Category Archives: buying beer

News, Nuggets and Long Reads 01/02/2014

Marston's revisionist keg range.

It’s Saturday! But wait — before you rush off to bomb around the town centre on your BMX and buy Pick’n’Mix at Woolworths, here are a few things we’ve spotted during the week.

→ The picture above shows Marston’s new range of keg beers branded and sold under the ‘Revisionist‘ label. Though some will inevitably groan at a big player with a poor reputation among beer geeks ‘jumping on the bandwagon’, we can’t deny that we’re intrigued.

→ Meanwhile, we also hear that the same brewery is putting some beers that have been packaged, to their detriment, in clear glass, back into amber (brown) bottles. They are also planning to do more bottle-conditioning. Good news, we think.

American brewery North Coast is to begin distribution in the UK via Left Coast. We’ve never tried their beer so have no idea if this is good news, but Old Rasputin is in The Sacred Book, so we’ll be keeping an eye out for it.

A nugget of trivia from Brewdog

Long reads

→ This week’s tips for saving to Pocket: a piece from Punch on ‘the art of drinking alone’ by Brad Thomas Parsons (via @allesioleone) and another excellent piece from Good Beer Hunting with some timely commentary on contract brewing.

→ BBC News Online seems to be running a story about beer once a week at the moment. Last week, it was women in beer; this week, some pondering on the Rheinheitsgebot. Next week: what does ‘craft beer’ really mean?

Around the Blogoshire

Stephen Beaumont has named the well established Allagash his American brewery of the year. He makes the case well and we have added their beers to our hit list.

→ David ‘Broadford Brewer’ Bishop has this week’s most inspiring home brew recipe. Well, not a recipe — just a germ of an idea, but a good one: the dankest beer ever. (Would 1001 Inspiring Ideas for Home Brewers be a good book?)

Magic Rock Brewing

B&B’s Golden Pints 2013


It’s that reflective time of year again when we try to remember a beer we drank in January.

When we forget about a great pub we visited in March. When whatever we say will make someone angry. When we offend person X by ranking person Y above them.

But it isn’t about us. It’s about the consensus that emerges from fifty such posts across the blogoshire. With that in mind, here are our few drops in the ocean.

(With thanks, as ever, to Mark Dredge and Andy Mogg for organising.)

Best UK Cask Beer

The cask ale we’ve enjoyed the most this year was probably Oakham Citra (4.2% ABV) at the Wellington in Birmingham, which we could still taste all the way back to Penzance.  But the cask beers we’ve enjoyed most often have to be St Austell Proper Job, St Austell Tribute, Spingo Middle, Penzance Brewing Co. Potion 9 and — brace yourselves — Bass Pale Ale. Let’s warm up by making sense of that:

  • 1st place: St Austell Proper Job
  • 2nd place: Oakham Citra
  • 3rd place: PZBC Potion 9

Read the rest of our Golden Pints after the jump →

Craft Beer as Retail Category

When high street wine retailer Oddbins sent us a press release announcing a 179% increase in sales of craft beer in their stores during the last year, we immediately wondered how they were defining the term.

Oddbins own-brand craft beer.For retailers, this isn’t a purely academic question: they just want to keep track of whether people are buying whatever the hell craft beer is, and whether they should invest more in it in 2014.

(Wouldn’t it be interesting if Oddbins became the first national chain of high street craft beer shops? As it is, they’ve decided to get into the brewing game with an own-brand ‘collaboration’ beer, pictured left.)

Anyway, here’s what we gleaned from a few email exchanges with Oddbins’ PR people and head office staff:

1. The opposite of ‘craft beer’ is ‘mainstream beers’, which list includes  Hoegaarden, Spitfire, Bishop’s Finger, Hobgoblin, Stella Artois, Fosters, Peroni, Nastro Azzurro, Becks and Corona.

2. They believe ‘craft beer’ must be local, and so even some beers they consider non-mainstream are not included in their ‘craft beer’ category, e.g. Septem, Fix and (this is where the fault-line might lie) Samuel Adams Boston Lager.

3. Here’s their rather mission-statement-like definition in full: ‘… brewed by relatively small brewers and cider producers, local to our shops, who make beer or cider of outstanding quality with passion and integrity’. It won’t stand up to much challenge in a debating hall — ‘If a customer returns a bottle because of lack of passion, do you give refunds?’; ‘How much passion is there in your cash-in own-brand craft beer?’ — but it gives them something to work with.

4. These are some of the brewers whose beers they think are in the ‘craft’ category:

5 Points
Art Brew
Bristol Beer Factory
By the Horns
Celt Experience
Cheddar Ales
East London Brewing Co
First Chop
Fyne Ales
Innis & Gunn
Joe’s Cider
Liverpool Organic
London Fields
Long Man
Old Dairy
Once upon a Tree
Pressure Drop
Red Willow
Rocky Head
Sunny Republic
Tickety Brew
Vale Brewery
Wild Beer
Windsor & Eton
XT Brewing

Innis & Gunn might be the most controversial inclusion — few geeks have much time for what they (we) see as a range of novelty beers with nice labels. On the whole, though, it’s the kind of thing we’d expect to find if someone told us a shop up the road was selling ‘craft beer’.

There is some kind of discernible shape there in the fog.

The Ups and Downs of Supermarket Beer

In 1989, Roger Protz provided The Guardian with a round-up of the best beers available from the high street for drinking at home. Across all the major supermarkets of the time (including Gateway…) he found homebrew kits, Pilsner Urquell, Budvar, Tatra Pils (Poland), Tiger lager, Old Peculier, some nasty-sounding, very weak own-brand German lagers, plastic bottles and cans. Among the oddities were Thurn and Taxis Kristall Weizen in Tesco and Biere de Garde Jenlain at Sainsbury’s. There was no American beer and not much from the UK that wasn’t bitter, mild or very weak lager. There’s a sense that he was really hunting to find anything worth writing about.

In 1991, for the same paper, he wrote (with disclaimers about American beer) of the appearance of Anchor Steam and Brooklyn Lager, along with German and Belgian wheat beers, in specialist off-licences. Most branches of Tesco, he said, now had an interesting selection of imported beers including ‘Belgian monastic ales‘.

In 1993, Stuart Walton, writing for The Observer under the headline ‘Designer Beers’, declared that ‘waves of new beers from several sources have been hitting our shores unrelentingly’, and mentioned a few new arrivals, among them Timmerman’s Framboise and Schöfferhoffer wheat beer. (He was also excited about Corona and Kirin lagers.)

By 1994, Protz was able to report that an imported beer craze was in full swing, and his round-up included news that Sainsbury’s had launched, of all things, an own-brand gueuze, joining a Trappist beer and a bottle-conditioned English ale on their shelves. Safeway, meanwhile, were selling an attractively packaged box-set of ten British ales with a substantial booklet of tasting notes by Barrie Pepper. In the next ten years, as we remember fondly, the same supermarket would introduce an own-brand Kölsch ‘Cologne-style Lager’, Vienna lager, wheat beer and raspberry wheat beer, courtesy of Greenwich’s Meantime.

In a sense, that would seem to be a high-point of enthusiasm for beer on the part of supermarkets which have since stepped back a bit from the weirdness of gueuze and own-brand beer writing. A decent selection is now standard in most supermarkets, with occasional festivals and pushes.

Its worth noting, however, that the CO-OP, which Protz declared a write-off in 1989, now generally has as wide a selection of beer as Tesco had at that time when he declared them the best on the high street.

For those who are interested, in 1989, Budvar was 75p for 330ml; Urquell £1.25 for 660ml; Tatra Pils was £2.09 for a pack of four bottles of unspecificed size; and Old Peculier was £1.79 for three bottles.

And here’s a little thing we wrote about buying beer in the supermarket prompted by the Pub Curmudgeon.