Beers with a difference
I’ve been feeling the pinch recently, work having slowed and the current Brexit purgatory being what it is. So I’ve curbed my vice for good wine and put my taste for craft beer on ice. But I’m not living like a monk, things aren’t that bad. Instead, I’ve been enjoying the fantastic value own-brand beers from Sainsbury’s Taste The Difference range.
Ok, I’ll admit a little conflict of interests here: my first big job in the food & drink copywriting game was working on Taste The Difference. I wrote packaging copy for thousands of TTD lines back in ‘04, trying quite a lot of them in the process. And I have to admit, I was mostly very impressed with the products, which seemed to live up to the hype (what I wrote). So I’ve always had a bit of a soft spot for the range, even if I do find shopping in Sainsbury’s generally a fairly expensive experience.
Having said all that, I didn’t go into my local Sainsbury’s to buy TTD beers. I was just shopping on price (not proud, but needs must), buying the odd bottles of things I knew that were on offer. But as TTD beers are keenly priced, I invariably picked one or two up on my sorties. These beers always stood out, although it wasn’t until I bought both a Spitfire (a beer I always rated) and a TTD Kentish Ale, both brewed by Shepherds Neame, that it struck me just how good they are. To my tastebuds, the TTD beer really delivered, and at £1.50 a bottle verses £1.80, they definitely have the edge.
So here are my notes of Sainsbury’s Taste The Difference beers (the ones my local Sainsbury’s branch stocks at least):
WESTMOORLAND ALE (4% ABV)
Brewed by Jennings in Cumbria using the brewery’s own spring water, this classic British amber ale offers old-school yeasty aroma with a hint of coriander leaf and grapefruit. It’s soft and treacly in the mouth, with a nice mid-palate sweetness that suggests dried apricots. The finish is clean and there’s good bitterness and length. A nice food beer, good with peppery pork pies and sausages.
YORKSHIRE BITTER (5% ABV)
This traditional, copper-hued British beer is from the Black Sheep Brewery in Yorkshire. You get a bold hoppy nose with a nice fresh attack in the mouth. Flavours of lemon curd and blossom honey come up from the palate, leading to a malty-sweet finish with a gentle bitter kick. A really well balanced beer, good with a strong cheddar cheese-and-onion sandwich I reckon.
SUFFOLK BLONDE (4.7% ABV)
A distinctive golden wheat beer from the excellent St. Peter’s Brewery in Suffolk. Its rich bouquet marries tropical fruits and spiced banana cake notes, leading to a soft, creamy palate with inviting flavours of banana chews and baking spices. Richer than most wheat beers, it doesn’t really need food (or lime), but the label suggests roast pork and that gets my mouth watering, so I concur.
AMERICAN STYLE IPA (5% ABV)
A modern-style, coppery-gold IPA brewed by Marston’s, with a pronounced hoppy nose offering sweet ripe citrus and exotic tropical fruit aromas. In the mouth it is nice and soft, with complex flavours of candied citrus peel, guava, coriander leaf, dried apricots and roasted coriander seed. A lovely beer, full of character but well balanced throughout.
IPA (5.9% ABV)
This is more of an old-school, un-crafty IPA, again from Marston’s. It’s got a rich amber-golden colour and a punchy hops-and-potpourri bouquet. In the mouth it is dense and weighty, with a Cognac-like richness, complex malty notes and orange peel flavours. A full bodied, nicely balanced beer that really satisfies. Perfect with a spicy lamb curry.
RYE PALE (4.4% ABV)
Another one from Marston’s, this time a rich amber ‘red rye’ with a sumptuous malty nose and inviting aromas of dried mango, apricot and candied citrus peel. In the mouth it is sweetly complex, with layers of caramelised orange peel, toasted coriander seeds, roasted malts and dried grass flavours. A nice touch of bitterness on the finish makes this another very impressive brew.
KENTISH ALE (4.5% ABV)
As mentioned in my intro, this one is from Shepherd Neame in Kent. It’s a coppery-amber ale with a bright citrussy nose and underlying notes of fragrant dried flowers. In the mouth it’s pleasantly balanced with a mellow maltiness, subtle marmalade sweetness and a clean, dry finish resolving with a lick of bitterness. A very food-friendly beer, good with herbaceous dishes.
LONDON PORTER (5% ABV)
Again from Shepherd Neame, this sumptuous dark brew offers a rich chocolatey nose with deeper roasted coffee notes. The palate is a seductive mix of burnt nut and dark chocolate complexities buoyed on a fruity, malty richness, then there’s a long, coffee martini finish that lingers. The texture is fine and creamy. This is a really satisfying pudding beer, but one that’s not at all sickly.
So there you have it. This is an honest appraisal, not commissioned or in lieu of blagged freebies. I paid for the beers, and enjoyed them. For me the Westmoorland Ale and Yorkshire Bitter are the most trad of the group, the kinds of things my Dad used to drink and I’d have the occasional ‘zip’ of, but the rest would satisfy younger tastes. Maybe not the ‘extreme’ craft beer crew with their pungent New World hops, barrel ageing and sourness, but for those who like beer with character, and maybe tend to overlook own-brand offerings in favour of modern breweries, Sainsbury’s TTD beers are well worth a punt.