Supermarket Saminess

Green Bottles Standing on a Wall

Having written about the benefits of drinking at home, we felt the urge to tramp to Penzance’s three out-of-town supermarkets with a simple mission: to pick up two or three interesting-looking beers we hadn’t tasted before.

This, it transpired, is easier said than done.

At Sainsbury’s, we found nothing that persuaded us to part with our cash. The same old breweries and the same old beers took up most of the shelf-space, with a few seasonal ‘specials’ giving the illusion of variety.

Morrison’s was… well, we thought we’d somehow teleported back to Sainsbury’s. That re-badged Marston’s IPA? Check. Summer ales in clear bottles? Plenty. We left there empty-handed, too.

Finally, at Tesco, we had a bit more success. BrewDog Libertine, a black IPA (7.2%) we ought to have tried but haven’t, was newly-listed at £1.99 per 330ml bottle.

Purely because it was something different, we also picked up some Wadworth Swordfish (5%) even though (a) the concept (strong ale laced with rum) sounds unappealing and (b) we’re generally underwhelmed, and occasionally even appalled, by Wadworth’s output.

All in all, it was a lot of effort to add two beers to our stash.

Though we didn’t see much mild or stout (because it’s summer?) supermarkets do still offer a great opportunity to buy beers in a range of styles, for not much cash. For the novelty-seeker, however, it seems they’re rather a wash-out these days.

34 thoughts on “Supermarket Saminess”

  1. Travelling around the country, I’ve found that some Supermarkets are better than others. From memory, I think Asda and Tesco have been the best for local beers. Perhaps not really what you want if you live in the area, but if you’re visiting and want to try new stuff, it’s a good source.

    If you’re local though, it isn’t quite as exciting.

  2. I usually despair at the beer choice in supermarkets here in Germany, but I happened to pop into a REWE store in a small town nearby over the weekend, and found four packs of Köstritzer Pale Ale and Witbier. I’m thinking of returning and buying out the entire stock, as they were going on special, as clearly the locals were afraid to try it :)

    Apart from that, though, it was the usual Bitburger, Becks, Paulaner…

  3. (a) Thank God you can buy beer somewhere other than the government store and (b) I was pretty surprised at the selection in the Co-ops in East Lothian but then I remembered that I was not looking at shelves of UK imports.

  4. Different supermarkets can vary significantly. I don’t recall Sainsburys surprising me a lot any time I have gone there, but I can pick up decent beer for decent money, if nothing outstanding. I do recall though that ‘local’ beers seem to dominate the shelves. So in the South East we get lots of Greene King, Adnams, Sheperd Neame and Fullers.

    Our local waitrose (London E1W) has always had a good selection, and was never shy about sourcing it from further afield if it is really good.Its recently upped its selection, so we can get Oakham Citra & Scarlet Macaw, bottled Proper Job, and Purity UBU, as well as St Mungos Pils and some interesting stuff in the imports.

  5. I’m disappointed you guy use the regular prols supermarkets. I had you two down as waitrose punters.

  6. B&M Bargains usually have a good variety of bin end bottles, surplus stock etc. at discount prices. Oakham Citra seems to end up there regularly and at £1.79 for 500ml is a cracking price. There are usually some Marstons blands but on the whole the regularly-changing range usually brings some tasty surprises, and not just from UK brewers, although some indescribable Chinese lager appeared some time ago which wasn’t even worth the 69p/33ml.

  7. Have you had the Tribute Special, or whatever it’s called? Got it in Helston Sainsbury’s, and I was pleasantly surprised.

    As others have said, Tesco are probably the best of the big four when it comes to new-and-different. But not by very much. Then again, from my own experience actually going out and looking for something different is a recipe for failure, in pubs or in shops – you can end up overlooking perfectly good or even great beers because they’re too much of a known quantity, and coming home so disgruntled that you might as well have seen nothing but Spitfire and Doom Bar.

    1. We tried Tribute Extra (bottled) in a pub a few months back and didn’t like it especially. Not bad, but we’d rather have standard Tribute.

        1. Chap we were in the pub with this evening independently said the same thing. We’ll have to give it another go.

  8. Sainsos haven’t changed their lineup in years. They do that Great British Beer thing around the Autumn and I picked up Hardknott Infra Red in there last year. Too bad it didn’t win :-(

    Waitrose is my pick. Sierra Nevada Torpedo? Thornbridge Kipling and Jaipur? All under £2? Thank you very much.

    Tesco’s re-branded Brewdog effort is worth your £2 also. Hellfire!

    1. Andy — we hear there won’t be a Sainsbury’s challenge this year, which is a bit of a shame.

    2. It’s the other way round – they do their Great British Beer-Off thing, and they refresh their lineup from it. Ridgeway’s Bad King John, Lees’ Manchester Star, Bateman’s BBock and Williams Bros’ Caesar Augustus were all competition entries in their time, & they’re all regulars at our local Sainsbury’s.

      Shame they’re not doing it this year.

      1. I think the problem with stocking the winners of the beer competition is that they’re not normally the best beers that win. Manchester Star is tasty, albeit a bit strong, and I didn’t mind Bateman’s Mocha as a one-off but I wouldn’t buy any of them regularly. The rest I’m not bothered about at all.

        The only one I can think of that I ever go out of my way to sainsburys to buy is Harbour IPA.

  9. To be fair, you wouldn’t really expect a supermarket to be at the cutting edge of novelty for anything, and their beer ranges, especially in the bigger branches, are vastly better than they were in the past. My local Tesco Extra has a very wide range of both British and imported beers, although it suffers from confusing and rapidly-changing offers. They could perhaps do more to stimulate interest by having “beer of the week” features or suchlike.

    1. Well, they weren’t far off c.2005 — our local Sainsbury’s back then was selling Koelsch and Vienna beer from Meantime when we weren’t otherwise able to find examples of those styles without going to specialist offies. (Or Cologne/Vienna….) Sierra Nevada Pale Ale from Tesco was pretty exciting to find at around the same time, too.

  10. It’s a pity really. Sainsburys Truro used to have a really good range of beers local and otherwise but now seem to have settled down to a few options of the same old. And yes keltek. Shudder. Sometimes they have wooden hand or somewhere different but really you need to head out to somewhere like granet rock brewery or similar before you find anything different. If your in truro then the food box co behind mallets have something different quite often and there’s red elephant there too as well as the co-op.

  11. I Know it’s not a supermarket but +1 for red elephant in Truro – it gives me reason to accompany the missus on other mundane business. Loads of lovely beers inc Imports. Had a raging bitch Belgian IPA from flying dog in the US. Amazing beer. Lots of British stuff too. I’m happy when my sainsburies has punk IPA on offer – it’s been a while though…

  12. It does seem that any diversity on supermarket shelves has been at least stalled by the move towards discounting rather than quality in the big four at least, and common brands and own label beer all seems to come from the same places. That said, our local supermarkets all stock Saltaire and Leeds Brewery beers and I don’t know far that travels, but certainly in Leeds and Bradford, and my local Asda, which is something of a flagship for them, carries a few Yorkshire names out of the ordinary but generally those that have the capacity to provide for them.
    We are rather spoilt by having a Booths up the road in Ilkley but they only seem to have started carrying a few truly local (as in Yorkshire) brewers recently, although that’s more than compensated by the presence of Hardknott, Stringers, and Ulverston among others from their established area.
    I’ve also got to put a slightly puzzled word in for B&M: our local branch has Oakham Citra regularly, and has had Sadlers Mud City Stout in its 9% and 6.6% forms for knockdown prices. There’s an awful lot of random stuff too and in the end it’s overstock but it’s rather mysterious when the beers in question have been so well received.
    It’s clear that there has to be a level at which supermarkets will do business and while there are regional variations, they’re taking beer from whoever provides it, and there seems to be a large ‘craft’ distributor (well, it’s Marstons as much as I can see) who have a portfolio of British and American beers that they can provide to anyone from your local off licence to Asda, and despite the relabelling of things like Ringwood Old Thumper it’s still much the muchness that has been on shelves for the last 10 years.

  13. “Though we didn’t see much mild or stout (because it’s summer?) ”

    Wanted to comment on this. WHY? What is this mysterious link between beer colour and the weather? It makes no sense.

    I can see why maybe stronger beers might be more suited to colder weather when you’re not so thirsty, I can see why maybe beers that are traditionally served less chilled such as old ale might be more appropriate in the winter.

    But no dark beers at all can be considered a summer drink? Milds, porters, dark lagers? Why on earth not?

    1. We don’t find it puzzling — there’s a general perception that dark beers suit autumn/winter, golden ones spring/summer, and supermarkets are nothing if not geared towards serving general perceptions.

      We’d like to be able to buy stout/mild/porter all year round, though.

      1. But that just begs the question: why is there that general perception? There is no rational or logical reason why a dark beer would “suit” winter more than a pale beer anymore than chocolate ice-cream would “suit” winter more than vanilla ice-cream.

        It just seems like a silly old-fashioned myth in desperate need of puncturing.

          1. I was hoping you might!

            Nothing better than sitting in the garden with a nice cold pint of budvar dark on a hot day.

        1. Agreed – you can look at the popularity of stuff like Guinness Foreign Extra and Dragon Stout in Africa and the Caribbean if you think it’s an innate thing.

  14. I’ve been bored with the selection in my local Sainsbury’s (Whitechapel) for years, with the only vaguely interesting new addition in that time is Harbour IPA, which I buy occasionally. However when I visited my parents in Lanarkshire this summer, I was surprised and pleased to see the range of beers in their local Sainsbury’s. 10+ different Williams Bros. beers and several types from a good few other Scottish brewers, in addition to the same stuff I get in London. Sure, it was a bigger store, but the range was SO much better.

    The other quibble I have is about local beers available in London supermarkets. I always enjoy going to other parts of the UK on holiday and picking up local beers in the supermarket. There are always some, and I’ve got stuff in Waitrose, Co-op and Budgens that I can think of from this year. But in London, apart from the usual Fullers’ and Meantime which you can get anywhere in the country (and Camden Hells in Waitrose) you’d never know that there was a huge number of breweries here producing a vast range of excellent beer. Maybe they’re too small to get into supermarkets? Or don’t want to? I can imagine Beavertown eventually getting into supermarkets, but not yet.

  15. A lot depends on the size of the Supermarket. I would say that locally the best range is Morrisons. It’s the only supermarket where I’ve seen Dark Star and Old Dairy beers on offer.
    My local Tesco does Redemption Junction and Wandle but I don’t really rate either of them, especially the Junction.
    The prominence of all the major regionals in the bottle selection is annoying.

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