Posts Tagged ‘bitter’

Beer Review: Wells Bombardier English Premium Bitter

16 June, 2009

BACK to normal this post, and I begin with an apology. So far, I’ve enjoyed Wells’ outstanding Satanic Mills and tasty Burning Gold Bombardier bottled beers. But managed to completely overlook the much easier to find English Premium Bitter. I don’t normally go for straight-up bitters as they’re usually uninteresting, but the ubiquity and patriotism of English Premium Bitter means it must be tried. And, of course, it fills a gaping hole in my coverage of the Wells’ splendid Bombardier range. So here it is. A bottle of Wells Bombardier English Premium Bitter. Bought for £1.99 pence from a shop on Bethnal Green Road in London’s East End.

Wells Bombardier English Premium Bitter bottle

Looking as solid as an old English oak tree, Wells choose their bottles well. What’s more, they’ve been learning what you should do with the neck label. Brewers, take note, they have put useful information on it. Have a look at this.

Wells Bombardier English Premium Bitter front of neck label

Well, okay, on closer inspection it’s more marketing speak than useful information. But it’s a start. Does “burnished copper ale” mean anything to anyone reading? If so, leave a comment at the end of the post.

The front label keeps things simple, traditional and English.

Wells Bombardier English Premium Bitter front label

What more can you say about it? It’s a shield in the design of St George’s Cross. The middle keeps things simple. It has the “Wells” logo with the words “Brewers Since 1876” which is a long time ago, but not a very long time ago. Under that are the banners and crest saying “Bombardier” “English” “Premium Bitter”. Under which is that all imported alcoholic volume. 5.2% alcoholic volume makes it strong, but not very strong.

What of the back? The neck label is again the place to start.

Wells Bombardier English Premium Bitter back of neck label

It looks like a lot of information until you realise that it’s the same piece of information in many languages. All you need to know is that it was brewed by “Wells & Young’s Brewing Company Limited, Bedford, UK, MK40 4LU.” So there you have it. Interesting beers from a boring place.

The back label proper is where the real detail lies.

Wells Bombardier English Premium Bitter back label

They open with a description so informative and concise, I don’t need to paraphrase. Instead, here it is in full: “Our own natural mineral water, the ripest English Fuggles hops and crushed Crystal malt deliver this experience of England in a glass. Peppery aromas give way to the perfect balance of malty richness, tangy hops and sultana fruit on the palate, with a long, soft spicy finish”.

Mouth watering stuff. And, remarkably informative and concise. Not like the marketing speak and dearth of facts we normally put up with. Well done Wells.

Under that is the list of ingredients. And it’s good new again. It’s the full thing, not the one or two ingredients you usually get. Nothing too out of the ordinary apart from two E numbers. Now they’re not welcome. British ale is supposed to be as natural as a hedge covered in brambles. For the curious, the list is “Water, Malted Barley, Sugar, Hops, Yeast, Colour E150C, Stabiliser E405.”

Under all the uninteresting small print are a few bits of miscellany. The web address is www.bombardier.co.uk. And, with an alcoholic volume of 5.2% and a 500ml bottle (why not a full pint?), Bombardier English Premium Bitter weighs in at 2.6 UK units of alcohol.

With that out of the way, we get to the fun bit. What does Wells Bombardier English Premium Bitter actually taste like? Is it any good and should you buy it? Let’s find out.

Wells Bombardier English Premium Bitter poured into a glass

Frustratingly, this English Premium Bitter fails to fill my English pint glass. The blotchy head doesn’t improve matters either. But the “burnished copper” thing starts to make sense. The photo might not show it, but it’s the colour of copper that hasn’t been cleaned in a few years.

What does Wells Bombardier English Premium Bitter smell of? It’s not a smell hat fills the room. Hold your nose over the glass however, and you’re rewarded with a luscious smell of hops. The label described the smell as “peppery”. There’s certainly something giving it an edge.

What does Wells Bombardier English Premium Bitter taste of? The first two gulps are nice ones. And ones that tell me this is to be sipped, not gulped. First impression is that there’s not a whole lot of flavour or taste. It’s there, only being a little more subtle than your typical English football fan.

A few more sips, and I’m making some sense of Wells Bombardier English Premium Bitter. The label described things like “malty richness, tangy hops and sultana fruit” and a “soft spicy finish”. I think it’s got most of those things, but less of them than you’d expect. There is a mildly fruity taste, but blink and you’d miss it. The aftertaste is soft and gentle, but with such a long, lingering finish, you don’t miss it as easily. I’m going to describe it as malty, biscuity and hoppy.

As for bitterness, the whole flavour and taste experience is so soft and gentle, I’m amazed it’s even called a “Bitter”.  Admittedly, I don’t know much about beer, but if, like me, you were expecting an onslaught of taste and bitterness, Wells Bombardier English Premium Bitter will come as a surprise.

What do I like about Wells Bombardier English Premium Bitter? I like how well it’s packaged. I like the subtlety of flavours and taste. I like how that subtlety was such a surprise. I like how easy to drink it is; and how much of a surprise that drinkability is. And, like the other Bombardiers, it is very well made with some excellent ingredients.

What don’t I like about Wells Bombardier English Premium Bitter? I don’t like my English Premium Bitter to adopt a Euro 500ml and failing to fill a pint glass. Personal preference here, but I was hoping for flavour and taste that the human tongue could detect. Okay, that’s an exaggeration, it is still better than most lagers, but the labels built up hopes of more. Lastly, those E numbers. Is quality ale supposed to have E numbers? Experts, do please leave your thoughts in the comments at the end of the post.

To sum up, Wells Bombardier English Premium Bitter is a surprisingly soft and gentle bitter that’s nearly as easy to drink as lager. I think some people might call it a “session ale” for those reasons. It reminds me of Fuller’s London Pride and Marston’s Pedigree. If you want a drinkable ale, but don’t want a summery taste or to feel like you’re easting it, this is the one to choose.

Rating: 3.8

Have you tried Wells Bombardier English Premium Bitter? Can you answer any of the numerous questions raised in the ‘review’? Do please leave your answers, opinions, corrections, requests, recommendations and places to buy, here in the comments.

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.

Beer Review: Wells Bombardier Satanic Mills

27 March, 2008

THIS is one that I’ve been wanting to try for some time. From the English Wells and Young’s comes Bombardier. But this bottle isn’t the widely available, regular premium bitter. This, is Satanic Mills. No, not a jibe about professional wacko Heather Mills, but rather a different kind of bitter. Let’s try to figure out what they’re on about.
Wells Bombardier Satanic Mills bottle

You might not have noticed it on the shelves next to dozens of other oddly shaped bottles, but this one is different. Not different in the way that most others surprise, by being very small. But by being ever so slightly bigger. Have a look at the neck label to see what I mean.
Wells Bombardier Satanic Mills neck label

This, and the rest of the Wells Bombardier range is a pint. Not the typical, continental 500 millilitres that leaves your pint glass part empty. Finally, a brewery that sees sense. It’s confirmed on the other side too. That this is 568 millilitres. At last. Now if only every other brewer in the world would follow this example.

On the main front label, the first thing you notice is the St. George’s Cross planted firmly in the centre. This is going to be a fiercely English beer. And why not after the many fine Scottish ales that I’ve reviewed of late. Looking a little closer, this has a volume of 5.0%. And under the Wells name we’re told that they have been brewing since 1876. I like the design of the front label. The black background. The silver patterns. And the symmetry. It all gives a very professional appearance.
Wells Bombardier Satanic Mills front label

Turning the one-pint bottle around, and things aren’t so pretty. On a decent sized label, they have tried to cram a European Constitution’s worth text. And the route they’ve chosen to do that, is by using very very small text. What do you make of this?
Wells Bombardier Satanic Mills back label

I’m not looking forward to deciphering this. But I know that you’ve all come to expect impossible levels of detail from me. So here goes.

First of all, it transpires that the Satanic Mills name comes from the words to William Blake’s Jerusalem song. That like their original, and more widely available Premium Bitter, the water used for this beer comes from their own well. That they use English ‘Fuggles’ and ‘Goldings’ hops. And that this helps the drink to be fruity and smooth. But of course, I’ll be the judge of that.

It goes on in great detail to explain that Satanic Mills is brewed using ‘Ale’ and ‘Chocolate’ malt that is then intensely roasted. Not only that, but that the malt is carefully crushed instead of ground because doing so makes the flavours more complex and the head creamier. I didn’t even know that that was important before reading that. Not stopping there, it continues by telling us that it gets brewed for seven days.

Then we get to the various little details scattered all over the label. And they truly are scattered. The symbol telling us that this bottle contains 2.8 UK units of alcohol is half-way up the right-hand-side. On either side of the barcode we have the numerical volume of liquid and on the other, something telling us that this pint bottle has 13.6% more that a standard 500 millilitre bottle. In another little corner, we get a summary of the ingredients which as malted barley and oats in this case. And the address of their website which is http://www.bombardier.co.uk/.

Chaps, the front label is terrific. But the back label is a mess. It’s as if over the years, lots of little additions have been made. But no one has taken a step back and said “do we really need it all?” Cut some out. Separate the details from the story behind it. And for goodness sake, use larger sized text so we can actually read it.

With the pleasantries out of the way, we can finally see what this is like to drink. Once in the glass, it was as dark as a stout. But the head wasn’t as creamy as the label had promised. Even so, look at the sight of this. After so many bottles over-filling or under-filling the glass, it’s great to finally have a full pint.
Wells Bombardier Satanic Mills in a glass

One of the things that hit me was the smell. There’s no need to put the effort into actually sniffing this drink. You can smell the drink malt and barley from quite some distance. It might be a bit overpowering for some, but not if you like stout. Which is what this is turning out to be. Lets see if it tastes like a stout too.

I’m not sure. Admittedly, that’s probably down to my utter lack of knowledge regarding beers. But it’s definitely similar to, but not identical to stouts. Does that make this a variation on the dark ale instead? I don’t know the answer to that either.  The label bills this as a ‘premium bitter’. And yes, it is bittery. But the dark character of Satanic Mills is thoroughly different to any other bitter I’ve tested.

How can I describe what this is like to drink? It is mildly bitter, but not as strong as I was expecting. And it doesn’t have any nasty after taste either. Surprisingly, it’s not got much to offend your palate, whatever drink you usually stick to. I’m not a fan of bitters and half-expected to be unimpressed by this. But Satanic Mills is turning into a surprise.

It’s not at all gassy. And it has a heavy, full-bodied character to it. But without the downsides of strong lingering aftertastes. I expected to find this hard-going, but it’s not. Completely unexpectedly, Satanic Mills is one of the most pleasantly drinkable bitters I’ve yet sampled.

How can I sum up Satanic Mills? Instead of being the tough, heavy, dark bitter I was expecting; Satanic Mills is a heavy, dark, drinkable, lightly-bitter drink. And none of that was mentioned on the back label. This is an exceptional English bitter with plenty of complexity and character. If only they’d communicate it better. Lastly, I grew to enjoy this brew. But drinkers who like their beers refreshing might want to look elsewhere.

Rating: 4.2

Have you tried Satanic Mills? What did you think?
Any suggestions for what I should review next?
Comments, ideas and insults below please.

Beer Review: Harviestoun Bitter & Twisted Blond Beer

24 February, 2008

AFTER my recent Polish excursion, I came over all thirsty for something with complexity. It was time to head back to a beer from the Britain. Much to my delight, this coincided with my local Tesco stocking a new range of Scottish beers. One that caught my eye was Harviestoun Bitter & Twisted. Purporting to be a “Blond Beer”, this immediately reminded me of the outstandingly delicious Leffe Blond(e) Beer. How would Harviestoun’s and Leffe’s blond(e) beers compare? And does it maintain the fine reputation established by Scotland’s other fine beers?

For a start, Bitter & Twisted looks different.
Bottle of Harviestoun Bitter & Twisted

The shape of the bottle is different to those of the continent. The front label too, gives this beer a look and feel so local, that it amazes you a shipment made its way from the county fair all the way down to London town. That is a quality I like.
Harviestoun Bitter & Twisted Blond Beer front label

The mouse mascot. The hops. The description of ‘Craft Brewed in Alva, Scotland’ all add to it. The front label also gives us a three bullet point description of the contents. Always excellent as it gives me something to judge it by. “Spicy”, “Aromatic” and “Zesty” are what I’ll be on the look out for here.

In the way that all good British beers do, we get a good story on the rear label. This one is about the mouse that frequented the brewery and later achieved fame as the mascot (see front label). We are also treated to a technical description of the ingredients that goes above my head. It includes words and phrases like “hop profile”, “Hallertau Hersbrücker”, “Challenger”, “late hopping” and “Styrian Goldings”. If you know what any of this means, leave a comment in the usual place.
Harviestoun Bitter & Twisted Blond Beer back label

Also on the information packed rear-label is the mention of awards having been won at “home and abroad”. But Harvieston have, like so many others, failed to say what those awards were, and when they were received. Also mentioned is that less carbon dioxide was used in the bottling process, so this should make it less gassy. Also of note, below the “Bitter & Twisted” banner is “Like the Twist of a Lemon”. Will the “Zest” come from a lemon flavour? The ingredients of barley, oats and wheat also tell us this isn’t going to be the watery experience of lager. Let’s see what this 500 millilitre (nearly 1 pint worth) of 4.2% beer is really like…

Poured into a glass, there was less head than with Leffe. The smell was also very different. It’s aromatic in the complex way that I wanted. But not malty like Leffe’s interpretation of blond beer. The is clearly going to be a very different drink to Leffe. You can just about make out the various crops that went into the making of this drink, plus the smell of something zesty added to it. Fortunately, not in an overpowering Cif Lemon way.
Harviestoun Bitter & Twisted Blond Beer in a glass

Now the most important part: taste and drinkability. And I’m happy to report that Bitter & Twisted has both. The flavour is as complex as you’d expect from a drink with so many qualities and ingredients.

If I had to pigeon hole it, I’d say it was a bitter. But Bitter & Twisted is more than that. In the same way that Sir Ranulph Fiennes is someone who enjoys a spot of rambling, Bitter & Twisted takes the concept of a bitter to an extreme. Although the main taste is ever so slightly bitter, it’s swiftly followed by the taste of countless arable crops and yes, a hint of something that may be considered “zesty”. Possibly helped by it’s relatively low alcohol volume, Bitter & Twisted is very easy to drink. I’d very much like to try a bottle with a seafood meal.

If you find this available, it is well worth your time. In the sub £1.40 price bracket, it is also good value.

Rating: 4.25

If Tesco haven’t sold out, I’ll be trying the other Scottish beers, ales and lagers soon, so watch this space.

Have you tried Bitter & Twisted? What did you think? Can you recommend any other Harviestoun beers?


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