This is the third year of this competition, but I have to confess that years 1 & 2 almost passed me by completely. It was only in the aftermath of the 2012 iteration, that I picked up on the 2 winners Mocha by Batemans (slightly sweet, but v moreish) & J W Lees’ Manchester Star – a recreated recipe of a 19th century beer initially created in collaboration with Garrett Oliver of Brooklyn Brewery, I think I still have a bottle of that lurking somewhere!
This year however, I picked up on some of the buzz via Twitter & Facebook and headed to my nearest branch.
The competition works like this. This year, over 150 bottled beers were entered in the four regional competitions (Scot/NI, North, East & West) and, through customer tasting sessions, were whittled down to five from each region. These 20 beers are then stocked across the Sainsbury estate and, via volume of sales, are further whittled down to 12 which go through to a final judging by “beer experts” (sorry, couldn’t help myself – Just can’t get over Worthington White Shield winning Champion Bottle Beer of Britain at GBBF!)
Prize for 1st place? Shelf space in over 250 stores. 2nd place? 100 stores. A significant deal for almost any Micro!
Walking in to my branch at Bolton, the beers were clearly on display and separated from the main booze aisles. Now, despite a thoroughly undeserved reputation as a bit of a lush, there was absolutely NO WAY I was going to attempt all 20 beers! So I got selective. I bought 10 or so different bottles (in varying quantities) Here’s the best of the bunch that I bought.
One further point. My usual format for listing changes here, as all the beers were bought from the one retailer and all cost the same price – a ludicrously cheap £1.50!!!
1. Windermere Pale – Hawkshead Brewery (Staveley , Cumbria) – 4% abv – Pale Ale – 500ml
Firstly (and I feel like I’m back at school here!), I misplaced my photo of the poured bottle. I did take one, honest sir……it was there this morning……
Pale as a spring morning but with the pungent aroma of autumns harvest of that beast of a hop, Citra! If you have ever had this on draught….It’s just as pale, just as hoppy. Sweet and sharp on the nose with pineapple and grapefruit, light bodied but absolutely PACKED with hoppy flavours with more grapefruit having the edge. A nice slightly sweet rich tea biscuit base allows the hops to party. Nice very dry bitter finish. Slightly boosted in strength to 4% (draught on cask being 3.5% abv) but loses none of its refreshing ability. More please!
2 Gonny No Brew That – Williams Bros Brewing (Alloa, Scotland) – 3.8% abv – Pale Ale – 500ml
I thought that at this strength, that this beer might suffer in comparison. Not a bit of it! Pale and gold with a pineapple marmaladey nose. Quite full-bodied for this strength with a doughy bread base balanced by a cutting orangey bitterness. A nice fruity bittersweet finish. Nice beer at this strength.
3. Crafty Dan – Daniel Thwaites (Blackburn, Lancashire) – 6% abv – Strong Pale Ale – 500ml
Brewed on a smaller brew kit used for Thwaites seasonal range, this is one of quite a few Thwaites beers I’ve had this year which is seriously impressive. Deep gold, abundant white foam head with an aroma of orange marmalade on warm bread. In the mouth, more slightly bitter Seville marmalade hops with a nice big biscuit malt base. Hints of warming rum or Curacao. A nice bitterness in the finish with a spicy orange tang. A Blackburn Belter!
4. India Pale Ale – Harbour Brewing Company (Trekillick, North Cornwall) – 5.2% abv – IPA – 500ml
One of two Harbour beers that I bought. Not had much of their stuff, but what I have had has been impressive, but on keg. This was a bronze coloured beer full of citrus aromas. Medium bodied and really citrus fruity with gum tingling piney resins swirling around the mouth. A really nice hoppy bitter beer with sufficient malty sweetness for just the right balance – with the hops on top that is! Very tasty indeed!
5. Porter No 6 – Harbour Brewing Company (Trekillick, North Cornwall) – 6.8% abv – Porter – 330ml
Just to ramp the strength back up and to introduce some shade into all this light stuff! The second from Harbour. A deep ruby, nearly black beer with a surprising raisin wine aroma (for this strength). A mouthful of caramel maltyness with a nice coffee and sweet chocolate flavouring. This was quite warming as it slipped down – again, surprisingly so at this strength point. A touch sweeter that I usually like my porters, but a truly cracking bottle!
6. Wayfarer – Orkney Brewery (Cawdor, Nairnshire, Scotland) – 4.4% abv – IPA – 500ml
A really pale beer with a distinctive citrus aroma, reminiscent of bitter lemon. Balanced malt base but overlaid with cascade and amarillo hop zing, more grapefuit and lemon puckering the lips. Really refreshing beer with a dry and slightly resinous finish. First Orkney I’ve had in a while. A cracker.
7. Infra Red – Hardknott Brewery (Millom, Cumbria) – 6.2% abv – Red IPA (I suppose!) – 330ml
This almost exploded as I opened it. A ruby red beer with an aroma of cough candy, spicy and slightly yeasty. Again, in the mouth, the cough candy of the crystal malt is evident, but with quite a bitter hoppy hit. Quite bitter and spicy in the finish with a spicy hop lingering.
There you go. I didn’t burden you with the ones that I didn’t quite get. The Querkus Smoked Porter was particularly disappointing and the Hunters Devon Dreamer was a bit yeasty (may have shaken and not settled to be fair)
I know that this is now a bit late in the game, but if you bought any of the above, you’d be doing yourselves a favour IMO! And, you only have until next Wednesday. What are you waiting for???
If you ask me for my favourites….I’d have to say the Crafty Dan, and the Harbour Porter. The others just being shaded, but only just! Certainly, if the Bolton stores’ sales are anything to go by, the Hawkshead Windermere Pale has been selling well. Just look at the picture at the top!
On that note…’til next time…(probably Hornbeam MTB at The Salford Arms tomorrow evening!)