24 January 2011

Give and take at Aldi

Since it first appeared, plaudits have been rolling in for Aldi's Specially Selected Traditional Irish Ale, brewed by Carlow Brewing. It adds an extra interesting layer to boring old red ale with its rich and roasted flavours. Heavy, warming and very satisfying to drink, though only in 33cl at a time. It was a welcome addition to Ireland's supermarket beer. Only now it looks like it's gone again. There are reports of occasional four-packs in Aldis around the country, but in general it seems it's on its way out.

At the same time, Aldi have two new Irish brews on the shelves. It doesn't say where they're from, other than "Ireland" and the branding is "O'Shea's". I'm going to guess that we have something new from Carlow on our hands.

Hopes that O'Shea's Traditional Irish Ale was simply a rebottling of of the old Specially Selected red were short lived. This very dark brown-red beer has sweet caramel as its driving force and next-to-nothing by way of roast. Not a whole lot of hopping either, though I reckon the tiny, tinny, niggling metallic tang at the finish is hop-derived. All that residual sugar gives a lovely meaty body; creamy, in fact, and not at all watery as 4.3% ABV supermarket own-brand beer can often be. I do miss the crispness of its predecessor, but the ability to have a full-sized glass of it almost makes up the difference. Not a bad drop, this. At €1.99 a go I reckon I'll be keeping it in stock.

Carlow also brew a stout for Marks & Spencer. It's 4.5% ABV and one of the best session-strength stouts on the Irish market. The fatal flaw is the €3.29 price tag: good, but not that good. And now along comes O'Shea's Traditional Irish Stout: €1.99 in Aldi and 4.5% ABV. Could this be..? Once again the answer is no. O'Shea's is pretty distinctive in that it's remarkably similar to the red. Darker, though not really by a lot, and faintly drier but not anything like as dry as is usual for a bottled Irish session stout. You get a big hit of caramel up at the front, reminding me a lot of Carlow's strong extra stout Leann Folláin, but without the richness that comes from the added alcohol. To an extent I'm also reminded of much weaker milk stouts. And even sweet central European dark beers like Šariš. Anything but standard bottled Irish session stout. It's not a bad beer, by any means, and it went well with a plate of chilli. It's just a few degrees askew from stout as we know it.