When I first started down the Craft Beer rabbit hole a couple of years ago and really tried to see what could be found out there, I probably came to the same conclusions that a lot of folk do. There are different tiers of quality in the places you source your beer. You have your Supermarkets and local convenience stores with a somewhat limited option in the craft department but typically at a relatively low cost. You then have the fairly few and far between specialist beer shops. They'll certainly have a more varied and somewhat rarer selection of stuff but typically you do end up paying that bit of a premium, which is fine. Then you have the online options with either Beer Subscriptions and build your own box type services. Again their pricing is fairly high, we've discussed some of the subscription costs before - but the benefit there is that you have a much more far reaching catalogue of beers to be choosing from with otherwise difficult to find beer from around the world and various exclusives or collaborations.
"There is nothing more hipster than thinking you are an elite hipster and better than others."
Now there seems to be a split in opinion. And by split of opinion I mean there is an unfortunate snobbery going on. We know we see it, but we rarely say anything about it. It's a bit like the whole music analogy, where some people think they are superior because they listen exclusively to little known underground acts that play in toilets, but frown upon any artist reaching a level that can be regarded as making it in some way and hence labelled a 'Sell Out'. Fuck. Off. I see this same kind of slant aimed at Supermarkets in terms of the beer they stock and the clientele that use them to get their weekly stash. There is nothing more hipster than thinking you are an elite hipster and better than others. Look, my reviews have been from all the available avenues - the local spar, the big supermarkets, the specialist beer shops, the subscription services - and best of all from gifts! Hurrah! You have to tap into all of the available resources or quite simply you are cutting off your nose to spite your face, and being a doosh in the process.
Now when you go back up top and read what I've said - the Supermarkets are there providing a somewhat ok range of beers at a pretty reasonable price bracket. Whether you hit Asda or Aldi, Tesco to Sainsburys - you see a lot of the same brewers being stocked and a lot of the same beers in general. So, being bang smack (no pun intended) in the middle of Scotland you'll see a fair amount of Brewdog, Drygate, Williams Bros, Innis & Gunn, Fierce plus some odds and ends of others around the UK with the odd foreign import. But nothing too exciting. If you are anything like me, you'll have found yourself about 6 months into your beer venture just staring at the shelves in your local supermarket thinking - I've drank all of these (looking like an absolute jakeball in the process). And that seems to be the problem. As much as they are cheap and generally well stocked - they are limited and the appearance of new or excusive offerings is few and far between. Which is where the other avenues come into their own.
"What I was faced with was not only several beers I'd never heard of, but special, hot off the press collaborations from some of my favourite brewers."
But hold on... That was then. One of the big boys has now decided to break the mould and step up their game a bit. About a month or so ago, on one of my ventures to Tesco - loosely dressed up as a sandwich run - I spotted a number of unfamiliar faces in the beer aisle. There were several new cans and bottles dotted around the selection with nice 'NEW' labels below them, proclaiming their arrival. On closer inspection though I was rather blown away. Not only had they stepped out of the mould, but they'd only gone and made a fucking effort. What I was faced with was not only several beers I'd never heard of, but special, hot off the press (not sure that's quite the right analogy) collaborations from some of my favourite brewers. So you can only imagine my uncontainable excitement at the discovery. Which probably (definitely!) involved firing off a series of kid in a sweetshop like, panic fuelled shaky mobile phone pics to Andy with captions along the lines of "Look, Look, Look...."
So, what sort of things were on offer I hear you say. Well, the first 5 that grabbed my attention were:
- Juicy Fruit Pale Ale - A collaboration between Hopstuff Brewery / North Brewing Co.
- Quench Quake - Grapefruit & Tangerine Sour - Brewdog
- Breakfast Club - Blueberry Waffle Breakfast Stout - Collaboration between Vocation Brewery /Yeastie Boys (Spectacular name!)
- Berliner Heist - Raspberry and Blackberry Weisse - London Beer Factory
- Fresa - Strawberry Milkshake IPA - Collaboration between Thornbridge / Fourpure
Genuinely folks, if seeing a list like the above for the 1st time doesn't get you excited then you are better off with a cup of tea and a biscuit. Not that there is anything wrong with that - I make a dynamite tea (recipe available on request). But if you can't appreciate the break from the norm in that list then there isn't much hope for you. That's why I'm saying Tesco went above and beyond. They showed not only do they want to remain relevant but they want to show that they care. It is no accident that this was the kind of new offering they had. I managed to track down one of the buyers for Tesco, a chap by the name of Domo. Who in only a short exchange with myself, came across with as much beer passion as you would hope from anyone and far more than I'd expect from one of the big players staff - often just seen as a soulless monopoly. He simply said that the team wanted to be getting great beer into as many hands as possible. Top Man. Great effort indeed.
I hope in a way it sparks some sort of chain reaction and we see some of the other alternatives going a little out of their comfort zone - hiring some radical thinking buyers and backing them. I for one applaud it. Whether or not it changes the standard on the high street, who knows, but the gauntlet for me has been thrown down. I don't think they can truly rival your little indie beer shops, who will still have that more intimate relationship with the smaller craft guys and access to more limited runs etc. But it sends a message. A declaration of intent. I think that a healthy competition pushing some of their competitors to rethink their beer strategy can only be a good thing. The people who really benefit from that kind of thinking is us, the beer lover and beer drinkers.
"Whether or not it changes the standard on the high street, who knows, but the gauntlet for me has been thrown down."
Lap it up folks. Get over to your nearest Tesco and have a look at what they have for you. There were several other new faces that I never listed as I've yet to pick them off the shelf myself. But I think there is a little something for everyone. And as long as you are not one of those elitist beer snobs - which let's face it, you aren't going to be if you follow our ramshackle of a beer blog - then I'm sure you will find something in there to tickle your fancy (snigger) and get your excitement up.
I was going to tag a wee beer review for a number of those listed above to the end of this article but I can see you already have your coat on and you're waiting on the taxi to take you to Tesco. So, rather than keep you any longer, you eager beavers, I'll instead write up a separate little multi-review for a couple of my favourites and get that over to you very soon.