Exploring the exotic craft beer pleasures to be found in Lidl.
Lidl’s beer festivals seem to be becoming a regular thing – or at least is back by popular demand from lockdown boozers, with a selection of what we might call ‘craft beer’ – or at least fancy pants ales – at cooking lager prices. The general scarcity of these beers in the wild meant that I was willing to chance a trip to Lidl in Shepherd’s Bush, not the jolliest of experiences at the best of times and during the current unpleasantness something that frequently feels like a trip into the ninth circle of Hell. As I queued at the checkout, some old geezer a few places in front of me, mask (of course) around his chin, was coughing up a lung, which is not the sort of thing you really want to see mid-pandemic. Outside the shop, two harpies were engaged in a shouting match over their mutual Baby Daddy, presumably the slack-jawed individual standing between them. Suffice to say that when I finally made it home, I was in dire need of a stiff drink.
During their last beer festival, all bottles of the Marshmallow Milk Stout available from this particular shop were snapped up with unseemly haste, so I was glad to see it still present and correct on this trip; naturally, I grabbed several bottles, despite not actually having tasted it. Better safe than sorry. The very concept of the beer seemed to tickle the woman at the checkout – “does it taste of marshmallows?”, she asked, and of course, that’s the six million dollar question. To which the answer turns out to be a cautious but inevitable ‘no’.
Anyway, the details: this is an Imperial Dessert Stout, clocking in at an impressive 7.4%. At £1.59, this was a steal, even in a 330ml bottle (making it the smallest of the Beer Fest collection, bottle-wise). With minimal, retro packaging – and from a company called Barney’s Beer, hardly the edgy name of a hipster beer brewer – this had the feel of a beer that knew it didn’t have to try too hard. But would it be all mouth and trousers?
It’s an impressively dark brew, with a head when poured that might be best described as transient, but it’s an unquestionably smooth and quaffable beer. Like many a stout and many a high-percentage beer, it’s deceptively drinkable, entirely lacking in any sharp edges to cause you to slow down. And it’s definitely got a sweetness to it. But can any beer really be like marshmallow, a substance that works as much on texture as flavour? Maybe not, but enough brewers seem to be trying the concept on for size.
There’s a hint of vanilla, but not enough to frighten the horses, and the overwhelming feeling I had from drinking this was one of reassuring familiarity. That said, it went down very quickly and my immediate instinct was to crack open another one. It is, as the label says, the ideal dessert beer, a delicious finisher to an evening meal, and Lidl’s price – a not-inconsiderable 90p less than buying it directly from the brewer – is irresistible.
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