Category Archives: buying 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.

Boak & Bailey’s Golden Pints 2014

Prompted by Andy Mogg at Beer Reviews, here are our nominations for the best bevvies, bars, book and blogs in the world of beer in 2014.

Bearing in mind that we live a long way from where the action is and haven’t been abroad, our choices are perhaps a bit parochial and conservative. In general, though we try to keep a bit of distance and remain objective, you might also want to cross-reference this lot against our disclosure page. And who knows how this list might have looked if we’d written it yesterday, or tomorrow.

Best UK Cask Beer: St Austell Proper Job

Proper Job pump clip.After much over-thinking, we decided that we wanted to recognise a beer from one of our local breweries, of which we have drunk several pints every week, usually at the Yacht Inn in Penzance, and which consistently delighted us — that is, made us say ‘Ooh!’ and ‘Ah!’ The peachy, pithy, juicy aroma gets us every time, laid over a clean, fresh-tasting beer with no rough-edges at all. Through compromise rather than design, it’s been an American-style IPA at session strength for some years, which is now apparently all the rage. We expect to drink lots more of it in 2015.

Best UK Keg Beer: Brew By Numbers Cucumber & Juniper Saison

Brew by Numbers Cucumber and Juniper Saison.At first, we struggled to think of any keg beers we’d drunk often enough to form a strong opinion — we dabbled with a lot of one-off glasses in Manchester, Leeds, Sheffield, Bristol and London, but didn’t go back for seconds of many or any. Then we recalled this beer which we enjoyed back in June and liked enough to seek out for a second session. A gimmicky beer from a brewery whose beers we don’t find universally brilliant, it nonetheless knocked us for six — the beer equivalent of a classic ‘fruit cup’. (We have also found it good in bottles, but not as good as from the keg.)

Best UK Bottled or Canned Beer: Thornbridge Tzara

Thornbridge beer bottle caps.The most convincing Kölsch you’ll taste outside Cologne and, debates over style and stylistic sub-divisions aside, one of the best lager beers around. The most impressive thing about it is the malt character — solid enough to chew on. Not flashy but classy, and a real demonstration of brewing skill. (Here’s what we said back in February.)

Continue reading Boak & Bailey’s Golden Pints 2014

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.

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?)

B&B’s Golden Pints 2013

Cheery-beery!

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 →