Tesco ‘Simply’ Beers

I’m lucky to live in a place where I can get my hands on good beer just by walking five minutes down the road and into Reserve Wines, who stock some lovely local stuff, or walking ten minutes and enjoying a pint in Mary and Archie. But it was not always this way! For a while early last year, I lived in the countryside. The house was surrounded by fields and motorways; very unnerving for a person who grew up a 25 minute train ride from central London. This countryside location was a veritable beer wasteland, with the only pubs within walking distance not keeping their cask very well at all. I wasn’t in a position to be ordering beer online, or to be stocking up adequately on my infrequent trips into Manchester. So, though I was loathe to do it, when I needed a hop hit, I bought beer from supermarkets. I never dared venture into their own range, expecting it to be crap – after Tesco ‘Finest’ American Double IPA (9.2%) was discontinued, of course, the days of picking up Hardcore at 2 quid a bottle were glorious indeed! – and so I ended up drinking a lot of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale (5.6%), which is always a solid go-to, and, um, gin.

 

These days I am able to support pubs and independent retailers when I buy beer, but on our weekly food shops at Tesco, I have become increasingly curious about their ‘Simply’ range, brewed for Tesco by Marston’s. I already know I like their alcoholic ginger beer (I mean, it’s no Hollows and Fentimans, but it’s better than that awful Crabbies), and finally, in the spirit of enquiry, I decided to give their ales a go. On a gloomy Sunday afternoon, I settled down on the sofa with the Mr and cracked open the first bottle: Tesco ‘Simply’ Golden Ale (4.5%).”First of all,” I said to the Mr, handing him the bottle, “Before you taste the beer, what’s wrong with this?”
Slightly perplexed, he narrowed his eyes at the label, and ventured, “The phrase ‘Golden Ale’ evokes urine?”
*Chortle, splutter*
“Not quite… A clear bottle means that there’s a good chance that, by the time your beer gets to you, it’s going to be fucked. Hops are delicate buggers and light makes them go wrong and get all skunky.”
(I seem to have turned into my father, who, for years, has been putting me on the spot by asking “what’s wrong” with this beer, pub, festival, etc, in a bid to make me think critically about trade stuff. Drinking with the Molyneuxs is GREAT FUN and HIGHLY EDUCATIONAL.)

Silly Mr Tesco, don’t you know that by selling beer in clear bottles you’re telling the drinker that you don’t care about the quality of the product? And surprise surprise, what do we get on the nose of this beer but a slight herbal quality, a faint spice, and, mild skunking. To be fair, there aren’t enough hops in here for it to get properly nasty, but it’s there, no doubt. All of those hours sitting under supermarket florescent lights were not kind to this beer; not to be too harsh, but the recipe was not kind to this beer, either. It pours straw-coloured and clear as a bell, feeling thin and rather fizzy in my mouth. There’s a little grassy flavour, slight bitterness, and very little else. Given it to try blind, I might almost think it was a mainstream lager! I will say this for it, though: it cuts through a stodgy Gregg’s sausage and bean bake just fine. The Mr, of course, would drink it, stating that “For a cheap beer than tastes like a lager, it isn’t bad, but  if I had a lot of it I’d get bored”.

Moving swiftly on, we then tried the Tesco ‘Simply’ IPA (5%). The bottle describes it as a ‘classic’ IPA; there’s no way this beer would survive a long sea voyage. Another clear bottle, another slightly skunky beer, but I also get malt sweetness on the nose, and even a little cantaloupe melon hiding behind the hint of citrus. It’s still over-carbonated, and I taste some soft toffee and caramel, a little earthiness, a bit of citrus, but it’s all just overwhelmed by herbal bitterness. This dry bitterness is pervasive, it’s persistent, but bitterness alone does not a good IPA make. Now, I generally like super-crazy bitter beers, even if they aren’t perfectly balanced and overwhelm their backbone a bit, but this beer just had no substance to it. The Mr opined “It’s just bitter and not very nice – it’s not as bitter as some of the beers I’ve tried, but in this beer there’s nothing to justify it being this bitter”. All that, unprompted!

Now we come to the Tesco ‘Simply’ Dark Ale (4.5%). This is the most visually appealing of the bunch so far, pouring maroon/deep chestnut with a big white head, showing ruby tints when held up to the light. It smelled like rum and raisin – so far, so good. The initial aroma carries through to the flavour, bringing in some stewed plums to replace the rum in accompanying the raisins. Along with this, we get malt sweetness, and a weak coffee aftertaste. What was over-carbonation in the last two bottles actually serves to lift the heavy sweetness in this a little. Sounds good, right? Unfortunately I couldn’t get behind the raisin-y taste in this and, in a move that shocked even myself, I poured it away. I just couldn’t hack it. The Mr was already out of the running on this one, pleading the “Bleugh, coffee” card. He’s not huge on his dark malts. If there was a little more body, a little more coffee bitterness, a little more of ANYTHING else, I could have coped with it, but it was just far too cloying for me.

 
Raisins killed the dinosaurs. (It looked lighter than this).

Last, we tried the Tesco ‘Simply’ Stout (4.5%). Pouring dark brown with a big, tan head, with herby hops and milky coffee on the nose, followed by more dark fruits as it warmed up, this was my favourite of the range. Slightly fruity with some bitterness, followed by dark, roasty malts. Standard. Once again, what was too much carbonation in the lighter beers worked to lift the heaviness of the malts. Tolerable, but I’m still not hugely keen. When you compare this to stouts of similar strength such as the lovely Hop Back Entire Stout (4.5%), this is just so nothing-y. The coffee-hating Mr surprised me by not minding this beer, telling me that “It’s kind of like a watery version of what would be nice… But it’s do-able”.

These are the sort of traditional, uninteresting beers which I had tried, and been unimpressed by, prior to 2009, Dark Star Hophead (3.8%), and my ‘wow’ moment when I realised that beer could be glorious. They just aren’t particularly exciting, or well made. I know that I’m used to mad, strong beers, but some of my favourites are below 4% (Marble Pint (3.8%), Dark Star Hophead Galaxy (3.8%), Redemption Trinity (3%)). This year I’d like to see if I can find any low-ABV pale beers/trad bitters made with English hops that I actually like… Mission impossible? Any recommendations?

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