Tuesday, 11 April 2017

Beero Quest, or Heroic Brew

We’ve had the Standard Supermarket Blended Scotch Test and now we return with a test of supermarket own brand beers. And why not combine it with a Hero Quest night?
It all started with being sent a mysterious video about how great the board game Hero Quest is, and my admission that I probably still had the game at my parents’ house. I’d begged for it one Christmas, and surprisingly received it among my booty that year. I say surprisingly because the year before I’d begged for Dingbats, and received Blockbusters. Only a few weeks ago I saw Dingbats in a local charity shop for £2, “certified complete”. I bought it, and when it came time to play, it turned out it wasn’t complete. The original board had been replaced with a Scrabble board. Having no idea what the board was supposed to be like, we had to make up our own rules. And it turned out to be shit.
Anyway, back to Hero Quest; I never actually got to play it. All I really did was photocopy the blank level template and create hundreds (artistic licence applied for) of my own solid quests. I was hoping they would still be in the box when my parents got it down from the loft (which is where it was sure to be), but alas there was only one; “The Treasure of Shortakan”. Perhaps we would get around to playing that one.
Also missing from the box were the four combat dice, but that was quickly remedied because I spotted it early and got my parents to find them well before the date of the game. They called to say they’d found it. At which point I told them there were supposed to be four. They found the other three.
Also missing were three standard dice, but that was quickly remedied by raiding three other games from the spare room. You may be wondering why it was necessary to raid three games when, given that most games come with two dice, I should have been able to get a third from a second game… well, that’s how I roll. Oh dear.
Being that David from the Standard Supermarket Blended Scotch Test would be one of the participants, I invited him to share the burden of seeking out beers from the various supermarkets. I took Sainsburys, Aldi, Lidl and Morrisons while he took Asda, Tesco, Co-op and M&S. We set out some rules which were:
  1. They have to be own-brand beers.
That’s pretty self-explanatory. Ideally the name of the supermarket needs to be on the packaging, whether it is front and centre on the label, or just states “brewed and bottled for…” in tiny writing on the back. Nevertheless certain representatives of the budget supermarkets don’t quite adhere to this rule. Galahad Export for example, states nothing of the kind, but it is available exclusively through Aldi and everyone knows it’s an Aldi beer. So you’re not getting out of this one so easily, Galahad.
  1. They ideally should be cans that are available as 4-packs.
The thinking behind this one was that I was skint and needed to pick up some cheap beers that I could dip into in the weeks leading up to the challenge, such that there would be a can or two left over with which to carry out the test. It also seemed the most utilitarian way of making sure we bought beers that were roughly in the same category. There are so many own brand beers these days that it nevertheless seemed likely some leeway would have to be allowed here. As you’ll see, Co-op and M&S couldn’t fulfil the can criteria, so David took an executive decision and got some bottles – M&S’ Italian lager came in a 4-pack of bottles, while [I think] Co-Op’s Czech lager were individuals. You’ll see in the next point how these Czech ones were acceptable.
  1. Don’t get anything below 4%.
It’s a personal rule of mine (only occasionally broken – say, for output from a favourite brewery, or sheer desperation for something distinct) that I never buy beer that clocks up less than 4 ABVs. The reason for that goes back to the time at the Bearded Theory festival that I drank Carlsberg all day, from breakfast, and didn’t even register a slight buzz. I concluded at that point that there’s no point in drinking sub-four-percent beers. They’re basically the equivalent of celery, which is famously the food that takes more energy to eat than you get from eating it. Beers that are weaker than 4 percent make you lose in urine more alcohol than you can possibly absorb by drinking them.
Another reason for this rule was to make sure David didn’t buy the super shit 2% beers that so many supermarkets include in their range. He likes to take things to extremes and would happily have done so – perhaps so that he would have been able to drive home afterwards.
On my first visit to Morrison’s I actually found that, while they do a standard 4% lager, they also do a “premium” 4.8% lager. That’s more akin to the Holsten Pils and various other “premium” lagers I’ve been known to drink from time to time anyway, so I decided we should get those wherever possible. It also turned out that when I went back to Sainsburys, expecting to pick up their standard 4% lager, they did a premium one too, that was also 4.8%.
Going back to that Czech lager from Co-op then, the point is that Czech lagers are precisely representative of the type of beer that we’re trying to test the supermarkets on here. And that’s why it was acceptable.
Right, shall we see who our contenders are and what we thought of them? David left me his notes, so I’ll quote directly from those if necessary…
Tesco Premium Lager (4.8%) – Pilsner style, no brewer specified, £2.85 for 4 440ml cans.
Uninspired packaging, in keeping with supermarket beers in general .This one comprises a plain grey can with an unobtrusive design that is reminiscent of barley and presumably hops.
David says: refreshing, flat and sweet.
I say: unremarkable. I failed to make any notes, so I’m working from memory and re-tastes of beers that were left over. While unremarkable, you have to admit that most branded beers of this genre are unremarkable also – Kronenbourg, Stella etc. So all you have to do is refrigerate it sufficiently… and get it down yer neck.
Aldi’s St Etienne Premium Lager (4.8%) – Euro lager style, £2.49 for 4 440ml cans.
A red and silver can, worked into a kind of rosette shape and capped off with a fleur de lys.
David says: soda water with a mellow fruit flavour; sweet but not nice.
I say: while there are subtle but definite differences between this and the previous beer, and indeed between this and the next, one’s perception of that difference fades after the second sip so, if it’s cold enough, you can just get it down you and you’re well on your way.
Aldi’s Galahad Export (4%) – Euro lager style, £2.09 for 4 440ml cans.
Low effort packaging finished in blue and silver with a little crest.
David says: has a dull flavour which it soon loses, leaving only fizz.
I say: David has provided a fair assessment. At 4% it is disadvantaged next to the others in the test (with the exception of the next one), but at this price – and at the right temperature, of course – there’s no reason you can’t enjoy this, guilt-free.
Lidl’s Excelsior Lager (4%) – Euro lager style, brewed by Brasserie Champigneulles, £1.99 for 4 440ml cans.
A blue and white can with red and silver trim and a silver action shot of a knight.
David says: very fizzy and retains its head. He also says something about summer pubs and wasps, but I can’t fathom what he means by that. We were inside at night time and there definitely weren’t any wasps… perhaps he is alluding to a turn the conversation took at this point.
I say: Excelsior is perfectly acceptable. Again, a great price and meets the minimum 4%. Easily preferable to Fosters, Carling or Carlsberg as well as various others.
Sainsburys Crown Premium Lager (4.8%) – Pilsner style, brewed by Carlsberg, £3.25 for 4 440ml cans.
Red, silver and gold dominate the presentation of this one, finising with a crown and, like Tesco’s effort a representation of barley and hops.
David says: totally flavourless.
I say: I’m fairly sure I fully concurred with David on this one, but I would add; if you want something refreshing to get smashed with, better this than something with an awful flavour.
M&S Italian Lager (5%) – Euro lager style, brewed by G. Menabrea & Figli, price?
A different approach to graphic design marks out this one. You have a mountain image and the bold claim that it is made with pure Italian Alps mountain water.
David says: nice, bitter, smells like wine.
I say: I distinctly remember almost being appalled by this one. It does have a bitterness, but that is soon superceded by a cloying sweetness that I found abhorrent. It’s a bit of a shame because I can see from my Untappd log that I’ve tried two beers from this brewery before – the 150 Anniversario Ambrara and 150 Anniversario Bionda, both of which I awarded 4 stars. For my personal taste, every one of the other contestants in this experiment are preferable to this one.
Co-op Czech Imported Lager (5%) – Pilsner style, brewed by Pivovary Staropramen, price?
The design of this label literally bores the shit out of me, so the only way I could write anything about it was to say something dismissive and crass. It is notable that, besides the varieties of Staropramen (which include Premium, Dark, Granat, Unfiltered, Svetly, 3.5%, Selection, Decko and Jedenactka), this brewery also makes Sainsburys Czech Pilsner lager.
David says: rich, fizzy, too eggy, dry.
I say: This is probably one of the very best on offer here. It is a standard premium, Czech-type lager, but what is particularly remarkable about it is that, despite it being brewed by Staropramen, I strongly prefer this to Staropramen itself. I used to like that brand when it first hit these shores, but I soon noticed an unwelcome bitterness which is thankfully notable by its absence in Co-op’s offering.
So is there an overall winner? Well, there isn’t really. As long as you’re openminded enough to rise above your ingrained beer snobbery (as you well should be by now), you have to accept that in every case (except the M&S one, in my personal opinion), these beers are perfectly acceptable for the price. Generally I do say the stronger the better, but even the 4% ones are sufficient to give you that buzz and, in spite of the price and volume variations between these, they are all cheaper and better value than the brands they emulate (or are cast off by) and really, in this genre of beer, the heights to be reached aren’t that high anyway. Save yourself some money and give them a go.
Thanks to David for attending and keeping some notes – and providing some of the beers, of course (and leaving some behind) – and to the others for playing Hero Quest with us and providing some laughs. I’ll try to think of another genre of drinking to investigate the next time something like this happens and, as ever, I’ll keep you fully informed.