Category Archives: bottled beer

Choosing a Lager in the UK

The arrival of a new beer from Sweden on the UK market has made us wonder about the hierarchy of packaged lagers available in the UK.

The graphic below isn’t a league table, exactly. Rather, we imagined that someone was offering to buy us an entire case of lager, and then played the options of against one another, based on our most recent experiences of each beer.

So, if offered the choice between a case (or, rather, a slab) of Foster’s or one of Carling, we’d take the Carling. If we were then given the opportunity to trade up to a case of Camden Hells, we’d certainly take it.

This is based on our personal preferences and prejudices, of course — your table would likely look different because, for example, you might not have a soft spot for the curry house favourite Cobra like we do.

There’s a vague attempt at order — imports to the right; bigger UK breweries down the middle; those pitched as ‘craft’ towards the left. The wishy-washy colour coding is intended to hint at a scale from nasty to delicious, via bland (or neutral if you want a more, er, neutral term).

An attempt to rank lagers available in the UK with Schlenkerla Helles our top pick and Foster's at the bottom of the pile.

As it was samples of Fagerhult from Swedish cider-makers Kopparberg that kicked this off, we should say that we didn’t much like it — drunk on its own, it’s bland shading to nasty, with no discernible bitterness or malt flavour, just some sweet vegetal notes. It was OK with salty, spicy food (a tomato-based curry), seeming more bitter by contrast. We can’t imagine buying it over most other bog-standard brands, though, unless it was hugely discounted or, say, we were having a Swedish-themed Wallander watching party.

It’s also worth noting that we’ve heard worrying reports of a recent and sudden drop in quality of bottled Pilsner Urquell. When we last had it, it was as pungently weedy and bitter as ever but we will try a bottle or two in the new packaging when we get the chance and report back.

UPDATE: We might have been too generous to Fuller’s Frontier above, with the not-bad draught version in mind, rather than the bottles which we didn’t like at all last year.

Four From Summer Wine

Yorkshire brewery Summer Wine have been around for a few years now — do they deserve a place on our list of trusted breweries?

Trusted breweries are those whose beers rarely disappoint, regardless of whether they’re from cask, keg, can or bottle. We’ve tried Summer Wine’s beer, primarily on cask, several times, and never been overly impressed, finding them generally on the rough side.

Having been challenged over our lack of enthusiasm, however, we decided to give them another go and so ordered four 330ml bottles from Ales by Mail.

  • Pacer Session IPA (4.1% ABV, £1.97)
  • Oregon Pale Ale (5.5%, £2.06)
  • Sabertooth IPA (6.9%, £2.33)
  • Maelstrom Double IPA (9%, £2.76)

Continue reading Four From Summer Wine

Londorval & Landlorval

Last night, we blended funky Trappist pale ale Orval with two classic British best bitters, Fuller’s London Pride and Timothy Taylor’s Landlord.

Our thinking was that mixing beers with somewhat similar characteristics — pale malts, old-school European hop varieties –would add complexity through subtly harmonies.

We poured around three-quarters of a pint of each British beer and topped up to a pint with Orval.

First impressions were not good. Both blends gained a Granny Smith character that was most pronounced in ‘Londorval’. That is a component of Orval’s flavour, yes, but, watered down, as it were, it became a grating, insistent irritation.

Bottled Landlord isn’t a favourite of ours but, of the two, ‘Landlorval’ was the better blend. Still, as the pint progressed, it began to seem ever more thinned out and gutted like… This might sound silly, but like a pint of Worthington Cream Flow from a keg that’s been sitting around for months in a hotel bar.

So, there you go: Orval doesn’t improve every beer to which you add it after all.

We can’t promise that this will be the last time we blend beers with Orval but it will probably be the last such experiment we bother writing up. If you come across a good combo, let us know.

Hop Varieties in British Bottled Beer

Which hop varieties were British brewers using in 2001? And how had that changed by 2009?

When we picked up the 2001 edition of Jeff Evans’s Good Bottled Beer Guide the other week we were surprised to note that information is provided on the hops used in almost every beer listed (home brewers take note) — that is, every bottle-conditioned, CAMRA-friendly British beer then on the market.

We decided that it might be worthwhile crunching the numbers on this nice little data set and so, first, here’s the breakdown of hop usage (UPDATE: that is, hops named as an ingredient) in 2001 by percentage of mentions:

Hop varieties in British beer, 2001. SOURCE: Good Bottled Beer Guide.

We hadn’t realised just how popular Challenger was.

Continue reading Hop Varieties in British Bottled Beer

Peculiorval

Theakston’s Old Peculier (CO-OP, three for £5) is pleasant enough, but rather light-bodied and over-clean. It’s the perfect candidate, then, for blending with Orval, the rambunctious, stylishly unkempt poster child for brettanomyces.

This time (here’s last time), though we were less precise in our measurements, we went for an approximate blend of one part Orval to two parts Old Peculier. The resulting beer was very dark brown but stopped short of being black.

We knew with the first sip that this was another hit — Orval, still, but newly dark, rich and chocolatey. Now, we’re not saying it was better than Orval, just that it was nice to see Orval playing against type, doing something different.

There were flavours here that aren’t, as far as we can tell, in either base beer. Chinese five spice came to mind, including a dangerous suggestion of cinnamon (we don’t like it in beer, in general) which stayed just the right side of tantalising.

The Orval also brought out Old Peculier’s latent but muted prune and currant flavours, almost as if it were a kind of seasoning.

All in all, there was something distinctly medieval about this blend, perhaps recalling some of the fruit-laden recipes from the Forme of Cury, and we don’t hesitate to recommend it as a beer-n-TV pairing for the BBC’s Wolf Hall on Wednesday night.