There are some journeys in life that you have to take, while there are others that you will gladly wriggle out of at the first opportunity. Taking the decision to review ‘supermarket beer’ seemed like an inoffensive thing to do at the time, but in doing so it has made me realise that not all beer research is fun research. Let’s just say that I have a new-found respect for the guys and gals that do this gig on a regular basis and provide us all with the information we sometimes rely on to find the gems and avoid the polished turds.
With this in mind it will come as no surprise that I took ‘that’ opportunity to shirk my responsibilities and bring in the hired help. Negativity aside, it has come as a pleasant surprise that a few people have been interested in the outcome of the supermarket reviews to date, (Tesco and Sainsbury’s), and one chap was even enthusiastic/interested/supportive enough to offer to drink-along with me. Seeing this as a gift from the gods I quickly recruited him to do my dirty work. The gun for hire is none other than Tyler Kiley, chef to the not so rich and infamous (at Mr Foleys), opinionated statesider, beer enthusiast, blogger and all round top chap. He found himself in Asda one evening and with my bleatings ringing in his ears and in the spirit of the moment he bought Asda’s Extra Special Ale. So rather than mess with his words, over to Tyler:
I have been asked to attempt to come up with a bunch of tasting notes and my opinions on Asda’s Extra Special range of premium ales. These beers are made by Britain’s Oldest Brewery Sheperd Neame. I don’t know much about this brewery because I’ve only ever tried one of their regular ales and I wasn’t all that impressed by it. They seem to be doing a lot of beers for the nationally known grocery stores. They also produce one of the Sainsbury’s ‘Taste the Difference’ range which you can read about in David’s second ode to supermarket beer. You can pick these up in a gift pack that Asda do for a reasonable price of £5.49 or just pick up the individual ales on their 3 for 4 bargain (prices correct at 12/10/11). The gift pack includes: 2 bottles of the Whitechapel Porter, 1 of the Gentleman Jack Dark Ruby Ale and 1 of the Golden Ale. I decided to try these in order of ABV lowest to highest, so that means Golden Ale first.
Asda’s Extra Special Golden Ale, 4.5% abv, 500ml, £1.70 (ea)
At first glance it is what it says it is, it pours golden with a thin white foamy head, smells of floral hops and tastes like you would expect a typical golden ale would do. Not too hoppy but with a slight bitter taste. In my honest opinion I am somewhat surprised by this beer, it’s not as bad as I thought it would be, but that doesn’t make it good. Golden Ale is drinkable but not something I can see myself picking up in the near future, or ever again in this beers case. The neck of the bottle says ”A well-balanced fusion of malt & floral hop, with a clean and dry citrus finish”. I can concur with this statement but again doesn’t make me want to buy this again. I can’t say there is anything wrong with it per se, but it’s one of those beers you would buy if you just can’t make up your mind while on the beer aisle at Asda. Safe, simple and boring.
Asda’s Extra Special Gentleman Jack, 5.0% abv, 500ml, £1.70 (ea)
Next up is the Gentleman Jack a dark ruby ale. This is not to be confused with the fantastic bourbon of the same name coming from the Jack Daniels distillery in the States. Onto the beer, it’s a ruby ale with a thinnish tan head, aroma is of roasted malt and toffee. At first taste it’s quite sweet and in this guy’s opinion, easily drinkable. I wasn’t expecting much after the lovely time I had with the Golden Ale but it has a pleasant aftertaste and would be a good pick-up if you’re stuck or just starting out with Real Ale. As you get through the pint, and as it warms to room temp the bitterness comes through quite a bit and the nuttiness of the ale comes through in full. I would buy this beer again if I was stuck and wanted something that wasn’t offensive to my taste buds, it would be a beer that would hit the bottom of my trolley one more time. The neck of the bottle says “A nut-brown premium ale with a fruity hoop aroma & bitter flavour notes“. Again, I wont argue with this seeing that the brewery probably knows more than I do, but I still pick up toffee on the nose and on the tongue.
Asda’s Extra Special Whitechapel Porter, 5.2% abv, 500ml, £1.70 (ea)
Last but by no means least is the Whitechapel Porter. It pours dark and with a thick brownish head, aromas of chocolate and slight chili. Taste is pleasant enough, has a hint of dark bitter chocolate and a bitter spiciness towards the back of the tongue. Now this is probably the best of the “premium ales” because it’s at the very least drinkable, to the point where you feel that you’re enjoying it more than the rest! It is your standard Porter, though drinking it makes you feel warm inside and to be quite honest with the dark days of winter coming you could do worse than picking this beer up. The spiciness stays with this beer throughout which isn’t a bad thing, it’s quite an improvement on the other two Asda beers which is probably why they include two of the Porter in the pack and only one of each of the others. It does get better when it gets warmer even though the bottle says “serve slightly chilled“, I think room temp would be a better temp for this beer so that all the flavours can be noticed. The neck of this bottle says “A dark ruby traditional porter combining underlying roasted malt flavour with spicy hop notes.” So this is the best of the bunch and would recommend this beer more than the rest. So next time you’re on the beer aisle, this is a good, robust porter and can be a must buy if you haven’t already tried it.
So there you have it. Based on Tyler’s appraisal I would summarise the Asda’s Extra Special range as underwhelming, but with the Porter being the pick if you do want to try one. As with the other supermarkets I do think that there are delusions of grandeur in their branding, a grandeur that builds the customers expectations and ultimately determines the ruthlessness of their potential reviewing. Afterall, at £1.70 per bottle when bought individually, or £1.37 per bottle if bought in the gift pack, price is hardly a selling point, given that they are on the shelf next to some great beers for only £1.89.
Thanks again to Tyler and his true grit and steely determination to see this review through. While he TUI’d (Typed Under the Influence) into the small hours last night, I was resting up and preparing for Round 4 – Marks & Spencer.