Sometimes the craft beer scene can be a daunting and scary place. For those of you recently entering the arena of CBWs (Craft Beer W–kers) spouting this and that about sours, DIPAs, barrel aged and saisons, you may find yourself simply saying “Wha…?”
So let’s stop and think for a moment. If you are new to craft beer you’ve probably seen the light via a supermarket shelf. More of our larger supermarkets now stock and wider and more varied selection of local Northern Ireland beers than ever before and we’ll have a wee jook at what’s on offer should you choose to buy your local swally in Sainsbury’s, Asda, Tesco or Lidl.
We’ll begin at Sainsbury’s and Whitewater Brewery from County Down. The brewery recently moved from Kilkeel to a bigger facility at Castlewellan and I picked up Bee’s Endeavour. This 4.8% ABV golden ale has a light honey sweetness with a Ken Dodd tickle of ginger. I’d prefer more of a Carl Frampton punch but without making it a ginger beer, if you know what I mean. I can imagine Enid Blyton’s Famous Five being updated for 2017 with the underage scallywags drinking this instead of their usual tipple. There’s a touch of heather and lavender from the honey and this is a well balanced summer beer – refreshing for the seven days of Northern Irish summer that has just come and gone recently.
Also from Sainsbury’s and a new entry to the supermarket sector is Mourne Mountains East Coast IPA from Warrenpoint. Now is neither the time nor place to get into that long winded discussion about what constitutes an East Coast IPA, suffice to say this has a light peachy aroma and taste with plenty of bitterness that just about dominates that peach hiding in there. A good 5.5% ABV reddish-amber IPA at a quality price of around £2.
It would be wrong to talk about starting off in the craft beer world without mentioning Hilden. The grand-daddy of independent beer in Northern Ireland, Hilden brewery began life in 1981 and has bottles in Tesco, Sainsbury and Asda, where I picked up Barney’s Brew.
This 5.0% ABV wheat beer is named after Barney Hughes, the creator of The Belfast Bap and spiced with cardamom, coriander and black pepper. Straw in colour, there’s a lemon aroma that leads into a sharp lemon and spice taste. Despite the head disappearing in a few seconds, this is well carbonated – bordering on a sour, liquid lemon sherbet. If sours are your bag, this is the Hilden for you.
Also from Asda, 4.5% ABV Finn Pilsner Lager from Station Works brewery in Newry. Once a part of Cumberland Brewery in Cumbria, England before being bought by US-owned Alltech, Station Works also brew The Foxes Rock brand of beers that are widely available in supermarkets. Anyway, to Finn and his no-doubt legendary tales. There’s a faint whiff of lemon from this pale straw coloured lager and according to the label, I should ‘Taste the Legend’. No thanks all the same. After a few sips the lemon evaporates and all I’m left with is the legend, whatever that means, but it’s not overly pleasant. Methinks Mr McCool is being dealt a bum deal here. Methinks I should stop saying methinks. Apologies to all CBWs for not using a traditional pils glass, but hey, meh.
So Sainsbury’s and Asda done, the next post will feature Tesco and Lidl.