Most of us shop in supermarkets some or all of the time and there’s no denying that, at their best, they offer a variety of beer at very reasonable prices. Here’s our guide to ferreting out the best supermarket beer.
UPDATED 12 August 2013
- If you’re not fussy, you’re lucky: buy whatever’s cheapest and enjoy!
- If you’re not sure what you like, buy whatever looks interesting and give it a go — it’s not a huge waste of money and if you find a bargain favourite, it could save you a fortune in years to come.
- Watch out for ‘value’ beers. They’re often so weak as to be not much more than shandy and so, even if they’re cheap, they’re not good value.
- Be aware of funny bottle or can sizes: 275ml lager bottles, for example, are often hard to tell apart from standard 330ml bottles. Cans are often 440ml — far less than a pint.
- Look at the ingredients. Caramel is a colouring agent; some beers use only hop extract; and maize in a lager is usually a sign of cost- and corner-cutting. None of these are hard and fast rules, though, and there are beers we like which use these ingredients.
- The bottled versions of British ales aren’t often much like the version you’ll have tried in the pub. They’re usually stronger and often filtered, pasteurised and artifically carbonated. This isn’t in itself a bad thing, but do be aware that it will change the beer’s flavour.
- Thought not everyone is sensitive to it, beers in clear and green bottles can more easily become ‘skunked’ — that is, develop unpleasant aromas because of the action of light upon volatile hop compounds. On the whole, we’d advise avoiding clear-bottled beers, but you might need to find this out for yourself…
- In X for Y offers (3 for £4, 4 for £5, etc.), stronger beers represent good value based on their usual retail price, e.g. Fuller’s 1845.
- Bottled stouts, such as Titanic, can represent a significant upgrade in flavour from Guinness for not much more money, especially if purchased in X for Y deals.
Some of our favourite bottled British beers in the supermarket
- Young’s Double Chocolate Stout, London Gold and Bitter.
- Brewdog Punk IPA.
- Fuller’s ESB, Bengal Lancer and 1845.
- Brakspear Oxford Gold and Triple.
- Adnam’s Bitter and Broadside.
- Worthington White Shield.
- St Austell Admiral’s Ale and Proper Job.
- In recent years, Marks & Spencer have significantly upped their game. We’ve recently enjoyed, for example, their range of ‘single hop’ British ales. Their bottle-conditioned Lancashire mild (brewed by Thwaites) is really excellent.
- It’s worth looking out for the annual Sainsbury’s British Beer Hunt when the range of beers temporarily expands to include more interesting brews.
- Most supermarkets have a genuine Czech lager at a bargain price. They’re not always brilliant but they’re rarely bad, and do represent great value for money.
- German wheat beer is hard to get wrong and many supermarkets have a decent ‘own-brand’.
- Own-brand Belgian beer is more hit and miss — often, despite ‘finest’ or ‘taste the difference’ branding, it’s very sweet, relatively weak and sometimes downright nasty. Again, though, give it a go, because it might appeal to you.
The best of the big breweries
- Leffe Blonde and Brune are often discounted and are very good beers with a distinctive character, though some might find them a little sweet and lacking in complexity.
- Hoegaarden remains the standard-bearer for the Belgian wit style. It’s not only a decent beer but arguably the best of its type.
- Pilsner Urquell, though it sometimes suffers in the packaging and transportation process, is usually a reliably flavourful, bitter Czech classic.
- Worthington White Shield (Molson Coors) is another beer with a lot of history. It improves with age and is a little piece of British brewing tradition often available for under £2 a bottle.
- Guiness Foreign Extra is a delicious strong stout which doesn’t get half the credit it deserves. We’ve bought beers that cost ten times as much and don’t deliver half as much flavour.
- For making ‘half and half’, Thwaites’ canned Dark Mild is excellent value, if rather bland on its own.
- Canned London Pride isn’t a patch on the stuff in the pub and is worse than the bottled version (we blind tasted them), but is still very drinkable and often on sale.
- Canned Bass pale ale has quite a bit of character — possibly the most of any canned beer we’ve tried.
The canned bitter Cains make for CO-OP is better than, e.g., John Smith’s, and very drinkable, for a comparable price.(They no longer stock this.)
We’ll keep this page updated as other thoughts occur to us and as we get suggestions from other people.