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 4 February 2016
- 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 £5, 4 for £6, etc.) stronger beers represent good value based on their usual retail price, e.g. Fuller’s 1845.
- Bottled dark ales, such as Brain’s or Fuller’s, 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
- Brewdog Punk IPA.
- Goose Island IPA.
- Fuller’s ESB, Bengal Lancer and 1845.
- Brakspear Oxford Gold and Triple.
- Adnam’s Ghost Ship.
- St Austell Admiral’s Ale and Proper Job.
- In recent years, Marks & Spencer have significantly upped their game. For example, they have a house version of Oakham Citra which is excellent.
- Waitrose have, in general, the most interesting selection of beers in the widest variety of styles. Look out for beers from Thornbridge in particular which are otherwise hard to find outside specialist shops.
- Unless you live in the north in which case Booth’s supermarkets are astonishing with selection rivalling indie specialists at extremely competitive prices.
- LIDL’s range, revamped in 2015, isn’t hugely exciting on the whole but you might find La Chouffe, a strong Belgian ale; Herold Dark Lager from the Czech Republic; and Blanche de Namur, a Belgian Wit bier, all of which are very decent examples of style other supermarkets tend to overlook.
- 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 decent 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. Since 2015, it has been back in a brown bottle which does seem to help the quality.
- 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.
- Thwaites’ canned Dark Mild is really very decent and we recently declared it the best value packaged mild in the UK.
- 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.
- Adnams’s Ghost Ship is available in cans and arguably tastes better this way than from a bottle — fresher, perhaps, being protected from the light.
- Mackeson Stout is better than you might expect at 2.8% ABV and can be useful for pepping up less exciting beers in a half-and-half.
We’ll keep this page updated as other thoughts occur to us and as we get suggestions from other people.