For any non-Brits reading this, Sainsbury’s is a major UK supermarket chain. They’re the third largest supermarket in the UK with 557 supermarkets, 377 convenience stores and around 16.2% market share.
And, it must be said, they’re classier than most as supermarkets go. They take their alcoholic drinks very seriously – not only sourcing fine ales from around the world, but occasionally commissioning their own take on classic brews.
As the name of this post suggests, Sainsbury’s hold an annual competition to identify a selection of British brews. They then promote those brews in their stores for three weeks from the beginning of September; the two most popular of those brews earn a coveted space on their hallowed shelves in 300 stores.
As you might imagine winning this competition represents a tremendous boost for any small brewer and this year the competition was judged by regional panels of ‘beer experts’ and Sainsburys’ own customers.
The final sixteen brews that will appear on Sainbury’s shelves in September are:
From Scotland, Northern Ireland and north east England:
Harviestoun – Wild Hop IPA
This I found to be really hoppy, closer to an APA than an IPA, really crisp and dry, I gave it a worthy 4 stars and will look out for it in September.
Williams Brothers – Caesar Augustus
I recently reviewed Williams Brothers ‘Kelpie’ seaweed infused brew for The Brewclub (it’s on Scott’s ‘to be published’ pile). This particular brew describes itself as a hybrid lager/IPA (so is it top or bottom fermented?) and frankly I was disappointed, it was neither IPA nor Lager and didn’t really do it for me.
Caledonian Brewing – Wild Dutchman Wit Bier
Despite coming from a Victorian brew house in Edinburgh, I found this brew to be an authentic Wit beer crammed with complex flavours. 4½ stars and on the list for September.
Williams Brothers – Profanity Stout
Having been unimpressed by both Kelpie and Caesar Augustus from this brewery, I approached this brew with some trepidation. I had no need to, it’s deep, rich and full of flavour, brewed to a mighty 7% ABV I deliberately left this brew until last, and wasn’t disappointed – 4 stars and on my list for September!
South East and Eastern England:
Ridgeway – Ivanhoe
Ridgeway was created after the closure of Oxfordshire’s ‘Brakspear’ brewery, and really wanted to enjoy this, sadly I didn’t, my notes read ‘disappointing’ and I gave it 2½ stars.
Ridgeway – Bad King John
This made up for the Ivanhoe, crammed with rich chocolate notes, this one hid its strength well, brewed to 6%, my notes read “3½ stars but dangerous”
McMullen – Stronghart
Another strong brew, CAMRA described this brew as ‘liquid Christmas pudding’ – very rich, dark and complex. Oh and brewed to 7% – 4 stars.
Oakham – Bishop’s Farewell
Sainbury’s tasting notes described this as ‘very moreish’ and frankly I can’t disagree; it’s a really well balanced and enjoyable brew, which I awarded a solid 3½ stars.
South West England & Wales:
Wye Valley – Wye Not?
My notes read “Why not? Because it doesn’t work for me!” despite claiming a delicate hop aroma, it just didn’t deliver for me, I gave it just 1½ stars.
Oxfordshire Ales – Churchill
I’ve enjoyed a few ‘old style’ and ‘modern’ IPA’s recently, and this one I found very disappointing, I just couldn’t find the hops that were promised. Ah well, 2½ stars.
Hunter’s – Full Bore
Hunter’s brew at 4% session brew called ‘Half Bore’, made with Devon honey. Full Bore was created by accident when the brewer got his quantities wrong. The resulting 8% brew is described by the brewer himself as a “Bloody strong pint but surprisingly fresh taste.” I can’t disagree and gave it 4 stars.
Cotleigh – Golden Seahawk
I’m trying hard to overcome my dislike of “Summer Ales” (I tend to like my Lagers to be pale and my Ales to be dark), and this brew is one that overcomes my prejudice, crisp, refreshing with hints of honey balancing the hoppy citrus.
North West England & the Midlands:
Wold Top – Golden Summer
I’ve previously reviewed brews from Wold Top – including their gluten free ale (Against the Grain) which I gave 3 stars. I found Golden Summer to be a well-balanced and refreshing brew that, at 4.4% ABV could prove to be deceptively potent. I gave it 4 stars.
Frederic Robinson – Frederic’s Great British Ginger Beer
I’ve previously given Robinson’s ‘Old Tom’ just 2½ stars in April 2009, but even though I found this slightly medicinal in taste, I enjoyed it and gave it 3 stars.
Sadler’s – Worcester Sorcerer
The first brew I’ve ever tasted from Worcester, I found this to be a good, solid ‘best bitter’ and worth 3 stars.
Joseph Holt – Two Hoots Golden Ale
While the flavour of this Golden Ale from Manchester disappointed slightly, it had a good hoppy nose, I gave it 3 stars.
Needless to say, these ratings were after a few sips of each at a two hour tasting session and so cannot be considered objective, but there are several brews in there that I will try and seek out for further ‘tasting’ for The Brew Club when they hit the shelves in September.
Oliver Chadwyck-Healey, the beer buyer at Sainsbury’s (what a job that must be!), said: “The fantastic quality of British beer was really highlighted by the success of the regional beer hunt events, which generated excellent feedback from brewers and customers alike.”
He added “One of the best things about the beer competition is the opportunity it gives to the brewers of the 16 winning beers – particularly the smaller brewers – to showcase their beer on a national level to an interested audience – our beer buying customers – who are looking for something new and exciting.”
I can’t disagree with Oliver; exposure in 300 supermarkets must provide an amazing opportunity – and challenge – for small brewers.
Bob the Brit