Wednesday, 25 April 2012
Taste the Difference
OK, I know this post was supposed to be about the local pub scene in Tonbridge; well I am still working on it, so in the meantime here are my thoughts and observations regarding beers from the Sainsbury's "Taste the Difference" range, which were on special offer the other week. After giving most of them a try I was quite impressed, so here is my review of the beers I sampled. (By the way I didn't receive any, cash incentives or any other rewards from Sainsbury's for reviewing their products, but if they'd like to send me further samples to try, then I wouldn't say no!)
Westmorland Ale at just 4.0% is brewed by Jennings, and is described as "a lovely golden amber ale with subtle hints of toffee and caramel. beautifully balanced by hoppy notes from the Fuggles, Goldings and Challenger hops." It's also got a rather attractive label, depicting sailing boats on one of the regions many lakes. A trifle on the weak side for my liking, but still eminently drinkable, and easy to recognise as coming from the Jennings stable.
London Porter at 5.0% is brewed by Shepherd Neame, and whilst obviously NOT brewed in the capital, takes its name from the style of beer first made famous by the City's market workers. Regular readers will know that despite them being Kent's largest independent, Shep's are not my favourite brewery, but to their credit the Porter is an excellent beer. Back in the late 1990's the company had a draught Porter available as a seasonal beer and I'm wondering whether this bottled version is based on the same brew. The tasting notes describe it as "A rich, dark beer packed with intense flavours of chocolate and spicy liquorice.", whilst the front label promises a beer that is "Rich and aromatic with notes of chocolate. Dark and intense with a hint of spicy liquorice". I have to say I wholly agree with these descriptions, and thoroughly endorse this particularly fine beer.
Yorkshire Bitter 5.0%. Brewed in Masham by Black Sheep, this beer is described as "a classic and beautifully balanced Yorkshire bitter combining hoppy notes with bittersweet malty undertones and a dry, refreshing finish.". The front label also highlights "Demerara sweetness with full malt body and citrus overtones." I don't have anything else to add to that, except that this is a pleasant and highly quaffable bitter, instantly recognisable as coming from Black Sheep and, yes I can detect the Demerara sugar lurking in the background.
Celebration Ale 6.0%. Another offering from Black Sheep; not a company noted for the brewing of dark ales. This 6.0% rich dark winter warmer certainly hits the mark on a cold, mid-April evening. Described as "a dark, velvety stout with a complex chocolate and spice finish. Beautifully balanced with sweet raisin notes.", it is still currently on offer at three bottles for just £5.00.
India Pale Ale 5.9%, brewed by Marstons at their brewery in the home of IPA's, Burton-on-Trent. I'd been saving this beer until last as I thought it would be a cracker. At 5.9% it ought to be, but I found it rather disappointing. Described on the tasting notes as a "Traditional IPA with fresh aromas of and citrus with a clean, bitter hop flavour.", this beer unfortunately doesn't quite deliver for me. On paper it's got everything that a proper IPA should have; the right colour, strength, plenty of bitterness, so why am I not enthusing about it? The beer was perfectly drinkable, but was nothing out of the ordinary, and I'm sorry to say wasn't a patch on the Fuller's Bengal Lancer IPA that I'm sitting here enjoying at the moment!
There are three other beers in the "Taste the Difference" range, but for various reasons I gave them a miss. The first is Scottish Craft Lager, brewed by Harviestoun and presumably based on their well-known Schiehallion brand, but at just 4.1% abv, a touch on the weak side for a decent lager. The other was the Suffolk Golden Ale, from St Peter's Brewery. I gave this one a miss as the tasting notes make clear it is a wheat beer, and I've never been a fan of wheat beers.Somehow I just can't get on with them; I can dink one, at a pinch, but one is invariably enough and after that I have to switch to a more traditional.style, based on barley malt.
The final beer is Traditional Kentish Ale, a 4.5% beer brewed by Shepherd Neame. I've already made my views on Shep's quite clear, and whilst their Porter is very good, this paler offering is unlikely to be any better than their run of the mill Master Brew or Spitfire, both of which I avoid drinking.
So that sums up the current "Taste the Difference" range. From a personal point of view I am disappointed that Sainsbury's dropped the continental styles of beers that were formerly part of the range. They were all brewed by Meantime and included a Helles, a Franconian-style Dunkel, a Kolsch style beer plus, I believe, a couple of Belgian-style ales. These beers disappeared from the shelves several years ago. I'm not quite sure why, but perhaps the great British beer drinking public were just not quite ready for them at the time. Possibly they were just that bit too esoteric and too far outside their comfort zone. During the last few years however, drinkers do seem to have become more adventurous and discerning in their choice of beer, so if Sainsbury's were to re-launch them they would probably fare much better than they did first time around.