Supermarket Sweep – Part 1

Having mentioned in my last post about the odyssey that is, searching for your next beer(s) and realising that not all beer has to be limited edition, hard-to-find or expensive to be in with a chance of finding a top drop.  With this in mind, this post will be the first of a short series of posts where I will buy, drink and review the offerings from supermarkets.  Not just any of the bottles on sale, just those that are brewed and sold as the supermarkets line of ‘in-house’ beers.  Dale would be proud….proud and very orange….and camp. I digress.

In no particular order, other than that determined by my random mothbeergeek abilities, I will kick things off with Tesco.  It’s safe to say that every supermarket store is slightly different from the next, but I have, and will be, trying to shop in the larger of the respective stores (prices correct as at 30/09/11).

Tesco Finest* Traditional Porter,  330ml bottle,  6% abv, £1.49

Brewed at the Harviestoun Brewery, this porter is widely understood to be their popular dark beer, ‘Old Engine Oil’.  I can’t say whether this is the exact same recipe, but it is definitely relabelled and is now part of Tescos finery and it certainly doesn’t disappoint.  As you open the bottle the rich coffee aroma is hard to miss.  It pours dark, no surprise there and its large coffee tinged head makes it difficult to pour in one go.  This dissappears very quickly, so no spoon needed or moustache correction required.  First taste is of sweet chocolate, which gives way to an impressive bitterness which sticks around for the duration.  Coffee is the dominant flavour from all of that roasted barley goodness.  All in all I liked this beer and will buy it again for a very reasonable £1.49.  However, I didn’t agree fully with the tasting notes which describe a “wickedly viscous…dark ale”.  If anything it is a little thin, but this is only a bone of contention because the bottle tells me something which the beer doesn’t deliver.

My only other grumble is a general one with the well known ‘Finest*’ branding.  Surely the finest thing to do would be to stock Harviestoun Old Engine Oil? but my underdeveloped corporate brain is happy not to understand this.  Also, when I see an asterisk, I’m looking for a footnote or some sort of disclaimer? Is there one, or is Mr Tesco just messing with us?

Tesco Finest* American Double IPA, 330ml bottle, 9.2% abv, £1.99

In danger of reinventing the beer reviewers wheel here, and as with the Traditional Porter this isn’t a new product on the shelves.  This is the Tesco branded Hardcore India Pale Ale (IPA) brewed by Brewdog.  I’ve read recently that one discerning beer drinker and Hardcore IPA lover tipped their bottle of this down the sink as they couldn’t abide it.  This could be an indication of a poor imitation or maybe just a bad bottle/batch, but I needed to try it for myself.  I really should have done a side by side review here, but as this is more about the supermarket branded beers on offer I decided against it, but it is difficult not to draw comparisons.  From memory the real-deal is much more orangey in colour whereas this was a darker caramel coloured beer.  It smelt fine too with the tropical fruits you’d expect from this brewery.  First taste tells me straight away that this is much much sweeter than the original and the alcohol is not hiding!  My opinion on this is that the hop profile is dumbed down or that the bottle has been sat around for too long and the hops have lost their power.  Hops certainly aren’t there to cover either the sweetness or the alcohol in a beer, but as I’m expecting to taste Hardcore IPA I know that the hops should be there to balance it out.   As a beer in its own right I actually thought it was fine as I liked the warming alcohol and the spice, but any fruity hoppy goodness that I’d expect from a double IPA was absent.  Don’t get me wrong, there was bitterness in abundance but I have to say this is rather more a Beechams Lemsip bitterness, which as the beer warms up can be a little unpleasant.  While I don’t recommend drinking strong beer quickly to anyone else,  in my opinion this 9.2% beer is best drunk while it’s still cold!

Tesco Finest* Belgian Wheat Beer, 750ml bottle, 4.9% abv, £2.99

Having missed the good weather at the weekend this was never likely to be that inspiring on a dark cold evening in October, but in the name of research I opened it anyway.  This is another Finest* product and the label tells me that it is traditionally brewed by the renowned Huyghe Brewery in the city of Melle, East Flanders (of Delirium Tremens fame).  It is an unfiltered beer brewed with orange peel and coriander.  It pours straw coloured and cloudy and has a slight fruity aroma.  Decent carbonation but the head doesn’t last.  It tastes sweet like the foam penny- sweet bananas and I guess a little orange coming through, quite pleasant and a smooth drink.   There is some spice but that and the other flavours fade away very quickly leaving what I found to be a minty after taste – a little weird.  It’s certainly not the best wheat beer I’ve ever tried, but you wouldn’t grumble if you were given a few glasses while sat in the sun.  I actually think that if it was 1% stronger it would be much improved, just to give it some attitude, but hey we should all be tempering our taste for strong beer because the nanny state say so!

Tesco also do a Finest* Abbey Beer, 750ml bottle, 6.5% abv £2.99 (brewed by the Brasserie Du Bocq, Belgium).  This was £2.99 too far me on this occasion.

Overall I’ve been fairly impressed with the beers on offer by the breweries on behalf of Tesco.  They are well priced, they actually look ok on the shelf, although the Porter and the IPA have the edge over the boring Wheat label.  I was also pleasantly surprised to find the likes of Harviestoun and Brewdog behind the Tesco fascade.  As for Finest*? well you can be the judge of that as my personal opinion is that any product in a range touted as Fine, should be.  If you call your whole range Finest* then I think it dilutes the brand somewhat.  Of the three I would buy the Porter again.  The IPA is only 6p cheaper than the real deal if you were to cross the road to Sainsburys, well at least it is for now (read here, here and here if you want to understand why it will soon be much more expensive).   Next up in the enthralling Broadford Supermarket Sweep Series will be Sainsburys, I bet you can’t bloody wait!

“Hey, the next time you’re at the checkout counter and you hear the beep [beep, beep],  think of all the fun you can have on SUPERMARKET SWEEP!”  

Would someone please pass me a beer…

12 thoughts on “Supermarket Sweep – Part 1

  1. Yeah, there’s some decent beers out there on supermarket’s own ranges. Asda’s London Porter isn’t bad at all, and M&S’s strategy of getting established brewers such as Adnams, Crouch Vale and Meantime to brew theirs means that their range is actually pretty bloody good. It can be done well, if done right. I’ve had that Porter and I enjoyed it. Like you say, for the price….

  2. Leigh, I agree on the Asda London Porter (Shepherd Neame I believe) and thanks for the heads up on the breweries working with M&S, I’ll report back soon.

    Ghosty, I’ll check that out…I hope they do! I’ve not been to M&S for beer much, so I’m most looking fwd to that post!

    Cheers guys.

  3. I’ve just been to Tesco in Bradford and they have pretty much halved their beer section but I did pick up a bottle of TSA Glencoe (premium Wild Oat Stout).
    Yes supermarket selections have improved but its all down to how good that particular branch is.
    I think good beer has always existed in Supermarkets but I think each generation discovers beer in their own time. I remember people saying Waitrose used to stock Dogfish Head!

    • Rob, Yes they have a poor choice there now…are we talking Canal Road? TSA sounds good though. It is strange how different they stock from store to store, but I have asked the question before (in store) and they say it’s purely based on the analysis of what sells in a particular area…shock horror! Dogfish Head in Waitrose!!!! just think of the trade they’d do now.

  4. As I’d said earlier Dave, after spending so much time in shops and on specialist beer web pages I niaively hadn’t realised so many brewery/supermarket beers had popped up doing this. Particularly in M&S..

    I had tried some of the above from Tesco and know that Morrisons have done it too, they regularly do a Titanic beer under their banner (or did at least)

    Be interested in reading more, great idea this

    • Phil, I’ve done the same. I have bought the odd few bottles from my local Asda: Ilkley, Saltaire, Sierra Nevada Pale and Duvel, actually,…wow that ain’t a bad choice now I see it on paper. I’ve always looked past the rest though bar a few of them like Old Tom and a few of the Fullers etc. Most looking fwd to checking out M&S now. Reporting back soon.

  5. Pingback: Supermarket Sweep – Part 2 « broadfordbrewer

  6. Pingback: Supermarket Sweep – Part 3 « broadfordbrewer

  7. Pingback: Supermarket Sweep – Part 5 « broadfordbrewer

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