23 April 2018

Bear with me

Aldi Ireland has expanded its range of own-brand Irish beers, and it comes at a time when Station Works, one of the contracting suppliers, has really put its house in order regarding quality. The butterbomb days are hopefully now behind it for good. I purchased the new ones at the earliest opportunity, with few qualms about what I was going to get.

Brown Bear Gluten Free Lager is the lowest-strength of the set at just 4.1% ABV. It looks like a standard golden lager and it tastes like a very basic one. There's a slight bready quality, in keeping with the helles style, and lots of cleansing fizz. There's pretty much zero hop character, however, and nothing to make it stand out, for good or ill. It's proficient, and if you just want a lager dammit then here's one for that. My usual observation that you can get Spaten from a shelf nearby still holds, however.

To inject a bit of fun, and with luck some hops, into proceedings, there's Brown Bear India Pale Lager. Since Camden Town promulgated this style around five years ago there have been few examples that impressed me. I wouldn't say I was wowed by this one either, but it has plenty going for it. At 5.2% ABV it's nicely full, and translates that into a round and satisfying texture. There's a dry mineral base to the flavour, the hops adding a pleasant lemon spritz that could probably do with being more pronounced but does create a worthy complexity. The total package is crisp and refreshing and, when juxtaposed with the previous one, illustrates nicely that supermarket lager doesn't have to be dull and boring.

The brewery did overreach itself a little when it came to Brown Bear Double IPA. For a start this is a risible 6.3% ABV. It looks handsome in the glass: a deep copper shade. It's very hot and estery though, presenting a fruit salad of flavours with banana to the fore, then mango and guava later on. There's no balancing bitterness, and it gets quite headachey before very long. I was glad to be sharing the bottle. The other two may be useful for anyone wanting to explore lagers on a budget, but this has nothing useful to teach about IPA.

There was also a new one to be had in the O'Shea's range, brewed by Carlow Brewing. I've never been much of a fan of Carlow's lagers, but O'Shea's Irish Lager was surprisingly decent. There's a bigger body than one might expect for 4.4% ABV. The flavour starts crisp but intensifies this edge to the point where it becomes quite an assertive bitterness. This takes a turn for the metallic at the end point, and while it's missing the clean hop flavour found in, say, proper pilsner, this does give it a character of its own. When tasted next to the Brown Bear Gulten Free it compares very favourably indeed.

Nothing here really stands out the way the Rye River beers from Lidl stand out, but the lagers are worth picking up and tasting side-by-side. At less than €2 a bottle it's an inexpensive experiment.