Sainsbury’s Beer Hunt 2012

Scarborough Fair IPA label

Sainsbury’s is a con­fused super­mar­ket these days. Hav­ing carved out a niche for itself with the pio­neer­ing ‘Taste the Dif­fer­ence’ con­cept – nei­ther as ‘cost-con­scious’ as Asda and Tesco or as posh as Wait­rose – it’s strug­gled to rein­vent itself for reces­sion­ary times, com­ing up with a slo­gan we can’t remem­ber but which can be sum­marised as ‘cheap­er than you might be expect­ing on cer­tain prod­uct ranges, terms and con­di­tions apply’.

Through­out the hard times, how­ev­er, they’ve retained some kind of com­mit­ment to beer with their year­ly ‘Great British Beer Hunt’. This year, we got sent four of the twen­ty beers cur­rent­ly on offer. It wasn’t quite a ran­dom selec­tion – we sug­gest­ed that we’d pre­fer beers from beyond the West Coun­try.

Blue Mon­key 99 Red Baboons (4.2%) refus­es to pigeon­hole itself with an easy style descrip­tor. It’s black, though, and the small print men­tions mild and porter. Our very first impres­sion, how­ev­er, was of flo­ral hops. Inso­far as we’re con­vinced black IPA is a thing that exists beyond the imag­i­na­tion of bored brew­ers, we thought, for one moment, that this might be it. The per­fume passed fair­ly quick­ly, though, leav­ing behind a slight­ly tart, mor­eish milk choco­late flavour. We’ll buy this if we see it.

Williams Bros Gold­en Prodi­gal Sun (4.1%) con­fused the hell out of us. ‘Aro­mat­ic Gold­en Ale’ led us to expect some­thing lighter and more cit­rusy than the brassy, sweet­ish beer that emerged from the bot­tle. The par­tic­u­lar qual­i­ty of the sweet­ness was what real­ly got us, though: it tast­ed very much like rasp­ber­ry jam. (Oth­ers, we note, reached the same con­clu­sion.) We half expect­ed to find pips in our teeth. Though it was cer­tain­ly inter­est­ing, it won’t be on our shop­ping list next month.

Nether­gate Lemon Head (4%) com­plete­ly con­found­ed our expec­ta­tions. Nethergate’s beers, in our expe­ri­ence, are almost always pret­ty good, and some­times very much so, but they just nev­er to spring to mind as an excit­ing brew­ery. We’re nev­er delight­ed to see Nether­gate on a pump­clip. Fur­ther­more, we’re not 100 per cent con­vinced by gin­ger in beers – it rarely works. This beer, how­ev­er, works mag­nif­i­cent­ly. It’s fizzy, but that absolute­ly suits the over-the-top Fentiman’s flavours. The malt and hops are out of the way, not clash­ing with the gin­ger, but pro­vid­ing some­thing more than water­i­ness as a back­drop. If autumn wasn’t approach­ing, we’d want bot­tles of this in the fridge to drink after work. Scin­til­lat­ing stuff.

Final­ly, there was our favourite: Wold Top Scar­bor­ough Fair IPA (6%). Again, hon­est reac­tion time: it remind­ed us more of Okto­ber­fest than of oth­er IPAs, with the kind of round malti­ness we’re always look­ing for in a Fes­t­bier. The high alco­hol lev­el helped, we think, mak­ing it one to real­ly chew on. It didn’t prompt a long list of tast­ing notes resem­bling the flavour key on the back of a pack of Jel­ly Bel­ly jel­ly beans, but it did lead to sev­er­al con­tem­pla­tive silences and sat­is­fied sighs. (It is also proof that ‘maize’ has its place.)

In sum­ma­ry, though the full list con­tains a few grim-look­ing clear-bot­tled beers from region­al brew­ers who’ve only ever let us down, these four give us a sense that some­one at Sainsbury’s ‘gets’ beer – or, at least, under­stands the appeal of vari­ety and dis­tinc­tive char­ac­ter.

We saw some­one get­ting stick for sug­gest­ing that 99 Red Baboons might be con­sid­ered a black IPA. When did we decide there were right and wrong answers to our per­son­al reac­tions to a par­tic­u­lar beer? Grrr.

24 thoughts on “Sainsbury’s Beer Hunt 2012”

  1. I did the same as you – opt­ed for a select­ed few rather than the ‘shock and awe’ approach. I plumped for beers that I didn’t think I’d like – if that makes sense. Glad you enjoyed SF IPA – It’s love­ly, isn’t it? Gluten free, also, which makes that chewi­ness even more impres­sive.

  2. Good post. The ongo­ing demise of pubs and ris­ing num­ber of micros means only one thing – more bot­tled beer. How much of the decent stuff we’ll ever see in super­mar­kets is debat­able, how­ev­er, and as you say, Sainsbury’s must be applaud­ed with their Beer Hunt as this is a great oppor­tu­ni­ty for the Spitfire/Bombardier et al brigade to try some­thing a lit­tle dif­fer­ent…

    I think you’re being a lit­tle unfair with the “few grim-look­ing clear-bot­tled beers”. I think you shouldn’t wait until some­body sends them to you for free to sam­ple but why not walk into a local store and buy them? After all, at 3 for £4 they’re very good val­ue. (Note to Sainsbury’s – if I want to sam­ple all 20 on this offer that means I have to buy 21 for £28; a cost­ing of 4 for £5 would have made much more sense;)

    I’m look­ing for­ward to try­ing the SF IPA and all the oth­er ubiq­ui­tous IPAs on tri­al but am sad­dened that there are no porters or stouts (and ignor­ing Red Baboon’s men­tions of mild/porter!). I guess I just have to accept that the major­i­ty of the judges (includ­ing Sainsbury’s cus­tomers) have some­thing against these beer styles.

    I’m start­ing my hunt by com­par­ing 3 beers which men­tion choco­late or cof­fee in their descrip­tions. Tra­di­tion­al Scot­tish Ales Dou­ble Espres­so is a clas­sic smooth cof­fee beer. Not that you could drink much. Bateman’s Mocha had choco­late but the sweet sick­ly taste of their beers doesn’t suit me at all. I’m tast­ing Lees Man­ches­ter Star Ale (7.3%) tonight. Fol­low my hunt progress at wiredbeer.blogspot.co.uk

    1. why not walk into a local store and buy them?”

      Ha. Easy answer to that: our near­est Sainsbury’s is a 1+ hour bus ride, not on the train, and we don’t dri­ve!

      We tend not to buy beer in clear bot­tles. We make the odd excep­tion if we real­ly want to try the beer, and it’s not *always* skunked, but often enough that, with so much out there to try and so lit­tle time to drink it in, why would we both­er gam­bling?

      1. Unfor­tu­nate with your loca­tion (for Sainsbury’s that is – I’m sure where you live is very nice). Only jok­ing about buy­ing the beer – I’m just jeal­ous.

        I’m look­ing at the 3 clear bot­tles now. Wadworth’s hmm. Elgood’s anoth­er hmm. The Cotleigh should be ok though. Must admit they don’t look very inspir­ing. The sort of thing you’d expect to see on a super­mar­ket shelf… Which gives me an idea. I’ll taste them togeth­er.

        1. Also, we’ve always had bad luck with our local Sainsbury’s. The one here (Hel­ston) and the one near us in Lon­don both have hard­ly any of the beer Sainsbury’s pro­mote nation­al­ly. Mar­ket analy­sis and all that.

          Cotleigh we used to like (though we’re a bit biased cos I’m from Som­er­set) but we haven’t had one we’ve real­ly enjoyed for a while. Clear glass not a step in the right direc­tion. As for Wad­worth… well, they seem a love­ly bunch, and a cou­ple of their ‘beers for food’ were quite nice.

    2. Is there an actu­al list of the 20 beers any­where?

      I’ve only had Man­ches­ter Star on draught, but it was ter­rif­ic then – great to see it as part of this rather spec­tral ini­tia­tive.

      1. Here’s the list (no thanks to Sainsbury’s, who reg­is­tered a domain for the GBBH but are still using it for 2011 mate­r­i­al). I’ll try a few of those, although prob­a­bly not the Bateman’s (I can imag­ine the char­ac­ter­is­tic Bateman’s sweet­ness not work­ing with ‘mocha’ flavours) or the Williams Bros (that just sounds odd).

        1. The Bateman’s was pret­ty grim – I just can­not get on with the sick­ly sweet back­ground of their beers. I guess some­body likes them, some­where.

          I’ve pestered Sains­bury to redi­rect http://www.sainsburysbeerhunt.co.uk/ (and .com!) to
          http://www.j-sainsbury.co.uk/media/latest-stories/2012/20120831-new-regional-beers-to-hit-sainsburys-shelves-nationwide-this-autumn/
          but they’re just not inter­est­ed. Or too busy. Or don’t use com­put­ers.

  3. I just wish Sains­bury pro­mot­ed the thing more, they run it, but it seems like a reluc­tance to pro­vide any details or info to the con­sumers. Its like your just expect­ed to realise this stuff sit­ting in the sea­son­al aisle along­side a gen­er­al drinks pro­mo­tion thing they are run­ning at the same time is actu­al­ly a com­pe­ti­tion of sorts.

    it just feels like theres a stack of stuff more they could have done,like lit­tle book­lets with tast­ing notes on each beer etc, maybe food match­ing, just to pro­mote it.

    instead the only ones “tak­ing part” are us beer geeks and were going round buy­ing all 20 to try if we can 🙂

    I was more sur­prised by the two 330mls in the list than the clear bot­tles though IME Wad­worths Hori­zon in bot­tle is not a patch on its cask ver­sion, but thats not nec­es­sar­i­ly to do with it being in clear glass. And Nether­gates its worth point­ing out arent quite the same brew­ery they were a few years back, theyve got a new man­age­ment team whove been build­ing an image makeover of branding/pump clips, they tend to see them­selves as the Growler Brew­ery – Nether­gate, now and have start­ed pro­duc­ing alot of new beers, Lemon­head being one of them, their bot­tled stuff is usu­al­ly good as for ages its been the only way to get their beer even local­ly.

  4. The lack of pro­mo­tion is a prob­lem. For the last two years I have trailed around all the local branch­es look­ing for these spe­cial beers, see­ing nei­ther hide nor hair of them until some­times they turn up by chance sev­er­al weeks after the com­pe­ti­tion was sup­posed to start. I won’t both­er this year.

  5. A shame you didn’t enjoy the Williams Bros – I love many of their oth­er beers (not tried that). Cae­sar Augus­tus and Pro­fan­i­ty Stout (both in last year’s hunt) are excel­lent – Pro­fan­i­ty being one of the best beers I had last year. The Sainsbury’s in High Wycombe is big, and often has a good selec­tion, so I’ll be sure to have a shufty. My girl­friend will prob­a­bly love the Nether­gate gin­ger one, so I’ll be on the hunt for that for sure.

  6. The lack of pro­mo­tion is a prob­lem. For the last two years I have trailed around all the local branch­es look­ing for these spe­cial beers, see­ing nei­ther hide nor hair of them ”

    There is a huge Sainsbury’s near me. Went in yes­ter­day and guess what? Nada. Nil. None.

    1. They’re always on the “Sea­son­al” aisle for some rea­son. The SA Brains web­site appears to have a list of par­tic­i­pat­ing stores, see my replay to Barm above…

  7. Just for the record, no sign of them in Lan­cast­er either, dis­ap­point­ing as there are a few on the list I was look­ing for­ward to.

  8. Michael, I found the beers in the Sains­burys in Lan­cast­er yes­ter­day (but not in the usu­al beer aisle). They were in the aisle that runs between the cloth­ing and the fruit and veg aisles. It was just luck that I went in that way and found them.

    1. Ha, yes, found them cun­ning­ly hid­den by the Christ­mas crack­ers and sta­tionery. Why didn’t I look there first? Cheers!

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