Have you heard of Brewdog?
Brewdog are a Scottish brewery with a canny eye for self-publicity and a “punk” attitude to creating beer. Whilst it would appear that there are mixed feelings about the Brewdog approach to selling beer (many blog inches have been filled with the good, the bad and the was-that-a-tank? of Brewdog’s publicity antics), they are generally given the benefit of the doubt because they make some truly awesome beers.
“Also sold as Tesco Finest American Double IPA.”
What was that? This beer, from the Independent’s top 50 beers of 2012 list, one that I have to order specially from the internet because I cannot find a stockist in Devon, is also available in Tesco and is marketed as a Tesco Finest product.
Is this good news, or not? I couldn’t decide. Further investigations were called for.
When you think of supermarket beer, what do you think of? Possibly, it’s their own-brand, cheap and cheerful beer. Such things are probably not to be recommended. Indeed, braver men than I, have sampled these and suffered. For example, this review for a bitter contains the words “cooked chicken”, “peanuts”, “sweat” and “sodastreams”; it just doesn’t sound that appetising I’m afraid.
But that is not what we are talking about here. If a brewery such as Brewdog is producing the beers, then there is a great chance that they are going to be a tasty, well crafted beer. And, even more excitingly, it sounds as though Tesco Finest American Double IPA is actually the same beer as the Brewdog Hardcore IPA. So I donned my deerstalker, waxed my immaculate moustache and dug out my disheveled-looking raincoat: it was back to the internet to do some more detective work.
Firstly, is it actually the same beer?
It appears that the question has been put to Brewdog and they say not. Alcohol and Aphorisms has reviewed the Tesco American Double IPA and found very few differences. The folks over at the Campaign for Really Good Beer (CAMRGB) carried out a blind taste test without finding much between the beers either. So, it could be that they are different beers, but they are not too dissimilar; certainly not enough to put off those who like the Brewdog original.
Secondly, who else is behind the supermarket beers?
It seemed quite likely to me that other supermarket beers would also be produced by breweries that I have come to know and love. But which ones? A quick search (aided in no small part by the reviews at Blood, Stout and Tears) soon uncovered several likely-looking contenders, but the one beer that jumped out at me was Sainsbury’s Scottish Lager, brewed by Harviestoun. I have tried, and enjoyed, Harviestoun’s Schiehallion lager back in January. These two are definitely not the same beer, with the Sainsbury’s version a 4.1% ABV beer and Schiehallion at 4.8%. However, they sound similar:
“A crisp palate and a lingering, fresh, grapefruity finish.” (Schiehallion)
“Clean and crisp with fresh citrus notes. A dry and refreshing hand-crafted lager.” (Sainsbury’s)
Taking my inspiration from the above-mentioned CAMRGB review, I decided that a blind taste test was called for. Twisting Mrs RB’s arm (“Oh no, I have to drink beer! Do I have to? Okay then”) we poured the two beers into identical glasses and, through a complicated system of labeling and re-labeling the glasses, made sure that neither of us knew which beer was which.
There wasn’t much to separate them in appearance and, to be perfectly honest, they were very similar beers throughout. However, there was a clear winner, with both of us picking one of the beers as our favourite.
The winner? Schiehallion.
Whilst both beers were nice, the Schiehallion is a better all-round beer. It is crisper, stays bitter for longer and is more refreshing. The Sainsbury’s craft lager dies away a little quicker and doesn’t pack quite the same fruity citrus aroma. They are very similar and either would be good on their own. But put next to each other, there would only be one choice to make.
And what about the Tesco Finest American Double IPA? How does that compare with the Brewdog Hardcore IPA? I’m still none the wiser, I’m afraid, as none of our local Tesco stores stock it. Which is a real shame, as the Hardcore IPA is hard to get hold of and I was hoping that the Tesco version may prove easier to obtain. C’est la vie.
So where does this leave us?
A little wiser, a little merrier and a little more willing to explore the world of supermarket beers. If you are considering passing them by, perhaps spin the bottle around, have a look at the small print and check which brewery is behind the beer. You may just be pleasantly surprised.