Archive for June 14th, 2008

Beer Review: Tesco Best Bitter

14 June, 2008

REGULAR readers might remember my brush with Tesco Value Lager. It was weak as water and cheap. Since then, I’ve stayed well away from beer that has a shop brand name anywhere near it. But one anonymous comment on that post from “Some Dude” has stuck in my mind. According to my anonymous commenter, the almost as cheap, almost as weak shop brand “bitter” is a much better drink. So in the name of consumer journalism, it’s time I answered perhaps the most important question in the world today: is Tesco Best Bitter the best, cheap shop brand beer?

Tesco Best Bitter 4-pack of cans

This one came as a pack of four cans. And it cost a whopping £1.63 pence. And remember, thanks to the increase in duty and inflation since I last looked at Tesco Value Lager, this is pretty darn close to that in terms of price.

The front of can is like a parody.

Tesco Best Bitter front of can

If you showed a nine year old child the logos of a few different beers. Something that today is probably quite common. And then asked that child to come up with a design all of their own, it would look something like this.

The black, red and gold colour scheme isn’t bad. In a beer mat kind of way. The red borders have text reading “Original British Beer” and “Serve Chilled”. And that’s good to read. Firstly because Value Lager didn’t even mention a country of origin. And secondly because the entire thing will confuse our American friends who mistakenly believe that all British beer is served warm.

Inside the border, there’s a meaningless shape which is supposed to look like a logo. And there’s the banner and name “Best Bitter”. Best compared to… Value Lager? Water? Air?

Under that is the alcoholic volume. And it is higher than expected. At 3%, it stands a chance of being potent enough to be nearly average.

The back of the can gives us the full-force of Tesco’s nutritional information. Allergy advice. Nutritional information. And everything else you can think of is on the enormous white panel.

Tesco Best Bitter back of can

Of this swathe of information, only a few bits are of interest. The ingredients for example, includes words that I’ve never seen before. In addition to the water, malted barley, yeast and hops, it also contains torrified wheat, carbon dioxide and ammonia caramel colour. Blimey.

Then there’s all the usual small-print. The advice to serve chilled. The Tesco’s postal address in Cheshunt. And the Drink Aware web address.

Fortunately, they haven’t forgotten the vital statistics. The cans in this pack are all 440 millilitres. Not the huge size of can, but not the short soft-drink size either. The UK units of alcohol are provided too. Which at 3% volume for this size of can, is a massive 1.3 units. You can safely have three of these cans before the Government will start telling you off.

With nothing else to read on the can, there’s no more delaying. I’m going to have to open this can and see what lurks within. Who knows? It could be a pleasant surprise.

Tesco Best Bitter poured into a glass

I’m impressed by how thick and consistent the frothy head is. And by how dark brown the colour is. It at least looks the part of a bitter. Most frustratingly though, is that it’s well over half a pint. But also well under a full-pint.

It smells right too. You don’t have to sniff hard to detect a rich, malty aroma. So it looks right and it smells right. But how does it taste?

The answer is, not as bad as I was expecting. A few gulps in and the taste is bitter. Mission accomplished then, as far as its modest claims are concerned. For a bitter, it’s very light. It doesn’t linger in a particularly bad way. And, unusually for a bitter, it’s refreshing. All of which makes it easy to drink. Even for people like me who don’t enjoy bitters.

But costing as little as it does, there is no way that Tesco Best Bitter is going to be problem free. And, indeed, it isn’t. The lightness, refreshing-ness and drinkability mostly come from the fact that you’re drinking mostly water. This means it lacks real taste and flavour. It’s also weak and uninteresting.

But at only £1.63 pence, perhaps I’m judging it harshly. Compared to almost anything on the shop shelves that doesn’t have a shop brand on it, Tesco Best Bitter struggles to compete. It doesn’t have the strength, taste, flavour or quality for you to choose it over a branded beer.

But, compared to Tesco Value Lager, it is much better. Vastly so. At around 50 to 70 pence more, it is by far the better choice. Unless you badly need to hold on to those few pence, you won’t regret choosing this over the cheaper shop brand ‘beer’. It is more than worth those few pence. At just 40 pence per can, this is not only the best shop brand beer I’ve tried. It is also one of the best compromises of quality to price out there.

All of this leaves me with dilemma as to how to rate it. There are plenty of rational reasons why it is good value. And while it’s better than anything else even near this price, it’s still weak, lacking taste and generally poor. Just like the beer itself, my rating is a compromise.

Rating: 2.2

Have you tried Tesco Best Bitter? Or any other shop brand cheap bitter?
The leave your opinions, thoughts, ideas, recommendations, requests and suggestions here please.


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