11 December 2017

Dropping a twenty

Way back in September, the PR firm for the supermarket Aldi sent me a no-strings €20 voucher. The German discounter has been upping its game recently, as part of the bigger war between the grocery giants which has had beer as one of the fronts for a couple of years now. I thought it would be an interesting experiment to see what sort of a selection €20 buys, beerwise, in Aldi these days. Of course, a more sensible and rational human, one without a blog to feed, would have blown the lot on Spaten, a beer which offers about the best quality-for-price ratio in the country. Would I be able to find the beatings of that?

I managed eight different beers before running out of new ones, and didn't even clear the voucher, spending €19.62 in total.

It was just before Halloween so there was a selection of Wychwood offerings available. We begin with Dr. Thirsty's No. 4 Blonde, a whopping 4.1% ABV and a middling lager-yellow. There's a definite caskish feel about it: low fizz and a loose head. I was expecting dull but there is real character here, beginning with a spicy incense aroma. That intensifies on tasting, turning to dry cedar balanced by a bubblegum sweetness and a gentle green bitterness. It sounds busy but it's light enough to carry it effortlessly. This is easy-going English blonde ale done exceedingly well.

So a tough act for Hobgoblin Gold to follow. Another blonde ale, this time a direct brand extension from Wychwood's dark flagship. There's a smidge more alcohol at 4.5% ABV and with a surprising haze. An off-putting funky aroma is how it says hello, and the flavour is roughly acidic as well, with worrying gastric overtones. Hobgoblin isn't the best beer in the world but it's inoffensive. This is rather more extreme. There's maybe a softer element of stonefruit in the background: lychee if you're feeling charitable. Overall, however, it's quite grim stuff.

Williams Brothers supply the next two, starting with Re#Dial lager. "What's this? It's got a good beat!" exclaims the label. It does look well: a flawless golden hue topped by a handsome layer of pure white foam. The aroma is the first sign of trouble: sour and sweaty, like a forgotten gym bag. After the effort of pouring I wasn't sure I wanted to taste it. It wasn't as bad as I'd feared: a little over-sweetened, and yes there's a tinny twang that doesn't belong in decent lager, but the flavour is unobtrusive enough that it can be downed quickly, refreshing as it goes, and not cause offence. It's a mere 4% ABV, and if it wasn't for that woeful aroma I'd go so far as to describe it as sessionable. The texture is probably its best feature: light and spritzy, the carbonation in the Goldilocks zone below fizzy but well above flat.

Its stablemate for this round is Iconic, an American-style pale ale. This one is all Cascade, the ABV rocketing up to 4.4%. It certainly smells of Cascade: that classic, earthy, marmalade-and-metal aroma. It looks well too: the body clear and the head tight. It's another sweet one, with a flavour that's primarily spun sugar and golden syrup. The hops have the measure of this, however, giving bitter cabbage leaf and sharp grapefruit. The end result is an uneasy balance, with both the malt sugar and hop acid threatening to take over at any moment. It works, though, and while it doesn't taste especially American, it's a decent and light pale ale, one which is particularly good value at just €2.19 a bottle.

Medusa is next in line, brewed for Aldi by Marston's under the supermarket's "Harpers Brewing" fake brand. It's a red ale and the label promises "roasted chocolate". Eh? Who roasts cho