Beer Matters

On the Home Front (part 1)

While, as a general rule, a pub is by far the best place to drink beer, there are times when it can be more convenient or convivial to enjoy a glass or two at home. Thankfully, the range of beers available in off-licences - and particularly in supermarkets - has improved enormously in the last two or three years.

In this two-part article, I offer some tasting notes on bottled beers which I have sampled in the past few weeks (most of them came from Sainsbury’s as it happens but many can be found elsewhere). The majority are ales but one or two lagers and wheat beers are included for variety.

My observations are divided into the five conventional categories of appearance (how the beer looks in the glass), nose (the smell before taking a sip), mouth-feel (its body and texture), taste (first impressions on taking a mouthful) and finish (the lingering flavour after swallowing), together with any additional comments that may be relevant. Here they are, in no particular order:

Innis & Gunn Oak Aged Beer [6.6% ABV]
Appearance: Dark amber, lively
Nose: Caramel
Mouth-feel: Full
Taste: Sweetish, vanilla and honey notes
Finish: Muted hoppiness
An interesting beer, aged in sherry (or similar) casks like malt whisky, albeit for a rather shorter time.
Marston’s Old Empire [5.7% ABV]
Appearance: Amber, tight head
Nose: Hoppy
Mouth-feel: Full, pronounced carbonation
Taste: Bitter-sweet with hints of banana and nettles
Finish: Dry, hoppy
Fuller’s London Porter [5.4% ABV]
Appearance: Dark with a reddish glint, big head
Nose: Strong, somewhere between chocolate and Marmite
Mouth-feel: Smooth, not unduly fizzy
Taste: Mellower than the nose might suggest, coffee and vanilla notes
Finish: Apples
It’s good, but the draught version (seasonal) is superb.
Shepherd Neame Spitfire [4.5% ABV]
Appearance: Dark amber, lively head
Nose: Fresh, hoppy
Mouth-feel: Medium body, noticeable acidity on the tongue
Taste: Well-balanced, marmaladey
Finish: Long and hoppy, fulfils the promise of the nose
This is one case where the bottled beer is arguably superior to the draught version
Ridgeway’s ROB (Ridgeway Organic Beer) [4.3% ABV]
Appearance: Golden brown
Nose: Sharp, hoppy
Mouth-feel: Adequate body, slightly fizzy
Taste: Balanced, plenty of hops up front, hints of vanilla and nettle
Finish: Subtle, elderflowery
St Austell Tribute [4.7% ABV]
Appearance: Golden brown
Nose: Nothing too exciting
Mouth-feel: Reasonably full, mildly fizzy
Taste: Balanced
Finish: Hoppier and vaguely citrusey
Re-reading my notes, it sounds less of a tribute, more like damnation with faint praise? However, this beer won the Supreme Champion award at the recent SIBA SW competition, so don’t take my word for it.
Hoegaarden [4.9%]
Appearance: Hazy, golden, “egg white” head
Nose: Yeasty, almost antiseptic
Mouth-feel: Full, oily with slight acidity
Taste: Complex, nutty (almonds/marzipan) and fruity (greengages?)
Finish: Bittersweet, lingering Parma violets
Undoubtedly the best-known wheat beer in this country but not necessarily the best - probably suffering from over-exposure.
Wychwood Osprey [6.5% ABV]
Appearance: Copper colour, big head
Nose: Nettles
Mouth-feel: Full, slightly fizzy
Taste: Predominantly bananas
Finish: Drier
Meantime IPA [7.5% ABV]
Appearance: Medium amber colour, big uneven head
Nose: Fresh, hoppy
Mouth-feel: Full, slightly acidic
Taste: Seriously hoppy with apricot undertones
Finish: Long-lasting bitter
A very fine beer which purports to be true to the original India Pale Ale concept (i.e. strong and hoppy enough to survive several weeks at sea). Incidentally the Meantime Brewery (Greenwich) also produces the beers in Sainsbury’s “Taste the Difference” range.

Whilst on the subject of drinking beer at home, I must mention Abbey Ales of Bath, who supply polypins of their ordinary bitter Bellringer and various seasonal brews by mail order. For our tower dinner we ordered two polypins, one each of Bellringer and Twelfth Night. Due to an addressing error, the beer went astray and spent several days languishing in a depot, probably at less than ideal temperatures. Fortunately it eventually arrived in time and I am pleased to say that, after 24 hours settling down, it proved to be none the worse for its extended journey and that which was not consumed on the night remained perfectly drinkable for more than a week afterwards.

Maximus Bibendus

Reproduced by kind permission of The Ringing World.

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