The Beer Playoffs

Hello beer lovers, thanks for coming back to find out about some different brews. Welcome to a new, exciting event that I am going to run from time to time called ‘The Beer Playoffs’! It will involve a series of quick reviews of beers sampled at the same time and pitted against each other in a head to head battle… Let the best beer win!

The idea behind ‘The Beer Playoffs’ developed before going away to visit relatives; I knew that I was going to get the opportunity to try some new varieties of cerveza. With there being approximately 5 individuals keen on sampling new brands, I knew that I was going to find some new drinks – and hopefully some new favourites. At home, I notice shop-to-shop variation of stock on the shelves between all the major supermarkets and was excited at the prospect of a new region having a vast selection that I had never heard of, never seen and most importantly….. never tried!

I got off the plane and into the hire car – first stop – the supermarket. Once we had arrived and the hallowed aisle had been identified, it was time to make some important decisions. Looking across the shelves, my theory of regional variation was confirmed; the standard world largers remained similar to the stocks at home, but the craft beer section was a new, unsolved puzzle. Chefs and food critics comment that you “eat with your eyes first”, and this rings true of beers… Whilst we are warned to “never judge a book by its cover”, if the cover is bold, bright and different – half the battle is won, you’re instantly drawn to it and before you know it, it’s in the shopping trolley! 5 new labels with enticing descriptors caught my eye, an old favourite snuck into the trolley, followed by a familiar can that had previously caught my attention at my local store.

We got to the relatives home and squeezed the purchases into the dedicated beer fridge in the garage. The existing selection certainly met my approval from the start – I had a nosey through and was greeted by some old favourites, but also some new wonders! I had a sneaking suspicion the variety on offer was largely influenced by my visit this weekend… They know me well enough to know I love trying something new. I slotted my contributions in and left them to chill.

That evening it was time to start what effectively became a degestation night, and would eventually form the foundation of my first ever ‘Beer Playoffs’. It was exciting – everyone present sampling all the different varieties we had accumulated! As I worked my way through the beers on offer, I saw the opportunity to have a head-to-head battle with the drinks to see which one I preferred at the time.

Round One!

round 1
Sainsburys taste the difference IPA by Burton Union ABV 5.9% and Cumberland by Jennings ABV 4%

So the first battle is between a golden ale and an IPA – both of which are styles I am consistently drawn to. The logo of the Cumberland appeals to my inner adventurous side, with a vast landscape in the background, compared to a more glamourous, but plain, IPA logo.

There isn’t a huge difference in strength on sampling these, but the golden ale really pops with brightness and freshness compared to a more reserved, bitter, but fruitier IPA.

If stacked side by side on a shelf my hand would sway towards Cumberland – particularly during the summer months, though I would happily order either in a restaraunt or bar.

Ratings:

Sainsburys taste the difference IPA; 3.25/5. Standard IPA, though nothing groundbreaking.

Cumberland by Jennings; 3.5/5. Fresh and bright golden ale with a huge hit of citrus.

Result: Cumberland – Winner!

Round Two!

Round 2
Derail Ale by Box Steam Brewery ABV 5.2% and Gold by Butcombe Brewing Co ABV 4.4%

Again, both are standard percentage brews with little to differentiate in alcohol volume. I was drawn to these due to their names and logos. Gold always gives positive connotations when thinking about lager and there is nothing nicer that sitting down with a chilled, golden, fresh beer with huge flavour. I think that Butcombe’s label has the edge; bright and full of colour as its name suggests, with treasure on it!

This was my first time drinking a product of either of the above breweries. The Derail Ale was enjoyable, though I would say it was quite malty – almost too much. It is quite a dry beer though, which I personally enjoy. Gold on the other hand was fantastic. A new addition to my ‘regular’ beer category for definite. It had a gorgeous sweetness to it, with soft hints of citrus, making it very easy to keep returning for drink after drink. Safe to say which bottle was consumed more quickly. If I were in a pub, I could happily have this as my drink pint after pint.

Ratings:

Derail Ale by Box Steam Brewery; 3.25/5. This may have stood up well against other beers this weekend, though it did not stand a chance in this round.

Gold by Butcombe Brewing Co; 4.25/5. A must for beer lovers out there – give it a try! I’m very keen to keep my eye out for other drinks that this brewery have created

Result: Butcombe Gold – Winner!

Round Three!

Round 3
San Miguel by Carlsberg UK ABV 5% and River Cottage EPA by Skinners Brewing Co ABV 4%

This was the easiest round – I didn’t sample too much of either of these beers for the following reasons:

  1. San Miguel is synonymous to many favourite beers I’ve had whilst I’ve been in Spain. I’ve had this beer A LOT and I know it well. It brings back fond memories, is fresh and crisp in taste, and certainly should be enjoyed in the sun.
  2. River Cottage EPA – this was probably the least enjoyed beer of the night. It was overly malty and lacked any other relief or flavour.

Ratings:

San Miguel by Carlsberg UK; 3.5/5. Nothing new, but brings back enjoyable memories every time and is comforting.

River Cottage EPA by Skinners Brewing Co; 1.75/5. Just not for me to be honest – it might suit others better.

Result: San Miguel – Winner!

Round Four!

Round 4
Hobgoblin Gold by Wychwood Brewery ABV 4.2% and Honey Dew by Fuller Smith & Turner ABV 5%

Now time for the battle of the sweet beers. Going into this battle I had reservations regarding both of them before tasting. I have tried the original Hobgoblin, which I thought was satisfactory, but it was not something I would rush towards again. I have to admit that I was drawn to this firstly on design and secondly to give this brewery a second chance. This label caught my eye a couple of weeks ago and I made a mental note to try it in the near future – which was now tonight! The other was picked up by one of the other guests – honey can be an interesting flavour – it can dominate and therefore overwhelm other flavours sometimes. However, having a huge sweet tooth, I remained cautiously optimistic.

Firsly, both beers were enjoyable. Honey Dew tasted like a typical golden ale, but gave a good hit of its sweet nectar as the name would suggest! I’ve never had a honey beer before and I’d be keen to sample other varieties.

Hobgoblin Gold in one word? Fantastic. It was silky smooth, bright in colour and very sweet (may be too sweet for some – though not for my tastebuds). The entire bottle was consumed easily, quickly and crushed its competition tonight. I could happily drink this on a regular basis.

Ratings:

Hobgoblin Gold by Wychwood Brewery; 4.25/5. An improvement on the original. This was always going to score high – keep a look out for this one in your local supermarket.

Honey Dew by Fuller, Smith and Turner; 3.5/5. This was enjoyable, though never hit the heights of the Gold Brew. Nonetheless, I respect that it stated honey and definitely delivered as promised.

Result: Hobgoblin Gold – Winner!

Round Five!

Round 5
312 Urban Wheat Ale by Goose Island 4.2% and Betty Stogs By Skinners Brewery ABV 4%

I think this was actually the best round! 312 lives close to my heart – I can still remember the first time I tried this beer on draught (in a local Cuban-style bar) on my partner’s birthday. Super smooth, big bold flavours synonymous with today’s wheatbeers, and a hint of spice to warm the palate.

Betty Stogs was bought by myself purely based on the originality of the label – bright and bold, plus I had never seen it before. Funnily enough, when I got to the host’s house and unpacked my purchases, he exclaimed “I just bought one of them too!”… It turns out that this was definitely a good find. It was described as a bitter, though there remained a huge freshness to it. It packed an absolute punch with fresh flavours of raspberry and was one of the smoothest bottles of the night. With all the empty glass shells lined up against each other the next morning, this label shone brightly and took you back to the time when you consumed it, with the flavours reminiscing on your tongue. Needless to say I was very impressed!

Ratings:

312 Urban Wheat Ale by Goose Island; 4.5/5. A fantastic wheat beer, which always brings back lovely memories, though I notice a distinct difference between draught vs bottle.

Betty’s Stogs by Skinners Brewery; 4.5/5. Fantastic flavours and a great incorporation of blackberry, delivering a detour to the typical citrus-esque beers that I have come to love.

Result: Draw!

Round Six!

Round 6
Numero Uno Agave by Flying Dog Brewery ABV 4.9% and Stone IPA by Stone Brewing ABV 6.9%

The final round is an epic battle of old vs new. I knew prior to this tasting that Stone IPA is a fantastic beer, so Numero Uno had its work cut out from the beginning… Numero Uno was bright and light in colour and was almost a cross between a Desperados and a Corona – it had a vibrant sweetness to it and was brought alive by a generous amount of zesty lime. Stone IPA has a deeper amber colour in comparison to its competition and upon my first sip I remember why this beer is soooo good. Typical IPA-esque flavours at the start of the mouthful then pave the way for a huge hit of tropical tastes. It’s light and fresh and definitely delivers. The inspiration behind this drink is completely coherent with my preferences – Belgian inspired, West Coast beer.

Ratings:

Numero Uno by Flying Dog; 3/5. Decent, with lime and sweetness – great on a summers day.

Stone IPA by Stone Brewing; 4.25/5. Consistently a high performer.

Result: Stone IPA – Winner!

The Finisher!

Duvel
Duvel by Duvel Moortgat ABV 8.5%

This is a special beer to me; I’ve consumed it may times and it brings back fond memories of travelling across the European continent. It’s bold in flavour and has good strength and depth. It’s also quite a dry beer, which I find enjoyable, so I usually don’t take very long to sink them! The official Duvel glasses used to serve this beer look really smart and capture the typical Belgian style and way of drinking.

Rating:

Duvel by Moorgat; 4/5. A strong, typical Belgian golden ale – try and pick up one of their glasses for the ultimate experience.

So it was a great weekend being able to sit back, have good food and a great variety of beers to sample. I’ve found a couple that I will definitely be having again. I’m sad to admit that there are a few untouched beers remaining in that beer fridge, so I think the host of the weekend is certainly the unsung winner… I hope he enjoys the rest of them!

Apologies for any issues regarding formatting on mobile devices (this post will be best viewed on a desktop version of the site). I also know it’s a long post so thanks for sticking with it to the end! Drink on.

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