decided it wasn't quite meeting their sales expectations and sadly gave it the elbow. Intergalactic Space Hopper is a new line, and wacky label aside, fits in with the rest of Hardknott's range of thoughtful, creative beers. This is clearly heavily hopped, with a enticing aroma, but restrained and rounded on the palate. There's plenty of lemony, earthy notes and it's incredibly moreish. Hardknott are clearly good ambassadors for getting 'craft' into the mainstream, and have managed to keep supplying good beer at supermarket prices without skimping on the recipe.


The final beer i bought was Marshall Blonde. Yes, as in the amp-producer. I tried not to judge the beer by the label but looked so 'rock and roll' it was hard not to, and i bought it pretty much expecting it to be a bit crap. Brewed by Icon Beverages, their website describes the company as making beer for people who want to buy drinks from all their favourite musical icons in one shop. If you feel that Motorhead wine, or Status Quo Cider would vastly improve your evening, then check them out. Turning rebellion into money indeed. Nevertheless, the beer itself isn't actually a bad fist at a Belgian blonde. Plenty of banana and coriander, but ultimately it's a tribute band rather than the real thing.


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Hit and miss then, but generally i wasn't unimpressed. In relation to a possible threat to the independent nature of modern Breweries and Bottle Shops, there's definitely a desire to grab a slice of the pie when it comes to supermarkets and beer, but i think that ultimately supermarkets will always be wide of the mark in getting the best beer they can offer, as there's always a level of compromise on price point. Anything that gets decent beer in the hands of curious drinkers is positive, but once interest is piqued, novice beer enthusiasts will always seek out knowledge and expertise from the indies. Hopefully supermarkets will provide an entry point for a lot more converts.

Words - Gareth Pettman