Can a festive novelty beer sold in discount supermarkets exceed expectations? We investigate on your behalf.
At the intersection of novelty beer and Christmas ale, there are inevitable outliers that attract attention merely as curios, with no real expectation of being a serious contender – or even a pleasurable experience. Such was the case with this beer, something so ludicrous a concept that it couldn’t be resisted – especially at a bargain price from a discount store (Home Bargains). While Christmas Pudding Stouts are now a festive staple of the fancier craft brewers, finding out on the shelves for the price of a can of cheap lager was unusual and seemed worth a punt.
It’s notable that Microbrew – the brewers credited for this – do not seem to actually exist outside the confines of the Home Bargains shelves; at least, a Google search throws up no website and the name seems almost designed to be as nondescript as possible. Of course, a generic and anonymous product doesn’t necessarily mean a bad product – unless you are label-fixated, then you’ll know that cheap can often be cheerful. Still, in the beer world, even the breweries producing supermarket exclusives still tend to put their name on the can. At some point, you have to assume that the beer being sold in a high street shop – even a very low rent high street shop – isn’t going to be a combination of anti-freeze and rat innards, even if it tastes like it, and won’t make you go blind or insane. Though of course, some of you probably think that only insanity would lead to slapping down £1.59 for this.
This is a 5.2% beer in a 440ml can and promises to be “a truly indulgent festive stout” with “a backbone comprising of all the festive flavours and spices of a Christmas pudding and the sweet indulgent vanilla from lashings of custard”. More prosaically, the ingredients only boast of ‘natural flavourings’ alongside the standard beer contents, which is suitably vague. And as it turns out, ‘vague’ seems an accurate warning about what you’ll get. It looks the part, being black, though not especially thick and with a minimal head – and certainly, there’s a strong aroma of spices as your pour it out. However, the taste is an odd collision of nondescript and unpleasant on the first sip before settling into something that feels oddly discordant, as if all the right notes are there but – as Eric Morecambe might say – not necessarily in the right order. It feels as though the assorted spices and vanilla are somehow in conflict rather than harmony and the result is very odd. It’s not aggressively unpleasant – if you open a can of this, you’ll probably finish it (working on the assumption that you won’t even pick it up if the concept immediately repulses you) and I can’t, in all honesty, say that it is completely awful. It’s definitely an acquired taste, though, and might take a good few mouthfuls before it stops tasting odd.
Obviously, it bears little resemblance to Christmas Pudding and Vanilla Custard. At the very least, you’d expect a thick, treacly beer and this is not that by a long way. At best, it’s a winter ale that has been somewhat over-egged – less might have been considerably more in this case, but then it wouldn’t have the gimmicky concept. As it is, this is a stodgy pudding and I can’t imagine many people going back for second helpings of it.
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