Tuesday, 31 January 2017

A second haul of grappas from Garda

Evening! Last week we had a tumultuous return visit to beautiful Salo by Italy’s Lake Garda. This week I want you to imagine we’ve been back home for a while, and been sampling all those lovely grappas we were able to bring home. There’s four of them in all. Here’s what I thought.
Franzosi’s Grappa di Rebo
The small cork on this modern-style bottle reveals a bizarre insert that does a great job of regulating the pour. It doesn’t restrict it in any way. The label is transparent with the name written sideways in red.
It is savoury in its mightily impressive nose and on the tongue, and not really sweet at all, but actually very good. There was definitely a benefit to using my new grappa glasses here. The wine glass I tried on opening at our friends Phil and Laura’s didn’t do it justice. Phil and Laura love Italy almost as much as we do, though this was their first experience of its special spirit. Laura seemed interested, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they’d been left with an impression of weird vodka.
Overall the Rebo didn’t quite live up to the taste we had at the showroom. It may be that it is better chilled, but I never chill my grappa, and don’t really want to start doing that.

Il Roccolo Quatra
I’m not sure if this one really is called “Quatra”, as the writing on the label is somewhat ambiguous. It’ll have to do though. It’s a refined little bottle with smart shoulders and a slight taper, adorned at the top with a ribbon and a large, tight stopper. The label is low maintenance and respectful.
Much sweeter than the Rebo, I’ve found the Quatra to be very enjoyable and easy drinking. I really feel that extra 5% alcohol does it a lot of favours as it generates intoxicating fumes and a more intense sweetness.
It’s a no-nonsense grappa that ticks all the boxes and gets the job done.


  Il Turina Invecchiata
Presented in a low-key but classic bottle with what I’m going to call a wedding stationery label, this expression is a model of understatement. It features the same bottle insert as the Rebo, and is 45% ABV. I determined quite quickly that it lacked a certain sweetness that I was hoping for. It was enjoyable enough, but quickly found itself sliding down the pecking order and being the grappa that I would drink most frequently because I wanted to make the Quatra last. And also I opened this…

Grappa di Leali MonteAcuto
It turns out that this immaculately packaged delight is the jewel in the crown. If you visit here fairly regularly you might already be aware that I was so impressed with this that I made it one of my three spirits of the year. It is full-bodied, sweet and complex, and well worth that trip off the beaten track, into the back roads of the region.
And so ends our Italian love affair for another year. It’s well worth discovering and pursuing the delights of grappa, but even if it isn’t up your street, and wine is more your thing, a week or two exploring the various regions of Italy, visiting cantinas and wineries, makes for a relaxing and engaging experience.
That’s it for now then. I’ll be back next week, talking about something else. See you then.

Thursday, 26 January 2017

Return to Garda

three grappas from the Garda region
Just over a year and a half ago Mrs Cake and I took our booze tourism adventures to Lake Garda in northern Italy (which you can read about here), and last year we decided to go back – because we were offered a discount to stay in the same apartment. Actually, not just for that reason; also because it was really good.

So we landed at Milan’s Bergamo airport at around 5pm (UK time) on the Wednesday afternoon. We had already chosen to remain in UK time for the purpose of keeping our little girl on her regular schedule of naps and meals. There were certainly no problems there, but this would lead to one or two difficulties and errors along the way that we’ll get to later.

I picked up a couple of take-out beers at an airport outlet (Ceres Strong Ale, 7.7%, 3 out of 5) for when we got back to the apartment.

After picking up the rental car (which always takes ages because queuing is an under-utilised concept in Italy) we had an hour’s drive to the accommodation, by which time it would be 7pm and getting on for little Sylvie’s bed time. We decided Mrs Cake would take care of bed time activities while I drove down the mountain to the Italmark supermarket for supplies (water, wine, beer, bananas – that last item for little Sylvie’s breakfast) and the nearby pizza bar for takeaway.

Both were closed, but I wasn’t about to give up. Otherwise it would be bed with no tea, and in the morning no breakfast and no water for the little girl to drink. You can probably drink the tap water in Italy these days, but not knowing that for sure, it was time to be the provider. I started to drive toward Salo, figuring there would have to be something open, and after one or two dead ends I found a hotel-restaurant-pizzeria and returned home with two pizzas, a bottle of house white wine and a big bottle of water. Result.

Triumph over adversity is a beautiful feeling.

The next day the people back home would be voting on whether we would remain part of the European Union. Mrs Cake and I had already voted by post, and were hoping for a victory for remain. While all that went on we got on with things. First on the agenda, after getting our little girl up and fed, was a trip to the supermarket to get food for the week, overstock on cold drinks, and get some preliminary booze.

Let’s start then, by looking at some beer selections from the local supermarket.

Peroni varieties

Peroni Nastro Azzurro is a very popular beer here in the UK. It seems to be the lager that is acceptable for drinking when you’re having a meal out. I first came across some of the other varieties of Peroni when we went to Tuscany, but I have noticed one or two of them since on the shelves at local supermarkets. Nevertheless, there are still more varieties available in Italy than there are in the UK.

I picked up the following:

Gran Riserva Puro Malto (5.2%), or pure malt, and I scored it a mere 3 out of 5.

special Peroni?
Gran Riserva Rossa (5.2%), or red pure malt. I was looking forward to this one. I, for some reason, thought it might have been aged in burgundy casks or something, and would be quite special. It doesn’t appear that anything of the sort is the case. I scored it a very disappointing 2 out of 5.

Gran Riserva Doppio Malto (6.6%), or double malt. I have seen this one in UK supermarkets, and would say it’s worth a punt at that nicely elevated ABV. With this one I finally started to deliberately score quarter points on Untappd, awarding it 3.25 out of 5.

For those distinctbeer enthusiasts who are thinking of visiting Italy, other varieties you can look out for are Peroni Gluten (gluten-free), Chill Lemon (a Radler), and Forte which is an impressive 8%. I didn’t see any of those on my travels, but rather on the Peroni website when I got home to do some research for this post.

Moretti varieties

Also available in the local supermarket were a selection of similarly packaged Morettis, representing various regions. I consider Moretti to be a decent quality lager, so I thought I’d get these because they’d also be decent additions to my distinct beers total. The ones I found were:

Lucana (5.8%), an amber ale with a scent of laurel (?) and a slight flavour of eucalyptus and mint (?!). Not things I’d normally be looking for in a beer… I thought it tasted gingery, but that could be my uncultured palate failing to identify eucalyptus. 2 out of 5.

Toscana (5.5%), a dark honey lager with “a chestnut aroma and scents of dry erbs and pine”, according to the website. I had no comment for this, but scored it 3 out of 5.
regional Moretti

Friulana (5.9%), a light yellow lager that tastes of apples. It really does. Fuck knows who wants their beer to taste of apples. I scored it 2.5 out of 5.

Piemontese (5.5%), an amber lager that is supposed to taste of blueberries. I wasn’t able to detect that, and scored it 3 out of 5.

Pugliese (5.6%0, an amber beer, that I actually wrote that I hadn't been able to find. I certainly hadn' logged it. Nevertheless, now that I come to post this, I find a picture, proving that I did find it.

I wasn’t able to get the Pugliese or Siciliana varieties but, as the ones I did try all seemed to be the same lager with an external influence of one kind or another – and as I didn’t enjoy them all that much – I think it’s safe to assume that I didn’t miss out on too much. Anyway, as we’ll find out shortly, there were other beers to be concerned with.


The next job was to pick out a bottle of grappa to drink during the week. It was a mammoth task as, as you can see from the photo, there was a veritable butt-load to choose from. And they were all well within the limit of my budget.

a selection of supermarket grappas
I went for the Nardini because I’d heard of it, it was a full 70cl, and it contained a cosy 50 ABVs. You’d be looking at around £37 plus P&P in the UK, while mine was around 15 euros. That was a large factor in my decision – the fact that I was already interested in trying it, and that I knew I wouldn’t want to buy it at home – why not buy it here, where it’s cheap?

Nardini - and a view
There was a bit of confusion in that the label states “Aquavite”, so I wasn’t sure whether this actually was grappa (once I got it back to the apartment). I looked for it on various websites and alls I could find was an identical bottle that said “grappa” on the label. Finally, I have to conclude that they are the same since fact of the matter is that aquavite is merely a synoynym of distillate. So grappa is an aquavite of grape pomace. It’s not for certain, but it’s the best I can ascertain from the information available.

As far as the drinking is concerned, it tastes like grappa, the extra alcohol gives the spirit a nice, full body and an extra, not un-welcome sweetness. I tried it straight at first, and figured at 50% a bit of water would be in order, but over the course of a couple of evenings I realised I’d been preferring it straight, so that was how I proceeded and then finished it.

What with everything else I drank during our stay (mostly during the evening when the day’s driving was definitely done) 70cl was almost a struggle to get through. One glass was nudged off the corner of a table (and smashed) by Mrs Cake, but nevertheless, I had to drink four large glasses on the last evening of our stay. By this stage, Brexit had cast a gloomy shadow over everything, but the cheap cigar I picked up at the bottom of the hill made everything better – until the next day when we’d have to find out how much Mrs Cake nearly driving us off a cliff would cost us with the rental company, and what returning to a politically divided UK would bring.

Nardini – this bottle at least – is far from the best example of grappa I’ve enjoyed so far. It is perhaps a little too rugged, too utilitarian. I suspect some Italians might tell you that’s how grappa should be, but I’ve been coming across some beautiful, refined examples in the last few years (as you’ll know if you read this blog), and I prefer those.

Wine Tour Part One

phone notes
In my pre-trip research I’d laid the foundations for some potential grappa tours – one such being an excursion to some distilleries in the Brescia region, to the west of our location, and the other being to the east, in the Vicenza area. These are easily accessible from the region around the southern end of Garda – as indeed is the Trento region, as we’d found out last time – but with our little girl still a month shy of a year old, we ultimately decided to err on the side of caution when it came to road trips. So instead of embarking on journeys that would take an hour or more (in the outward direction), we decided to keep our focus within 15 to 30 minutes of our home. Our host’s website showed that there was a world of wine within our grasp and, as had been the case in Tuscany, a lot of these vineyards, wineries and cantinas also produced their own grappas.

For the most part, they are open to the public from Monday to Saturday from 8.30 until 12, and then from 2 until 6 (give or take half an hour, depending on individual preferences). On this first outing we tried to arrive at our first target for afternoon opening. This should allow us to visit two or three places, then get back to the apartment in time for little Sylvie’s afternoon nap.

Now, we couldn’t find every cantina that was on our list of possibilities, but I had some backups (hastily prepared using the wi-fi at the apartment), so here’s what we got.

Monteacutodi Leali Antonio - Just a few minutes out of Salo, on the SS572 that skirts around the south western end of Garda, the satnav instructs you to turn right onto a country lane that leads by vineyards and to the tiny settlement of Puegagno del Garda. I park next to the fields, turning the car around in the expectation that we’ll be heading back to the main road after this.

I go to do a little recce, to make sure we aren’t getting the baby out of her car seat for no good reason, and find a sign directing me into a little courtyard. There’s no one obviously around, but it is just after lunch, so I go back and get Mrs Cake to come exploring with me.

After a minute or two, and with the help of a dog, I get the attention of a lady who comes down to help. She’s friendly and welcoming and doesn’t speak a word of English, but she’s happy to show us her showroom and let us sample some products. As with most Italians, she loves to see little Sylvie.

After a couple of purchases (Mrs Cake selects some pink fizz – Turmalino at 8 euros – and I some artfully packaged grappa, white in a dark glass bottle for 13 euros for 50cl), we head out encouraged, into the heat and back to the car for round 2.

At the Franzosi showroom
Cantina Franzosi – It soon turns out that turning the car around was a waste of effort because our next destination is behind us and only just up the road. I briefly consider walking because the satnav suggests it’s not far, and it seems easier than putting the baby back in the car seat. I don’t act on that, and it turns out that it’s a bit further than I thought – not very, but far enough to drive.

In contrast to Monteacuto, Franzosi is a larger, more industrial operation. I’m thinking that still makes it seem bigger than it is, but it is a more modern building with a car park, a warehouse and a forklift truck. At the back is a large and well-stocked showroom with many varieties of wine and grappa (one particularly fancy looking 3 year old at 43 euros for 50cl) as well as oils and vinegars.

By now little Sylvie is starting to get a little antsy, so I walk her around the building a little, trying not to bother the employees and keep her away from things she maybe shouldn’t be touching. She isn’t wearing shoes and the floor of the warehouse quickly turns her little feet black.

Meanwhile in the showroom Mrs Cake is being plied by the friendly host with four generous glasses of various wine varieties. Every now and then I hoist up little Sylvie and return her to this starting point before she gets herself in trouble. A couple of varieties of grappa are presented also, and we both select Rebo for our purchases – partly on the recommendation of our host. I could afford, and even be open to buying the 3 year old but as I’m already aware that grappa doesn’t tend to survive ageing more than 2 years all that well, I think it’s telling that it isn’t recommended to me. I also decide to pick up four new grappa glasses. I forget how much Mrs Cake’s wine cost, but my grappa was 14.50 for 70cl.

IlRoccolo – we fail to find the next cantina on our list, so we abort that one and instead come to il Roccolo in Polpenazze del Garda. Once again we are greeted warmly and treated to fresh wine samples, grappa samples and even finger foods for the baby. Mrs Cake selects a bottle of red for herself and a bargain white for our neighbour who is looking after Ruby the cat while we’re away. I also plump for another grappa, making it three for three. We’re already most of the way to achieving our take home target of four bottles each (and one for the neighbour).

It’s time to head home and relax while the little lady sleeps.

Rarrw! Manerba brews

Now, this is a place we went to last year to pick up one of each of their various beers. It’s a short drive from where we were staying, and indeed, close to many of the cantinas we visited during our stay. There was no one else there the first time we went, so we just picked up a box of 8 or 9 beers and went on our merry way. This time – after an occasion where we tried to go before they’d opened – we figured we might be able to get an early evening dinner while we picked up our beers.

It was probably about 17.30 when we got there this time, and it was thriving. We were sat outside with an Italian couple who were interested to know about the Brexit thing (though there was a great language barrier, so we talked a little bit about football instead), where we could listen to the rock n’ roll soundtrack and see a procession of people call in either for their own dinners or to pick up a box of beers.

In terms of food, they’ve gone for a kind of American roadhouse type menu – burgers, wings and that, so it probably doesn’t provide the authentic Italian dining experience that many tourists would be looking for, but it was decent enough food.

And the beer…

The branding has been changed somewhat; shifting from a simple but classic look with plain labels and a small follow the bear style emblem to stark black and electric, ZX Spectrum-type colours with a simple image representative of a snarling bear. I prefer the old style, but Mrs Cake saw the merits of the new one.

Luppulula, 5.2% – this one hadn’t been available last time, and it was the one I chose to drink on draught with my meal (it wasn’t available in a bottle). It’s classed as a pilsner, but it’s very light in body and in colour. 3/5

Fiordalisa, 4.8% - this is a wheat bear, which is usually a favourite genre of mine. That is reflected in the score, and that, at this point I’d given up relying on the fridge to get my beers cold, and had started sticking them in the freezer for 40 minutes prior to opening. 4/5

La Bionda, 5.2% - a Helles style lager, I scored this quite low. I must have been a little disappointed. 2.75/5

La Rocca, 6.8% - a Belgian Tripel that comes in one of those oversized bottles, topped with a cork. 4/5

Cucunera, 7% - a good strong bock, and a favourite of the range for me. 4.5/5

Weizen, 5.2% - a Hefeweizen and, again, a very good one. 4.5/5

Hop ‘n’ Roll, 4.7% - a pale ale, another favourite. 4.5/5

Rebuffone, 6.7% - also presented in an oversized bottle, this Belgian Dubbel didn’t quite reach the heights of the last three, but still; 4/5.

Wine tour part 2

You may not believe it, but a good smattering of months has passed since I last wrote anything on this post. I don’t know what happened, but suddenly I just couldn’t be bothered to write it anymore. Luckily, that’s all over with now and I feel like I can proceed again, though I have to warn you, my memory has faded somewhat and I might not be able to recall all the details. At least that means it won’t take as long to write – or read – right?

So anyway, our second wine tour was a chance to mop up some of the cantinas that were either a little too out of the way, or that we didn’t have time for on our previous excursion. We didn’t plan a big one though, as having already purchased 3 bottles of grappa and 4 bottles of wine, we simply didn’t have the luggage capacity to buy any more. I figured then that we could visit two cantinas, buying a bottle of wine at one and a bottle of grappa at the other – you don’t have to, but you kind of would prefer to be able to buy something everywhere you visit to make the effort the proprietor has put in worthwhile.

Our first stop, LeChiusure, turned out to be something of an unpleasant experience. Let’s make no bones about it. It was quite hard to find, with roadworks blocking the route the satnav wanted to take, and when we got there we ended up going through the wrong entrance, which meant strolling across some beautiful grounds that really ought to have been reserved for the family. They didn’t seem to mind, but we did feel we were imposing on their privacy.

In the showroom Allessandro Luzzago was already concluding business with a couple of visitors from the UK – visitors who were casually buying a couple of cases of his wine. Through this, a couple of sample bottles were already open, though one of the customers recommended we try the Portese. We requested to do so, and the proprietor opened a new bottle for us. Mrs Cake decided to buy that, and the annoyance on the proprietor’s face at opening a new sample bottle to secure a purchase of only one bottle was unmistakable. He quickly tried to make out it didn’t matter, but we knew that really it did. Really, I could understand this, but everywhere else we went the proprietors opened fresh bottles at the drop of a hat, and were delighted no matter how little we wanted to buy. I suppose it’s possible that most other cantinas can put these open bottles to good use later the same day, while perhaps Le Chiusure doesn’t have that kind of set up. Nevertheless, it left a bad taste in our mouths and left us apprehensive about continuing our adventure.

Was the wine any good? Well, as you know, I don’t tend to comment on wine. It seemed fine to me.

We had been late leaving the apartment that day – a result of keeping our clocks on UK time, to facilitate little Sylvie’s naps, remember - so when this first visit was concluded it was nearing lunch time, and all the cantinas would be closing. We decided to head into the nearby town of San Felice del Benaco and grab some lunch, then see how we felt after that.

After that we felt like maybe calling at Turina, which we’d spotted was on the main road through the industrial state at Manerba. It can be tough to pad out two hours though, even with lunch in southern mainland Europe, so we arrived at the site a good 20 minutes before it was due to open. The car park was bathed in direct sunlight, and little Sylvie was uncomfortable and upset, so we ended up parking under the only shade, which was actually in the middle of the road around the building.

It wasn’t a very happy time, but eventually someone arrived to open up, and they actually let me in early. He seemed confused by my presence, and my clumsy attempts at conversation got me nowhere, so I ended up just purchasing a bottle of Invecchiata, the aged grappa for 14 euros (I think). Finally we could head back to the apartment, and spend the rest of the afternoon drinking and relaxing by the pool.

Final Days

Brexit did cast a gloomy air over proceedings (and did pretty much ruin our holiday – and indeed, much of my waking life since. I wonder if anyone else is as worried about all this as I am?), but that didn’t stop us trying to get our party on for the last couple of days. The Manerba beers were dwindling, and it was time to revisit the supermarket and see what I could add to my distinct beers for the week.

Bad Brewer, but, presumably they mean bad in a good way
What I picked up this time were three varieties of Bad Brewer, an Italian brand described as street food beers – so they’re small bottles, and funkily branded – presumably intended for drinking with fancy burgers.

Now, as I said a little earlier, all this happened a while ago now, and I can’t remember much detail. Untappd tells me though that the Pale Ale scored 3.5/5 and the California Common and Amber Ale both scored 3/5.

Finally I picked up a super strength Dutch lager, whose cans had caught my eye – all shiny and gold, like. Even more importantly, this 8.6 Gold by Bavaria Brouwerij was 6.5% ABV. But it only scored 2/5.

Duty Free

Finally it was time to head home and find out what life in a fractured and divided Britain was now like. I’d been reading articles about increases in racism and hate crime, Corbyn’s shadow cabinet had resigned – which at first seemed likea good thing – and it all seemed like a great big shitstorm. I actually wished I’d been home the whole time, so that I could at least see things from my own perspective. The distance of a bit of a continent was distorting.

First though, there was the prospect of Duty Free. I’m sorry to say, that once we sorted out the damage to the rental car and got through security and all that, I had no enthusiasm for extra purchases left in me. I also felt a little rushed and didn’t have the luxury of time to adequately evaluate what was on offer. I did have a quick peruse, but all the grappa looked to be around twice the price it would have been in the supermarket. I should perhaps have looked at vermouth or even an Italian chocolate liqueur I’d heard about, but like I say, my mind just wasn’t in the right place.

We went home. Life, for us at least, was pretty much the same as it had been when we left, it was just hard to feel upbeat about the future. I think I’m used to that feeling now. Shit happens, we’ll deal with it. It doesn’t necessarily stop you feeling low, but you deal with it, don’t you?

There will be no trip back to Italy in 2017 unfortunately, and probably no trip to France either – which was something we’d been planning – because redecorating the hallway and carpeting the upstairs bedrooms is looking likely to cost £2k. But that’s life, isn’t it? There’s always next year, and this year’s going to be good anyway. Little Sylvie continues to develop, and there are loads of beers and spirits to try. Let’s get on it.

And if you come back next week, I’ll be looking at the grappas I picked up that week in a little more detail.

Spirit Log: Wild Turkey... 81?

I’d been intending to buy a new bottle of tequila at the start of the month, but I’m at that stage now where, if I want something of decent quality that I haven’t had before, I have to spend somewhere around £30. Given various economic factors, I couldn’t really be sure that was something I could afford to do, so instead I put thirty quid aside and told myself I’d get it later in the month if it looked like I was going to be (slightly more than) ok.
The month slowly passed, and I thought, goo on then, and added a bottle to my basket. I realised though, that I was heading off on holiday in a few days, so I might not be around to take delivery. I didn’t want to be worrying about it while I was away, so I decided to put the purchase off once again. I had ended up spending £15on a single bottle of beer anyway, that hadn’t been planned, so I could look at this as a £15 saving.
Then Mrs Cake said she was going to Tesco to stock up on food for a barbeque, and did I want anything. I had a quick look at Tesco Online, and found they were selling Wild Turkey 81 for £15, and told Mrs Cake to get that if they had it.
They did, but look at this; it ain’t Wild Turkey 81 no mo’. It’s still 40.5%, but now it’s just “Wild Turkey”. This new bottle actually makes it look like a shit supermarket own brand blended scotch, but that neck and stopper lend it a slight touch of class, I suppose.
Fifteen quid is good value though, and a price I’m happy to pay to see how the basic expression compares with the premium Kentucky Spirit that I was drinking earlier in the year.
Now, I opened this at poker night which, by rights, all bourbon should be opened at, but it led to nearly half the bottle being consumed on that one occasion. And this is good bourbon – it isn’t complicated, but it is tasty, replete with all you expect from the genre; sweet and playful. As you’d imagine, it isn’t as full-bodied or rich as the Kentucky Spirit, but it’s possible that it’s all the more enjoyable for that. There’s no messing around with water and, given the comparative prices, you can just enjoy this for what it is, instead of having to ask whether it was worth the extra outlay. I almost feel like I was getting cash back. I’m a little disappointed that I’m half a bottle down already, but then I just remember that it was only £15. I doubt I’ll ever get it this cheap again, but you’ve got to take it when you can get it.
Wild Turkey’s merits shouldn’t be understood purely in terms of value though. That would be to sell it short, because it’s very good. Not as luxurious as all-time bourbon favourite, Woodford ReserveDouble Oaked, but seriously enjoyable. Kentucky Spirit though, nearly made my 2016 Spirits of the Year list. Mind you, look at the price of that. I can’t say it’s that much better than this standard Wild Turkey – though it is better.

Tuesday, 10 January 2017

Aldi vs Lidl: Beer Edition!

some of Aldi's Oktoberfest themed beers
I’ve been comparing the two major budget supermarkets on their quality of spirits for some time now, and I just realised that (once again, thanks to The Distinct Beers Challenge) I’ve enough experience to compare them on the quality of their beers, too. Both outlets have exclusive brands, and both get in their fair share of guest and seasonal beers, so if that isn’t a reason to keep drinking, I don’t know what is.
Now, I’ve been shopping at Aldi for a lot longer than I’ve been visiting Lidl, and while at first I thought I would I just need to make a couple more visits to Lidl before we’re on level terms beerwise, it hasn’t turned out that way. Lidl’s turnover of beers has tailed off while Aldi’s has positively gone through the roof – first with a selection of 5 or 6 German beers for Oktoberfest, and then a whole new range of 10 or 11 British beers… for what seems like no reason at all! Hooray for Aldi. Sadly it makes it difficult to compare the two brands beer for beer right up to the present day. At first I thought that maybe I could draw a line under an equal number of beers and then do a part 2 after Lidl have added a few more. In all fairness, that doesn’t sound very interesting to me, and it makes it hard to draw any overall conclusions. This no doubt will be a topic I return to frequently, but I think it will be better all round if we just take more of an overview and see where that gets us.
first ever beer shop at Lidl
Anyway, I intend to compare the beers then, on four categories:
Exclusive brands – the cheap made for Aldi/Lidl stuff you find, including the low alcohol and shit cans. This can be a tricky one because some of the exclusive brands are trying very hard not to look like exclusive dirt market brands. A lot of them are made by actual brands anyway as well, so I’m just going to have to make a number of decisions and stick to them. If you don’t agree with any of my decisions, you have all of the comments section to stick your oar in.
British guests – the kind of large bottled ales you get, that mostly seem to be around 4%. And anything else British of course!
Foreign guests – probably cheaply imported from Germany and Belgium, but foreign nevertheless and possibly premium.
Seasonal gimmicks – those beers they get in at Christmas (usually with cartoony labels) or Halloween (usually pumpkin flavoured) or around Burns Night (Scottish).
The first task was to comb through all my previous Untappd check-ins and try to remember which beers I’d bought from either of these two dirt market giants. Next, a bit of classification and analysis, and finally, piece together some kind of narrative – perhaps with a bit more tasting inbetween.
So I’ve done that analysis now and I’m going to have to find a place to start. How about…
Exclusive brands
Yes, so these are the ones that you’re only going to find at the supermarket in question. Even these can be split into a number of categories, so it’s not destined to be simple. For one thing I’ve identified no less than 23 exclusive brands (probably even more since I wrote that sentence) between the two supermarkets in the two and a half years since I started logging on Untappd.
looks like shit Heineken
First off you have the shit Euro-lagers. At Aldi you’ve got Sainte Etienne (2.5/5) which is generally in cans, and the slightly more special bottled Sainte Etienne Premium (which I’ve actually scored lower than the standard one; 2/5), while at Lidl you’ve got Excelsior (3.9%, 1/5) in cans, and in bottles, Perlenbacher Premium Pils (4.9%, 2.5/5). The canned ones are packaged to look like shit beer, the Sainte Etienne Premium to look like shit bottled beer, and the Perlenbacher to look like Heineken – and hence, like shit bottled beer. You can see from the scores that none of them are anything to write a blog about. In their favour is that they are cheaper than comparably shit branded beers. I don’t want to talk about these particular products too much just now, because I have another post in the pipeline where I directly compare own brand supermarket beers. So most of the content is going to be in that one. For now you can see there’s little to choose between the supermarkets in this category.
But what of the other exclusive brands I alluded to?
Well, Aldi go a step further with their exclusive foreign ales, branching out into a German weissbier, Rheinbacher (5%, 2.5/5) and what looks like a Spanish style lager, Carista (4.6%, 2.5/5). Neither are anything to get excited about.
And that brings us to the many exclusive British beers. So far I’ve counted 9 at Aldi and 7 at Lidl. All, with the exception of Aldi’s Golden Crown (4.1%, 2.5/5) are identifiably brewed by reputable British breweries. Interestingly, many of the breweries have made beer for both supermarkets, so that adds an extra dimension to our investigation.
Lidl seemed to be the first of the two supermarkets to offer its own “craft” beer range. I put “craft” in speech marks like that because… well they aren’t exactly premium. They come in standard 500ml bottles with cheap but consistent labels. And by ‘cheap’ I mean the paper quality is very poor. To give a small brewery aesthetic, they are allocated numbers – No. 1, No.2 etc, in addition to their various quirky names. All are in reality produced by reputable large scale breweries, though Lidl appear to have attempted pull the wool over our eyes by pretending they are brewed by a company called Hatherwood Craft Beer Company. Here’s a brief summary of how I’ve scored them and what I’ve thought of them as far as I can remember.
The Golden Goose (3.8%, 3/5) by Wychwood, famously the fathers of Hobgoblin. This one’s a golden ale, and neither better nor worse than standard fare.
The Green Gecko IPA (5%, 3/5) by Marston’s. A good ABV for your small financial outlay on this one. The score of 3 out of 5 of course denotes that it does the job but is nothing special.
The Amber Adder (4.3%, 3/5) is also by Marston’s and also receives and average 3 out of 5. It is described as a “red ale”, so I’m not quite sure why it’s called “amber”. Amber is orangey – right?
The Ruby Rooster (a brown ale – there seems to be some confusion over colours among these beers; 3.8%, 2.5/5) is by Ringwood Brewery and scores below average. A score of 2.5 represents not particularly nice, but nothing terrible about it.
The Purple Panther (5%, 4/5) is the jewel in the “Hatherwood” crown (strong, cheap and good), and is a porter.
The Winter Warmer (5.5%, 1/5) could be classed as a seasonal beer, but I think its exclusive status supercedes that. It is brewed by Hogs Back Brewery and as you can see from the score, is awful. Part of that has to be down to the fact that seasonal spiced beers are not my thing at all, but only a very small part. Don’t be fooled into thinking this isn’t awful.
Finally we have Gnarly Fox (4.5%, 3/5), a lager brewed by Wychwood. I always buy the Wychwood beers because they are nicely branded and identifiable – in that when you see one, if you’ve paid the slightest bit of attention, you can remember whether you’ve already tried it or not. Sadly, as I’ve tried more of them, it appears Hobgoblin is the only one of any worth. The brewery’s two Lidl offerings are nothing to get excited about either.
Now, Aldi have clearly taken note of this Hatherwood ploy and decided to get in with their own professionally brewed, exclusive range. The labels are of the same cheap paper (though the designs are far more interesting), but they haven’t tried to fool you or I (the great British beer buying public) into thinking a patsy brewery has made them all. Some of them are credited to Harper’s Brewing Company, while the rest make no bones about the actual breweries that are responsible for them. However, and again they differ from Lidl a bit here, they all state “brewed exclusively for Aldi” on the label. These all hit the shelves at the same time, so it was quite a cheap month of at home drinking for me (excepting releases of Cloudwater’s DIPA versions 8 and 9), and made for an exciting day at the Eden Square shopping complex. Let’s have a bit of a rundown. I’ll start with the large bottles and finish with the smaller ones, because yes, I neglected to mention that Aldi have gone one better than their rival and offer a range of 330ml bottles as well as 500ml ones. I entered some comments about some of these on Untappd, which I’ll include for you here.
hit the jackpot at Aldi one weekend
North Bridge Brown Ale (4.7%, 3/5) – a so-so attempt at Newcy Brown, brewed by Marston’s. That’s right, it’s not a patch on the real thing, but it’s not a bad cheap approximation. It’s half a point better than Lidl’s comparable Ruby Rooster.
Golden Crown (4.1%, 2.5/5). As you can well imagine, this is an attempt at a pretty standard golden ale. That’s never really been my genre, so the 2.5/5 tells you Aldi have pretty much hit the target. No specific brewer has been identified as creating this one. On Untappd I said, this new aldi range looks the part, but so far they aren’t quite up to snuff, which isn’t a turn of phrase I’d normally use, but there you go.
Medusa (5%, 3.5/5). Apparently brewed by Marston’s, this one, though it is labeled “Harper’s Breweing Co.” As I say, I think this is the equivalent of Lidl’s Hatherwood. Anyway, this is a red ale, and one of the better scorers. I wasn’t able to use the Untappd barcode scanner, and it was very hard to find it on the app.
Amber Stone (4.4%, 3/5). I haven’t been able to find out who the brewer is for this one. It’s credited to “Harper’s” and is apparently “contract brewed”. I got a 2 year anniversary badge on Untappd for logging this one, which seemed odd because I’d actually joined Untappd two and a half years previously.
Wild Bill’s IPA (5%, 3/5). Another collaboration with Marston’s. At the time I stated, Pleasant at first, but soon changing to a burnt taste as the bitterness sets in. Still one of the best of these new Aldi offerings.
Land of Liberty (5%, 3/5). The first of the small bottles is billed as an American IPA and is made by Sadlers. I said, a bit fusty on entry, then pleasant citrus followed by too much bitterness.
All 4 One (4.5%, 3.5/5). A collaboration with Hogs Back Brewery, this one is an amber lager. No comments, but it scores pretty well.
Sunny Dayz (3.8%, 2/5). Late November is an odd time to release a summer themed golden ale, but that’s what Aldi have done with this second Hogs Back collaboration. I said, something not quite right – like, a bit stale about this one.
Red Rye IPA (4.7%, 4/5) – a good one from Aldi – and Twickenham Fine Ales. Indeed, the joint top scorer in this category along with Lidl’s Purple Panther. I think it would be worthwhile to buy 8 of these and keep them in stock for when I need to buy beers but can’t find any I want in the local supermarkets. If only the bottle was a little bigger…
Spill the Beans (4.4%, 3.75/5). A coffee porter from Brains that I’ve dubbed pretty good.
So what can we conclude in the exclusive British beers category? Well, for one thing there’s nothing particularly outstanding, but at least there is a good selection out there – and if you’re not fussy about quality you certainly can’t argue with the price. Some of them really are comparable to what I would classify as sub-standard established beers. In terms of comparison between the supermarkets, let’s just go on average scores.
Aldi racked up 10 beers, scoring 31.25. That’s an average of 3.125 per beer, which isn’t bad. I’m not going to go out of my way to prove it, but I reckon that’s probably a better average than all the beers on the shelves at a standard supermarket. Mind you, that would be a purely subjective conclusion.
Lidl on the other hand racked up only 7 beers, scoring 19.5 points. I need my calculator for this one; it’s an average of 2.786. That’s a little off the pace, and gives Aldi the edge.
British guests
Time now to move on to the British Guests category. In this one I’ll be judging the two retailers on the quality of branded beer that they get in from time to time. In terms of quantity it’s a little one-sided at the moment, with Aldi having 16 examples and Lidl only 8. Nevertheless, I think it’s enough to go on.
On first glance you’re seeing a lot of the same brewers from the respective exclusive ranges – Brains, Marston’s, Wychwood – but you also get the likes of Sadlers (the dirt market king – being available as they are also in B&M Bargains and Quality Save), Shepherd Neame, Robinson’s and Joseph Holt. You also get one or two weird ones like Williams Brothers’ Fraoch Heather Ale at Aldi.
I don’t want to go into too much detail here, as you will be familiar with some of these beers anyway, and otherwise I haven’t got much specific to say about them anyway. Instead I’ll give you a list of beers by retailer and their scores out of 5.
Aldi first –
Two Tribes by Everards Brewery, 3.5/5
Castle by Arundel Brewery, 4/5
Sadler’s Hop Bomb, 4/5
Sadler’s Mellow Yellow, 2/5
The Rev James Rye by Brains, 3.5/5
Strongarm Ruby Red Ale by Camerons, 2/5
Wells Bombardier Glorious English, 4/5
Brains SA, 2.5/5
McEwan’s Export, 2.5/5
Wainwright Golden Ale by Marston’s, 3.5/5
Hobgoblin, 4/5
Hobgoblin Gold, 3/5
Fraoch Heather Ale by Williams Brothers, 3.5/5
Golden Bolt by Box Steam Brewery, 3.75/5
A-hop-alypse Now by Camerons, 3.5/5
Maple Gold by Joseph Holt, 3/5
That’s a total score of 52.25 to be divided by 16, leaving an average of 3.266. Again, not bad.
Lidl British guests
Lidl then –
Hobby Horse by Rhymney Brewey, 3/5
British euro-style lager
Butcombe Gold, 2/5
Tapping the Admiral by Shepherd Neame, 4/5
Ginger Beard by Wychwood, 1/5
Unicorn Black by Robinson’s 3/5
Brains SA Gold, 3.5/5
Korev by St Austell Brewery, 3/5
Summer Sizzler by Shepherd Neame, 1.5/5
I think we can see it doesn’t look great for Lidl at this point. Let’s see, it’s a total of 21 to be divided by 8, leaving a paltry 2.625.
That’s interesting though. It shows that Aldi is better on both British exclusive and British guest categories, but it also shows that Aldi’s guest are marginally better than its exclusives while Lidl’s exclusives are marginally better than its guests. I think that’s quite useful. Take note of that.

Foreign guests
I’m afraid there isn’t much to compare in this category so far, since Aldi are quite prolific in their delvings into the European market, while the few times I’ve visited Lidl have only yielded two foreign guests. Those two were Blanche de Namur, a Belgian wheat beer and Bornem Blond, a Belgian blonde ale. They both looked the part, but sadly they didn’t taste it, scoring 2 and 1.5 out of 5 respectively.
Aldi are giants in this field though. I mentioned earlier in the post how they got in 5 or 6 authentic German beers for Oktoberfest, which routinely scored between 3.5 and 4 out of 5. From time to time they also have beers from French brewer, Les Brasseurs de Gayant. La Goudale Biere de Abbage (3.75/5)and La Goudale Witt (4/5) are good examples, while the gluten free Grain d’Orge Bio Sans Gluten was fucking awful (1/5).

Then there was alternative Spanish lager Ambar Especial. There’s a funny story about this one. An acquaintance was in Zaragoza and posted a picture of a local beer that he favoured over San Miguel and Cruzcampo and the like. He mentioned how it wasn’t available in the UK yet. It was funny because that very day I’d seen it in our local Aldi, and I think it was only 99p per bottle. Next time I went in I took a picture for him, and later, on his return home, he went straight out and bought what looked to be the stock for one whole store. Anyway, I only scored it 3.5, which isn’t bad.
Seasonal gimmicks
Ok, final section now before I start wrapping this up. It’s a fairly inconclusive one though, to be honest. I’ve only had the pleasure of trying one seasonal gimmick from Lidl so far – Shepherd Neame’s Burns Ale which I scored 2.5/5. Aldi have been getting all sorts in over the years though – Christmas themed ales like Reigndeer from Sadlers (3/5), Redbreast by Jennings (3/5), Yule Love it! By Thwaites (3.5/5), Rocking Rudolph by Greene King (3/5) and Wychwood’s Bah Humbug (3/5). They also embrace Burns Night (Blackwolf Brewery’s Rabbie Burns, 3.5/5) and Halloween (Wychwood’s Dunkel Fester).
Anyway, these kind of beers aren’t really my kind of thing. I only buy them because it’s more or less a guaranteed distinct beer to add to my log. So I’m not going to compare across this genre – for now anyway.
So which of the two budget supermarkets should you go to to fulfil your beer needs? I think it’s plain to see that Aldi is the choice for me. If Lidl is a lot more convenient for you, it has offerings that are worth a try, but Lidl consistently has the greater range, and it changes fairly regularly. Not only that, but the most important thing, the quality, is just that bit better. I’m not consistently buying by beers from Aldi just at the moment (do I do pick up anything distinct that comes in), but there’s certainly a case for doing so in preference to the mainstream supermarkets. Sure, the mainstream supermarkets have the range and they have the offers, but Aldi has great prices and solid alternatives that if you’re like me, you might find a little less depressing than the choices you have to make at Tesco or Sainsburys (or Asda or Morrison’s. You guys don’t escape my ire either).
Over to you now. Please tell me about your favourite supermarket beers in the comments, and join me next week when I’ll be talking about something else, which I think will be a revisit of the standard Wild Turkey Kentucky Bourbon, but which, as ever, is subject to change if I haven’t written enough of it. See you then.