Sainsbury’s Great British Beer Hunt 2012

Posted by on Apr 30, 2012 in Scottish Beer | One Comment

Over the past few years supermarkets have caught on to the ‘premium bottled ale’ market, steadily improving the selection of beer in their stores, and some even moving towards regional variation to appeal to shoppers. Sainsbury’s launched a contest in 2008 to encourage brewers to offer up their PBA’s for selection – with Bath Ales Barnstormer and O’Kells IPA coming out on top. The competition has continued, having been tweaked over the past few years – but the prize of a minimum sixth-month national listing has remained, to act as an incentive.

Scotland has traditionally been well-represented – even BrewDog entered in the past, and Williams Brothers dispatch half a dozen hopefuls every year. It paid off last time as their lager/IPA hybrid Caesar Augustus finished in the top two and appeared on shelves up and down the country. For 2012, the regions were juggled about and increased from four to five, and a split-level prize pot created. Brewers could decided whether to enter their beers for regional listing – in which case the pick of the heats would go straight into local branches – or national, so they would then be judged again against those from the rest of the UK, with the winners of that round gaining nationwide glory.

I’m used to blind competition judging – whereby you’re given an anonymous glass of beer to sample. Helping to judge the Great British Beer Hunt was completely different. All 21 beers were layed out to be perused, giving you the chance to go down the row, selecting eight to taste. They may as well have just gone the whole hog and given you a trolley to put them in. Selecting a beer based on the bottle is something we’ve all done, and even today there are some brewers who just don’t seem to appreciate that. Walk into your local wine shop and see how many bottles have non-white, non-plain labels these days.

With the eight choices poured for us at a small bar, it was time to take our trays away and start the tasting. The Scottish heat was held in a function room at Hibernian’s Easter Road, so we had a great view of the silent stadium as an accompaniment – Hibs were busy elsewhere, losing at St Mirren. I sat on a table with a quite lovely retired couple (people meandering past must have thought I’d brought my parents). Stalwarts of the Bow Bar, they filled me in on the best secret on how to avoid the boozing crowds – do your drinking at lunchtime. When I retire at 85, I might just try that!

We chatted about how we had decided on our eight samples. Looking at the row of bottles, I picked out the ones I hadn’t yet tried (must be the RateBeer in me). The couple at my table went for beers they liked, and a few they wanted to sample (with mixed results). I was surprised we weren’t given a questionnaire on how we made that choice – given the importance of branding and the vagaries of the consumer. Maybe as the eventual national finalists will be rolled out for the public, Sainsbury’s will get their feedback at that stage instead.

The beers that were up for judging are below, with my eight sample selections in bold. Eagle-eyed readers will wonder why Mordue and Tyne Bank seem to be in Scotland – chatting to Mark and Julia from TB afterwards over some beery shots, they revealed the deadline for entry (announced on the SIBA website) came too late for the Northern heat, so they packed up the transit for a spot of cross-border goodwill. That was a great thing about the competition – representatives of the brewers (or in Mark’s case, the man himself) were downstairs, available for questions afterwards.

Scottish Region shortlist, 2012
Arran – Clyde Puffer, Fireside
Broughton – Dark Dunter, Merlin
Cairngorm – Trade Winds, White Lady, Wildcat
Caledonian – Deuchars Imperial
Harviestoun – Wild Hop Gold
Mordue – IPA
Sinclair Orkney – Corncrake, Three Sisters
TSA – Double Espresso Stout
Tyne Bank – Castle Gold, Monument Bitter, Silver Dollar
Williams – Black, Gold, Impale, Pavlov’s Dog, Prodigal Sun, Red

The first of my four winning beers was Williams Impale – probably the best of my eight samples. Bright passion fruit and tropical aromas, a nice bit of citrus, very floral – it was lovely. The champion of the Heriot-Watt ICBD competition, it was created by homebrewer Ed Young – and I can see why it won. The second choice of the day for me was Broughton Dark Dunter, a reasonably new roasty blackurrant old ale. With a surprising finish similar to oaky sherry, it’s one to seek out on cask, I’d imagine.

The next of my picks was Tyne Bank’s Castle Gold. I’ve had it before, and it’s a great golden ale. Clear, lightly rising bitterness – you could drink this all day, which is the type of beer you need in supermarkets to give the slabs of Fosters the heave-ho. My final choice was trickier, but I went for Harviestoun’s Wild Hop Gold (wild as in ‘crazy amounts’, rather than hedgerow). A lot of ginger flavour in there too, battling with the Citra and Simcoe.

So, we’ll see if my scribbled crosses end up in the right boxes. Thanks to Richard Morrice for the invite, and to all of the brewery representatives I managed to speak to. Next time you’re in the Bow at lunchtime and see a nice retired couple, buy them a pint for me.

1 Comment

  1. Abhi
    May 10, 2012

    Hi, great blog.

    Just wanted to correct the info that the Impale ale was the champion of IBD Scottish Section Home-brew competition and not ICBD.



Leave a Reply