Posts Tagged ‘Tesco’

Beer Review: Ruddles Rhubarb

18 June, 2008

IT has been a while since the last time I tried an eccentric British ale. And that’s a shame, because my favourite ales are British, and brewed with bananas, polar bears and mermaids. So it’s with some delight that I have here a bottle of Ruddles Rhubarb.

Ruddles Rhubarb bottle

The bottle is transparent, so we get a glimpse of the strange amber liquid within. And the bottle looks familiar. There’s a crown and the date 1799 embossed on the shoulder. Where have I seen that before?

The neck label deserves some attention.

Ruddles Rhubarb neck label

The top of it shows that this is an award winner. Apparently a “best beer” in the Tesco “Drinks Awards”. Other beers and ales I’ve tried that have won the same thing have been at least very good. This bodes will for Ruddles Rhubarb.

The rest of the neck label gives us a surprising amount of information about the drink itself. They start with describing it as “An English Ale with a vanilla aroma…”. Vanilla is a new beer smell for me. I’m looking forward to it already.

Then they go on to say that it “leads to a rich flavour” balancing the “refreshing sweetness of rhubarb with the lingering bitterness of the distinctive Brambling Cross hop.” Where can I begin with all this? Well rich flavours are always welcome. I’d never have described rhubarb as having “refreshing sweetness”, but I’m thrilled to see this root vegetable making an appearance in a beer at last. Then there’s the bitterness that the Brambling Cross hops will bring. And that’s another new one for me. I don’t recall seeing that type of hop in any other beer I’ve tried to date. All in all, this is promising to be original, complex and fascinating. A flying start for Ruddles Rhubard.

Lastly from the neck label, is the alcoholic volume. And you’ve got to look very hard to see it as it’s poorly contrasting text. Some squinting reveals the volume to be 4.7%. Not as high as I’d like, but not bad.

With so much on the neck label, there’s not much to put on the front label.

Ruddles Rhubarb front label

It reminds me that this is just one of the Ruddles brand of brews. And I’d be very interested in seeing what else they have to offer. Most of the label is taken by the logo, which is a huge horseshoe shaped thing. It gives off all the right rural signals. Something reinforced by the slogan “Serious Country Ale”. As a country boy myself, I can’t argue with that.

Over to the back label, and there’s some reading to do.

Ruddles Rhubarb back label

The bulk of the writing starts by telling us that Ruddles‘ Ales originally came from Rutland. An English county with the dubious honour of being the country’s smallest. Then we’re told about the horseshoe we saw on the front label. It turns out that this has been the symbol of Rutland for more than five-hundred years. Lastly, they give us the old rumour that royalty or peers of the realm had to give the lord of the manor a horseshoe when they passed through the town of Oakham. Does that mean they have to leave a spare tire when then pass through it today?

After that, things get all rather familiar again. The message to drink sensibly by taking as much care drinking it as they do making it is good. As are the little symbols informing us that it contains malted barley and that this is “beer to die for”. But all are familiar. Which big brewing parent is it from?

For those that count such things, the UK units of alcohol are listed. This 500 millilitre bottle has 2.4 UK units of alcohol. Frustrating because you can’t have another one of these bottles without going over the recommended limit.

We still haven’t answered the question of where this comes from. And why so much of it looks familiar. Maybe the answer will be in the tiny block of text in the corner of the label. And yes, it is. The address of Ruddles Brewing is the English town of Bury St. Edmunds. Isn’t that the home town of regional brewing giant Greene King? Time to check the website they give for some confirmation on that: www.ruddles.co.uk. Within moments, and a few clicks, my suspicions are confirmed. Ruddles is part of the Greene King. And according to this page of their website (http://www.greeneking.co.uk/brands_and_brewing.htm), I will now have tried at least one bottle from all of their brands. Hooray.

Now to answer the most important questions of all. And the reason for this entire post. Is Ruddles Rhubarb any good? What does it taste like? And does it deserve the Tesco Best Beer award? Time to find out.

Ruddles Rhubarb poured into a glass

In the glass, it’s easier to see the colour. Which is an amber-ish brown. The head is good. Initially filling my pint glass, it levels out to a consistent layer of foam, sitting atop the ale.

Pouring it out of the bottle, the smell that hit me reminded me a lot of those other Greene King ales, Abbot Ale and Old Speckled Hen. But closer sniffing reveals what they promised all along… vanilla. Yes, that is what this ale smells of. A tingly, rich smell of vanilla. Unusual and outstanding.

A couple of gulps reveals the taste to be as complex as promised too. The label described tastes of refreshing rhubarb and lingering hoppy bitterness. Not being a rhubarb fan myself, it’s hard to know if that’s what I’m tasting. What I am getting is a first taste that’s slightly sweet and vegetably. And that’s followed by the biggest contrast in aftertastes I’ve ever experienced. After the lightness of the first taste, you’re hit by an onslaught of lingering bitterness. That would be the Brambling Cross hops that they mentioned at work. It is quite the most intense and sudden flavour changes and bitterness I’ve experienced. No wander you don’t see that type of hops very often.

Things I like about Ruddles Rhubarb are numerous. The vanilla smell is something else. The combination of tastes and flavours is unique. That means it’s distinctive and has more character than Boris Johnson. I like the fact that it takes massive risks with big, bold flavours instead of catering for the easily offended mass market. It isn’t very gassy. And the quality is evidenced by surprising drinkability considering the strength and flavour. At least once you’ve grown used to it.

With ale that takes such risks, there’s inevitably going to be downsides. And the flavour is as good a place to start as any. With the first few gulps, my initial reaction was “what the hell is in this drink?” And that is purely down to the intense bitterness that follows so quickly and unexpectedly from the light flavour the precedes it. I got used to it by the half-way mark, but it’s going to be too much for a lot of people. It was nearly too much for me. That makes this not one for an easy and totally enjoyable and drinkable experience.

How can I try to sum up Ruddles Rhubarb? The blend of smells and flavours is unlike anything else I’ve ever tried. And probably will ever try ever again. The flavours are bold and adventurous, with the biggest change in taste and aftertaste I’ve ever tasted. I’m amazed that such an unusual ale won the Tesco award that it did.

This is one for people who like to be challenged. Something for beer connoisseurs. Or is it? It took a while, but I grew to thoroughly like it. If you are at all interested in interesting and unusual beers, I highly recommend that you try this exceptional ale. If you can find it. For me, this is one of those ales you experience rather than simply drink.

Rating: 4.15

Have you tried Ruddles Rhubarb? What did you think of it?
Leave your opinions, thoughts, ideas, suggestions and recommendations here please. I look forward to hearing what you thought of this one.

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: Young’s Champion Live Golden Beer

16 April, 2008

THIS one got my attention as soon as I saw it on the shelves of my local Tesco. That’s because it is Young’s Champion Live Golden Beer.

Young\'s Champion Live Golden Beer bottle

First it got my attention because I enjoyed Young’s Special London Ale. Secondly, it got my attention because of the big mentions of “Champion” and “Live” on the front. “Champion” hints at the winning of prizes. Always a good thing. And “Live” and “Bottled Conditioned” beer are always my favourites. In fact, I’ve yet to try a live or bottled conditioned beer I’ve not enjoyed. And that means that you’ll probably enjoy them too. But will Young’s Champion reaffirm or disappoint? I’m looking forward to finding out.

The neck label is where you’ll find a surprising amount of marketing. Or should I say background to the Ram Brewery. It’s also got a reassuringly large “Bottle Conditioned” on it. If it were up to me, that whole Ram Brewery text on the neck label would be replaced by a list of the virtues of bottle conditioning. Maybe one day, eh?

Young’s Champion Live Golden Beer neck label

The front label keeps things simple, yet stylish. Lots of sweeping lines dominate this one. And the result is quite different to Special London Ale. Which, by the way, I recommend you read now, so I don’t have to repeat myself over all the little details. The Ram logo is in tact again. But this time, the word “Champion” takes centre-stage, plus a small illustration of hops. The 5% volume is on there, but tucked away in a corner so you need to be looking for it. The colour scheme is light and bright, but looks a bit odd on the dark glass of the bottle.

Young’s Champion Live Golden Beer front label

Over on the back, the layout is much the same as with the Special London Ale. The CAMRA logo is on there. As is the symbol telling you that this 500 millilitre bottle has 2.5 UK units of alcohol. And what’s that I see? Amazingly, this is the first time that I’ve bought a recently stocked bottle from Tesco, only to discover that it has passed its “Consume By” date. I didn’t realise it in the shop, but no it’s clear as day. This went ‘off’ after the 31st of January 2008. Outstanding cock-up, Tesco. Readers; check the date on your bottle before you put it in your shopping basket. Or live on the edge. Like me.

Young’s Champion Live Golden Beer back label

The correct procedure here would be to return this bottle and obtain a refund or replacement. But having come this far, I don’t want to turn back. Just how bad can it get in those few weeks? That’s what I want to know. So, in the name of investigating blogging, let’s push on.

The story part of the back label describes Young’s Champion as “light-golden”, with a “full-flavour” and “refreshing bite”. It uses “malted barley” and “Styrian hops” for a “well-rounded floral flavour” with “hints of fruit” and a “dry, hoppy bitterness”. Again, they suggest serving cool, pouring gently to keep the yeast in the bottle. And that the website of this Wandsworth based London brewer is at www.youngsathome.co.uk.

Time to open the bottle to see a few things. One: if I’m poisoned from out of date beer. And two: if Young’s Champion is as good as I’m hoping it will be.

In the glass, there’s a good frothy head. But it’s controllable, staying within the pint glass. It’s light golden and it looks like none of the yeast sediment made its way in there. That said, it is still fairly opaque.

Young’s Champion Live Golden Beer in a glass

Like the good live bottles I’ve tried before it, the smell is good. Definitely above average. That yeasty, malty, hoppy smell is mouth-watering.

A couple of gulps in, and I’m not dead from this out-of-date bottle. But I am enjoying the make-up of the flavours here. None of which really dominate, and thus making it a very inoffensive experience. The malted barley and hoppy, bitter aftertaste are most noticeable. And yes, as you work through it, you do begin to notice a tiny floral hint, as promised by the label.

This is turning out to be a well-balanced and well-rounded beer. It’s also easy to drink. And that’s important, as it makes this bottle of beer even more accessible to the casual drinker. Like you. And let’s be honest here, me too.

It’s also fairly crisp and refreshing. This isn’t a big heavy drink at all. But it isn’t the lightest and most refreshing out there either.

If I had to level a criticism at Young’s Champion, it would be that it’s too inoffensive. It’s not the yeasty, malty explosion of taste that I adore. And you could even describe it as being ever so slightly watery. But then this calls itself a beer rather than an ale, so it can get away with that up to a point.

This bottle may be a few weeks out of date, but that didn’t stop me from liking it. If you want a decent live bottled beer, try it. If you want a tasty, refreshing, quite strong beer with little to complain about, try it. If you want a live beer but are too squeamish about bits floating in it, try it. There’s no bits of yeast sediment if you pour carefully. If you want a big, heavy, strongly flavoured brew that scares away teenagers, have an ale instead. This won’t quite satisfy you. I however liked Young’s Champion, so you might to.

Rating: 4.2

Have you tried Young’s Champion? What did you think?
Or if you’ve got any suggestions for other good live beers, or ones to avoid, leave a comment!

Beer Review: Tesco Value Lager

17 February, 2008

THIS is Tesco Value Lager.
Four Pack of Tesco Value Lager

It is priced at £0.88 pence for a pack of four 440 millilitre cans. At 22 pence per can, this is by far the cheapest drink I have yet tested. It is also the price that caused a storm in November 2007 when Asda and Sainsbury’s joined Tesco in selling lager at this “cheaper than water” price. Compared to the typical £0.30 to £0.50 pence retail price for a bottle of water, this value lager is undeniably cheaper. But is it any better?

Before doctors, the media and Jacqui Smith rush to condemn me as socially-irresponsible and deserving of an ASBO, here is my theory. At only 2% alcohol, there is little chance of the drinker becoming in any way sozzled. For that to happen, one would either need to consume seven hundred cans, or have all the bulk of Keira Knightly. Where this drink could find its niche is as a substitute for water. Think about it. Thirsty but can’t afford a bottle of water? Buy a can of value lager at half the price. Can’t afford to send water to a remote African refugee camp? Send them a crate of value lager. It could become as essential as the Red Cross in relief efforts. But, for that to work, this value lager must not be revolting. Let’s see how it does…

The can omits to mention the origins of the brewery. So to does it fail to mention the head brewer or the centuries of tradition. We do get a list of the ingredients. A symbol indicating 0.9 units of alcohol. And something they really splashed out on: a monochrome photo of drink in a glass.
Tesco Value Lager front of canTesco Value Lager back of can

Once poured into a glass, we can see how different it is to even the unglamorous illustration.

Tesco Value Lager poured into a glass

The head is barely discernable. After a couple of minutes, the head escaped the drink entirely. The colour is a near enough the colour that one would expect of lager. The smell too, is a vaguely correct approximation. If you sniff hard enough, you can make out a hint of malted barley and hops.

As far as taste is concerned, it does taste roughly like cheap, weak lager should. It is mildly bitter and it has a sour aftertaste. If you can imagine water that is flavoured to taste ever so slightly of lager, you would be close to imaging what this tastes like.

If value lager is to be an effective substitute for water in the world’s disaster zones, then it must be equally drinkable. And I’m pleased to say, that it is nearly as drinkable as water. But that is of little surprise when the ingredients list tells you that water is in fact the chief ingredient. One blessing is that it is not as gassy as I had feared.

Tesco value lager is not difficult to sum up. It is water that is yellow in colour and tastes a little of barley. Need we fear the devastating social consequences of pricing cans of this lager alongside King Size Snickers or Pot Noodle? Not if my experience is anything to go by. Will it solve the world’s drinking water shortages the next time an earthquake hits a dust bowl ruled by a dictator? Only if that dictator has low standards.

Rating: Something between 0 and 1.

Have you tried Tesco Value Lager? Or similarly priced lager from any other the other retailers? If so, leave your thoughts about it in the usual place.

1st Update: April 2011

That was unexpected. A big thank you everyone for linking to this old post, reading it and commenting! You’ve made this old ‘review’ one of the surprise hits of the blog. As a reward, here’s a quick update. Back when I posted the review, the four-pack was 88 pence. In October 2010, it was up to 92 pence. By April 2011, it was demonstrating the effects of tax increases and inflation by scraping the Pound mark at 99 pence. That means that by the time you read this, you’ll be buying your four-pack of Tesco Value Lager from Harrods. Nevertheless, while Tesco Value Lager remains value, here are photos of the ‘new look’ can.

Tesco Value Lager updated design four packTesco Value Lager updated design front of canTesco Value Lager updated design back of can

Beer Review: Tesco Strong Dry Cider

27 December, 2007

TWO posts in one day? There’s a simple reason for suddenly becoming so prolific; I’ve got a lot to get through. It’s Christmas, which means I’ve been getting through much more than usual. I want to open the next bottle, but before I do, the last one I tried has to be reviewed first. So without further ado, let us begin a Bloggy Woggy first: a cider review.

Yet another Tesco own brand, this follows the patter we know and love; lots of quantity for a surprisingly minuscule price. £2.69 in this case for a gigantic 3 litre bottle. That’s around five pints worth cider. Or to put it another way, less than 54 pence per pint!

As far as taste goes, it’s hard to fault it. It’s everything it says it will be on it’s oversize exterior. It’s sweet. It’s refreshing. It’s dry, but not undrinkably so. And tastes, mildly of apples. Albeit, not as much of apples as some of the more premium ciders on the market, which did disappoint me somewhat.

What this strong, dry cider was not, was strong. At 5.3%, it simply didn’t have the kick of other ciders. And that disappointed me. I went through about three pints of this in rapid succession last night, but barely felt tipsy. Let alone like I had just drunk a substantial quantity of strong cider.

Trying to sum up this cider, is therefore a challenge. It tastes quite good and it is cheaper than air. But if it fails in the ‘getting you drunk quickly’ stakes, then what good is it? I would have to say, good enough. Buy it if you’re on a budget or for a drink the whole family can enjoy when you buy a take away or prepare a big family meal. The biggest problem you’ll have with this drink at family occasions is finding a place to store the fuel tanker sized bottle.

Rating: 3

Beer Review: Tesco Imported Larger

27 December, 2007

FOLLOWING the stunning success of my first beer review (thank you to the 2 people who read it), a follow up seemed in order. This time, it’s a move up market (by a few pence to £2.49) to a 4-pack of Tesco Imported Larger.

This no-name brew from the Netherlands is an unremarkable 4% in volume. It also aims low by promising to be Clean, Crisp and Refreshing. Does it reach these lofty aims? I’d have to say mission accomplished. But that’s not saying much.

So long as you drink this cheap larger straight from the fridge, it is indeed crisp and refreshing. It’s also easy to drink a lot of it. All of this is no bad thing, but there’s more to it than that.

That bitter taste that all cheap largers have is there. Mind you, at this price, you’d better be expecting it. You’d also have to drink well over four cans to feel even modestly intoxicated. This is very weak stuff. And when you look at the helpfully clear ingredients, you begin to understand why. The chief ingredient is water. When you realise that, it becomes completely obvious – you are drinking water!

With this in mind, it is a mystery then, why this cheap watery drink makes you so thirsty. I know, I know, all alcoholic drinks make you at least a little bit dehydrated, but this takes it further than any I’ve had before. With this, you’d better have at least the same quantity of water nearby as you have of this larger. Unless you drink the same amount in water right afterwards, you’ll begin to feel very uncomfortable.

So there we have it. Cheap Tesco Imported Larger. Weak, watery and makes you thirsty, yet crisp, easy to drink and very cheap to buy. Buy it if you value quantity of quality, or if you are poor.

Rating: 1.5


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