Wednesday, 13 January 2016

A "Lidl" light refreshment. Budget Beers or Bodged Brews?

With the Festive season now, quickly, ebbing in to the background, now nothing more than a pile of  wrapping paper, bottles and cans for the recycling bins to secure until bin day, not to mention those pine needles, tinsel strands and bits of broken bauble stuffing up the vacuum cleaner, I thought it would be a good idea to review the bottled beers I have sampled over the holiday period from one of the UK's fastest growing food retailers. I have always had a lot of time for the so called “budget” supermarkets, not just the “new kids on the block”, but also those longer established names which are now linchpins of Britain's retail market, but my thoughts on the cheaper range home brand beers have, sometimes, not been so enthusiastic. Usually of inferior strength and taste, until late, these products have not been for the discerning drinker. Fortunately, things have slowly improved, and, since the arrival of both Lidl, and Aldi, on the High Street, the competition has become very interesting. In June 2015, Lidl announced that they would be increasing their Regional Craft beer range across the UK, and adding to the “Hatherwood” range of beers. Over their time trading in my neck of the woods, I have been quite a regular shopper in Lidl, drawn by the value for money, and have quaffed quite a few of their seasonal beery offerings, usually from the Shepherd Neame range. Most are quite enjoyable, and all sensibly priced.
The full selection of
Hatherwood Craft Beers
With the introduction of the new Hatherwood beers, I decided to stock up with a few. The range, now numbered 1-6, with a lager and Winter Warmer on top, includes most styles of beer popular at the moment, with varying strengths, and priced at 90p, £1-25 and £1-49, to reflect the difference in ABV. The bottle labels are all similar in design, with a slightly rural craft look to them. Simplistic, but not uninformative. No glitter, just the basics of ingredients, ABV, Head Brewer and the necessary product information. To say this doesn't mean they become lost on the shelf, amongst all those glossy pictures of skulls, buxom wenches or fat friars with flagons in hand, which bedeck so many cans and bottles in many beer aisles, no, quite the opposite. They sit there, quietly, waiting to be assessed, or, maybe, discovered. My voyage of discovery had now begun, I will now give my impressions on this selection of beers.

No 1. Golden Goose. Golden Ale. 3.8%
Just 90p secures a 500ml bottle of this beer, which is brewed for Hatherwood by Jeff Drew, Head Brewer for Wychwood. The taste is quite rounded, with hints of fruit and caramel, and the finish is reasonably dry, with a nice bitterness.Pleasant and unassuming, I found. It is more than adequate as a session beer.

No 2. The Green Gecko. IPA 5%
Simon Yates, from Banks' is named as Head Brewer for this punchy IPA. It is, initially, quite bitter, with big citrus notes. These lead the way a refreshing, zesty taste on the palate, with grapefruit and a hint of pine resin also evident. The finish isn't long, but very satisfying, with a dryness and bitterness that make it very moreish.

No 3 The Amber Adder. Amber Ale 4.3%
I found this one quite similar to The Green Gecko, but the sweetness of the malt comes through stronger at the beginning, before the zesty bitterness takes control. There are floral hints in the finish, which is quite dry, spicy, bitter and reasonably long. I would say this would be a great session beer, especially for the coming warmer months. The Head Brewer on this beer was Marston's/Banks Tom Spencer.

No 4 The Ruby Rooster. Bitter 3.8%
This is quite a solid tasting beer. Malt and caramel abound in the opening taste, which leads to a slight nuttiness towards the end. The finish is reasonably dry, and pleasantly bitter-sweet. Overall, although not a classic beer that is full of complexity, this is a good value for money bitter. At 90p a bottle, you would certainly struggle to find a brew as reliable as this elsewhere, unless on a special offer. It is another from the Wychwood (Jeff Drew) stable.

No 5 Purple Panther Porter. 5%
The Jennings Brewery's Head Brewer, Jeremy Pettman adds his name to the label of this dark beer. There are lovely burnt malt flavours in the opening gambit of this Porter, with a hint of dark chocolate and coffee. Plum and dark fruits lurk in the background, and the finish is quite long, with a nice dryness on the palate, following a reasonable bitter-sweetness. It isn't a thick, resinous Porter, in fact, I found it a touch thin, but that is not to say it isn't a good beer of this style. A very pleasing and satisfying brew.

No 6 Ginger Grizzly Alcoholic Ginger Beer. 4%
I have never really gone for these “fad” drinks. Fruit of every type seem to be the in thing in the Cider brewing sector at the moment. (What's wrong with just using apples ?!!), and all those pop flavoured drinks seem to be everywhere. So, seeing this on the shelf did intrigue me. Should I try it or not? Well, I did, and I'm glad I did. The pour is quite lively, with the heady aroma of ginger and spice not shy of introducing itself. it is slightly cloudy in the glass, with the head disappearing almost instantly. The initial taste is quite sweet, but not overly so, but this is soon surpassed with that wonderful fiery heat from the ginger, with citrus notes also coming through. WOW! If you like Old Jamaican Ginger Beer, you will love this. The heat lasts on the palate quite a while. A great change from the norm. This is also from the Marstons Brewery, being created by Jake Johnson.

Gnarly Fox New Wave Lager.4.5%
I am not a big lager fan. Well, British styled and brewed lagers, more accurately. On opening this bottle, I wasn't expecting much. There was the usual grassy aroma, an effervescence as it slid out into the glass, and then to the taste. Hmm, a bit more sweet maltiness than I expected, but with a reasonable bitterness. Biscuit and Caramel are evident, with the hopped finish being not too heavy, and overall, a well balanced beer. I found it very “continental”, in fact. I certainly wouldn't refuse another, even if it isn't my favourite style

The Winter Warmer Spiced Dark Beer. 5.5%
This Hatherwood beer is brewed in conjunction with Kevin Love of Hogs Back Brewery. This is quite sweet at the outset, but the lovely warming mulled spices,(cinnamon, nutmeg and a hint of star anise were detected,) soon kick in, with some dark chocolate also lurking. There is also a fruitiness in the taste. The sweetness extends all the way through to the finish, which is quite long, and pleasant. This Porter-style beer is certainly not a session ale, as the 330 ml bottle testifies, and is rather complex, but sipped by the fire, on a cold Winter's eve, it comes into it's own. Where's my slippers?

Well, that's my review of the Hatherwood Craft Beer Range from Lidl. Alright, they are brewed by major breweries, (under the Marstons canopy for the main, and also Hog's Back) There is no Hatherwood Brewery, nestled down a country lane and distributing its wares by horse and cart, or steam engine, and, to be fair, the company doesn't try to mislead you of this, but one thing is a certainty, I can honestly say, I was not disappointed in any of the brews. There are better, stronger and more expensive beers out there, but as far as quality beers at very affordable prices go, you may have to look long and hard. You dont have to pick 4 bottles to get them at a certain discounted price, which is handy if you just fancy a bottle or two at a time. Don't forget, alongside these beers, you will also find a great range of regional beers and ciders too, and those monthly specials. Don't just take my word for it, give them a go yourselves.

Cheers and keep it “Real”