Dabbling in Supermarket Craft Beer? You’ve Never Had It So Good

In the (looks at the abacus) almost 10 years I’ve been blethering away on this blog, the Northern Ireland beer scene has changed immeasurably. Okay, when I say immeasurably, that’s not true. Of course it’s measurable, I’ve been one of the people measuring it. Let’s just say it has changed for the better in many ways – the number of NI and Irish microbreweries has increased beyond what would ever have been imaginable from 2012 and the range of local, national and international beers available in our shops has markedly improved.

Like most people embarking on a craft beer journey, I began my never-ending expedition from the Noughties in the supermarkets. Back then I recall “something different” for me was picking up a few bottles of Innis & Gunn, Wychwood’s Hobgoblin or Badger’s Fursty Ferret in my local Sainsbury’s.

Supermarket offerings have moved on incredibly so.

Now some of the trendiest and most revered breweries in the UK – and the world – can be picked up with your weekly shop and here are some newbies I found…

I have to confess I let out a little yelp of excitement when I saw Berkshire based brewery Siren’s Cacao & Hazelnut Broken Dream sitting on a shelf in Belfast’s Antrim Road Asda store.

I’m a fan of the original Broken Dream stout and this 5.8% ABV variant initially offers up an enticing coffee and chocolate aroma which is followed by a big, dry, hazelnut taste combined with smooth and creamy coffee. This doesn’t scrimp on yer nuts. It’s roasty, it’s nutty, it’s what you’d want from a nutty stout. Box ticked.

Sitting on the same shelf was Honeycomb Pale Ale from Salford’s Seven Bro7hers brewery. Yes, the number 7 is meant to be in the middle of the word. Despite having the word ‘honeycomb’ printed all around the middle of the can, the blurb on the back says “essence of honeycomb” which raises my concerns. It still went into the bag though. Let’s see how good or bad “essence” can be.

This 4% ABV pale isn’t as sweet as you’d expect. It’s light, any more sweetness and it would be in danger of becoming sticky and sickly very quickly. The “essence” really means synthetic, it doesn’t feel or taste like real honeycomb, y’know, with that sticky sweetness. Maybe that’s not a bad thing. Imagine taking some honeycomb and swirling it around in a standard pale ale for 20 seconds, you’re close to the mark.

BAD Co is a brewery I knew absolutely nothing about. I thought I’d never noticed or heard of them before picking up some beers in Asda’s Antrim Road store . A bit of research told me they’re from Yorkshire, established in 2014. My own Untappd records show I’d had a couple of bottles in 2018. From where, I’ve no idea and I’ve no memory of drinking them. High praise then!

Anyway, their 7.4% ABV Double IPA Off-Tempo DIPA3 made its way into my bag. There’s a pleasing slight stone fruit taste to begin – peachy and a touch of apricot. It’s malty too with an earthy and pine bitterness – not a million miles away from a West Coaster but just not as bitter.

The wonderful world of Google Maps tells me 25 miles separates BAD Co and Black Sheep brewery. I hadn’t had a Black Sheep beer in many years – it’s what many would call a traditional brewery. You’d expect to find its beer if stopping into The Woolpack in Emmerdale, if the Woolpack in Emmerdale sold actual real beer, which it doesn’t.

What isn’t in any way traditional is their new 5.3% ABV Raspberry and White Chocolate Milkshake IPA. Are milkshake IPAs are still a thing? It smells sweet, like raspberry drops. Glass to lips and there’s a creaminess from the vanilla and lactose but that’s the B side to the A side main tune of tart, acidic raspberry. That’s what my tongue focuses on and that’s what lingers when the mouth becomes empty. If I’m being honest, I’d prefer less tart raspberries and more creamy white chocolate but hey ho, you can’t always get what you want.

I’ll end on a plea.

If you do most, or all, of your craft beer shopping in supermarkets then that’s encouraging that you’re picking up better beers rather than a 24 pack of Carlsberg. There’s certainly more choice of good beer available now than ever before in supermarkets but due to the quantities required by supermarkets to sell in their stores, most small, local breweries can’t meet the high production targets. So if you also want some Northern Irish microbrews, pop into your local independent off licence if one is near you. (A good NI map of where they are can be found here – clicky.) This is where NI brewery offerings mainly live and they need your support if they’re to survive and prosper.

Please try to make these places an addition to your weekly food shop.

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