Tuesday, 10 January 2017

Aldi vs Lidl: Beer Edition!

some of Aldi's Oktoberfest themed beers
I’ve been comparing the two major budget supermarkets on their quality of spirits for some time now, and I just realised that (once again, thanks to The Distinct Beers Challenge) I’ve enough experience to compare them on the quality of their beers, too. Both outlets have exclusive brands, and both get in their fair share of guest and seasonal beers, so if that isn’t a reason to keep drinking, I don’t know what is.
Now, I’ve been shopping at Aldi for a lot longer than I’ve been visiting Lidl, and while at first I thought I would I just need to make a couple more visits to Lidl before we’re on level terms beerwise, it hasn’t turned out that way. Lidl’s turnover of beers has tailed off while Aldi’s has positively gone through the roof – first with a selection of 5 or 6 German beers for Oktoberfest, and then a whole new range of 10 or 11 British beers… for what seems like no reason at all! Hooray for Aldi. Sadly it makes it difficult to compare the two brands beer for beer right up to the present day. At first I thought that maybe I could draw a line under an equal number of beers and then do a part 2 after Lidl have added a few more. In all fairness, that doesn’t sound very interesting to me, and it makes it hard to draw any overall conclusions. This no doubt will be a topic I return to frequently, but I think it will be better all round if we just take more of an overview and see where that gets us.
first ever beer shop at Lidl
Anyway, I intend to compare the beers then, on four categories:
Exclusive brands – the cheap made for Aldi/Lidl stuff you find, including the low alcohol and shit cans. This can be a tricky one because some of the exclusive brands are trying very hard not to look like exclusive dirt market brands. A lot of them are made by actual brands anyway as well, so I’m just going to have to make a number of decisions and stick to them. If you don’t agree with any of my decisions, you have all of the comments section to stick your oar in.
British guests – the kind of large bottled ales you get, that mostly seem to be around 4%. And anything else British of course!
Foreign guests – probably cheaply imported from Germany and Belgium, but foreign nevertheless and possibly premium.
Seasonal gimmicks – those beers they get in at Christmas (usually with cartoony labels) or Halloween (usually pumpkin flavoured) or around Burns Night (Scottish).
The first task was to comb through all my previous Untappd check-ins and try to remember which beers I’d bought from either of these two dirt market giants. Next, a bit of classification and analysis, and finally, piece together some kind of narrative – perhaps with a bit more tasting inbetween.
So I’ve done that analysis now and I’m going to have to find a place to start. How about…
Exclusive brands
Yes, so these are the ones that you’re only going to find at the supermarket in question. Even these can be split into a number of categories, so it’s not destined to be simple. For one thing I’ve identified no less than 23 exclusive brands (probably even more since I wrote that sentence) between the two supermarkets in the two and a half years since I started logging on Untappd.
looks like shit Heineken
First off you have the shit Euro-lagers. At Aldi you’ve got Sainte Etienne (2.5/5) which is generally in cans, and the slightly more special bottled Sainte Etienne Premium (which I’ve actually scored lower than the standard one; 2/5), while at Lidl you’ve got Excelsior (3.9%, 1/5) in cans, and in bottles, Perlenbacher Premium Pils (4.9%, 2.5/5). The canned ones are packaged to look like shit beer, the Sainte Etienne Premium to look like shit bottled beer, and the Perlenbacher to look like Heineken – and hence, like shit bottled beer. You can see from the scores that none of them are anything to write a blog about. In their favour is that they are cheaper than comparably shit branded beers. I don’t want to talk about these particular products too much just now, because I have another post in the pipeline where I directly compare own brand supermarket beers. So most of the content is going to be in that one. For now you can see there’s little to choose between the supermarkets in this category.
But what of the other exclusive brands I alluded to?
Well, Aldi go a step further with their exclusive foreign ales, branching out into a German weissbier, Rheinbacher (5%, 2.5/5) and what looks like a Spanish style lager, Carista (4.6%, 2.5/5). Neither are anything to get excited about.
And that brings us to the many exclusive British beers. So far I’ve counted 9 at Aldi and 7 at Lidl. All, with the exception of Aldi’s Golden Crown (4.1%, 2.5/5) are identifiably brewed by reputable British breweries. Interestingly, many of the breweries have made beer for both supermarkets, so that adds an extra dimension to our investigation.
Lidl seemed to be the first of the two supermarkets to offer its own “craft” beer range. I put “craft” in speech marks like that because… well they aren’t exactly premium. They come in standard 500ml bottles with cheap but consistent labels. And by ‘cheap’ I mean the paper quality is very poor. To give a small brewery aesthetic, they are allocated numbers – No. 1, No.2 etc, in addition to their various quirky names. All are in reality produced by reputable large scale breweries, though Lidl appear to have attempted pull the wool over our eyes by pretending they are brewed by a company called Hatherwood Craft Beer Company. Here’s a brief summary of how I’ve scored them and what I’ve thought of them as far as I can remember.
The Golden Goose (3.8%, 3/5) by Wychwood, famously the fathers of Hobgoblin. This one’s a golden ale, and neither better nor worse than standard fare.
The Green Gecko IPA (5%, 3/5) by Marston’s. A good ABV for your small financial outlay on this one. The score of 3 out of 5 of course denotes that it does the job but is nothing special.
The Amber Adder (4.3%, 3/5) is also by Marston’s and also receives and average 3 out of 5. It is described as a “red ale”, so I’m not quite sure why it’s called “amber”. Amber is orangey – right?
The Ruby Rooster (a brown ale – there seems to be some confusion over colours among these beers; 3.8%, 2.5/5) is by Ringwood Brewery and scores below average. A score of 2.5 represents not particularly nice, but nothing terrible about it.
The Purple Panther (5%, 4/5) is the jewel in the “Hatherwood” crown (strong, cheap and good), and is a porter.
The Winter Warmer (5.5%, 1/5) could be classed as a seasonal beer, but I think its exclusive status supercedes that. It is brewed by Hogs Back Brewery and as you can see from the score, is awful. Part of that has to be down to the fact that seasonal spiced beers are not my thing at all, but only a very small part. Don’t be fooled into thinking this isn’t awful.
Finally we have Gnarly Fox (4.5%, 3/5), a lager brewed by Wychwood. I always buy the Wychwood beers because they are nicely branded and identifiable – in that when you see one, if you’ve paid the slightest bit of attention, you can remember whether you’ve already tried it or not. Sadly, as I’ve tried more of them, it appears Hobgoblin is the only one of any worth. The brewery’s two Lidl offerings are nothing to get excited about either.
Now, Aldi have clearly taken note of this Hatherwood ploy and decided to get in with their own professionally brewed, exclusive range. The labels are of the same cheap paper (though the designs are far more interesting), but they haven’t tried to fool you or I (the great British beer buying public) into thinking a patsy brewery has made them all. Some of them are credited to Harper’s Brewing Company, while the rest make no bones about the actual breweries that are responsible for them. However, and again they differ from Lidl a bit here, they all state “brewed exclusively for Aldi” on the label. These all hit the shelves at the same time, so it was quite a cheap month of at home drinking for me (excepting releases of Cloudwater’s DIPA versions 8 and 9), and made for an exciting day at the Eden Square shopping complex. Let’s have a bit of a rundown. I’ll start with the large bottles and finish with the smaller ones, because yes, I neglected to mention that Aldi have gone one better than their rival and offer a range of 330ml bottles as well as 500ml ones. I entered some comments about some of these on Untappd, which I’ll include for you here.
hit the jackpot at Aldi one weekend
North Bridge Brown Ale (4.7%, 3/5) – a so-so attempt at Newcy Brown, brewed by Marston’s. That’s right, it’s not a patch on the real thing, but it’s not a bad cheap approximation. It’s half a point better than Lidl’s comparable Ruby Rooster.
Golden Crown (4.1%, 2.5/5). As you can well imagine, this is an attempt at a pretty standard golden ale. That’s never really been my genre, so the 2.5/5 tells you Aldi have pretty much hit the target. No specific brewer has been identified as creating this one. On Untappd I said, this new aldi range looks the part, but so far they aren’t quite up to snuff, which isn’t a turn of phrase I’d normally use, but there you go.
Medusa (5%, 3.5/5). Apparently brewed by Marston’s, this one, though it is labeled “Harper’s Breweing Co.” As I say, I think this is the equivalent of Lidl’s Hatherwood. Anyway, this is a red ale, and one of the better scorers. I wasn’t able to use the Untappd barcode scanner, and it was very hard to find it on the app.
Amber Stone (4.4%, 3/5). I haven’t been able to find out who the brewer is for this one. It’s credited to “Harper’s” and is apparently “contract brewed”. I got a 2 year anniversary badge on Untappd for logging this one, which seemed odd because I’d actually joined Untappd two and a half years previously.
Wild Bill’s IPA (5%, 3/5). Another collaboration with Marston’s. At the time I stated, Pleasant at first, but soon changing to a burnt taste as the bitterness sets in. Still one of the best of these new Aldi offerings.
Land of Liberty (5%, 3/5). The first of the small bottles is billed as an American IPA and is made by Sadlers. I said, a bit fusty on entry, then pleasant citrus followed by too much bitterness.
All 4 One (4.5%, 3.5/5). A collaboration with Hogs Back Brewery, this one is an amber lager. No comments, but it scores pretty well.
Sunny Dayz (3.8%, 2/5). Late November is an odd time to release a summer themed golden ale, but that’s what Aldi have done with this second Hogs Back collaboration. I said, something not quite right – like, a bit stale about this one.
Red Rye IPA (4.7%, 4/5) – a good one from Aldi – and Twickenham Fine Ales. Indeed, the joint top scorer in this category along with Lidl’s Purple Panther. I think it would be worthwhile to buy 8 of these and keep them in stock for when I need to buy beers but can’t find any I want in the local supermarkets. If only the bottle was a little bigger…
Spill the Beans (4.4%, 3.75/5). A coffee porter from Brains that I’ve dubbed pretty good.
So what can we conclude in the exclusive British beers category? Well, for one thing there’s nothing particularly outstanding, but at least there is a good selection out there – and if you’re not fussy about quality you certainly can’t argue with the price. Some of them really are comparable to what I would classify as sub-standard established beers. In terms of comparison between the supermarkets, let’s just go on average scores.
Aldi racked up 10 beers, scoring 31.25. That’s an average of 3.125 per beer, which isn’t bad. I’m not going to go out of my way to prove it, but I reckon that’s probably a better average than all the beers on the shelves at a standard supermarket. Mind you, that would be a purely subjective conclusion.
Lidl on the other hand racked up only 7 beers, scoring 19.5 points. I need my calculator for this one; it’s an average of 2.786. That’s a little off the pace, and gives Aldi the edge.
British guests
Time now to move on to the British Guests category. In this one I’ll be judging the two retailers on the quality of branded beer that they get in from time to time. In terms of quantity it’s a little one-sided at the moment, with Aldi having 16 examples and Lidl only 8. Nevertheless, I think it’s enough to go on.
On first glance you’re seeing a lot of the same brewers from the respective exclusive ranges – Brains, Marston’s, Wychwood – but you also get the likes of Sadlers (the dirt market king – being available as they are also in B&M Bargains and Quality Save), Shepherd Neame, Robinson’s and Joseph Holt. You also get one or two weird ones like Williams Brothers’ Fraoch Heather Ale at Aldi.
I don’t want to go into too much detail here, as you will be familiar with some of these beers anyway, and otherwise I haven’t got much specific to say about them anyway. Instead I’ll give you a list of beers by retailer and their scores out of 5.
Aldi first –
Two Tribes by Everards Brewery, 3.5/5
Castle by Arundel Brewery, 4/5
Sadler’s Hop Bomb, 4/5
Sadler’s Mellow Yellow, 2/5
The Rev James Rye by Brains, 3.5/5
Strongarm Ruby Red Ale by Camerons, 2/5
Wells Bombardier Glorious English, 4/5
Brains SA, 2.5/5
McEwan’s Export, 2.5/5
Wainwright Golden Ale by Marston’s, 3.5/5
Hobgoblin, 4/5
Hobgoblin Gold, 3/5
Fraoch Heather Ale by Williams Brothers, 3.5/5
Golden Bolt by Box Steam Brewery, 3.75/5
A-hop-alypse Now by Camerons, 3.5/5
Maple Gold by Joseph Holt, 3/5
That’s a total score of 52.25 to be divided by 16, leaving an average of 3.266. Again, not bad.
Lidl British guests
Lidl then –
Hobby Horse by Rhymney Brewey, 3/5
British euro-style lager
Butcombe Gold, 2/5
Tapping the Admiral by Shepherd Neame, 4/5
Ginger Beard by Wychwood, 1/5
Unicorn Black by Robinson’s 3/5
Brains SA Gold, 3.5/5
Korev by St Austell Brewery, 3/5
Summer Sizzler by Shepherd Neame, 1.5/5
I think we can see it doesn’t look great for Lidl at this point. Let’s see, it’s a total of 21 to be divided by 8, leaving a paltry 2.625.
That’s interesting though. It shows that Aldi is better on both British exclusive and British guest categories, but it also shows that Aldi’s guest are marginally better than its exclusives while Lidl’s exclusives are marginally better than its guests. I think that’s quite useful. Take note of that.


Foreign guests
I’m afraid there isn’t much to compare in this category so far, since Aldi are quite prolific in their delvings into the European market, while the few times I’ve visited Lidl have only yielded two foreign guests. Those two were Blanche de Namur, a Belgian wheat beer and Bornem Blond, a Belgian blonde ale. They both looked the part, but sadly they didn’t taste it, scoring 2 and 1.5 out of 5 respectively.
Aldi are giants in this field though. I mentioned earlier in the post how they got in 5 or 6 authentic German beers for Oktoberfest, which routinely scored between 3.5 and 4 out of 5. From time to time they also have beers from French brewer, Les Brasseurs de Gayant. La Goudale Biere de Abbage (3.75/5)and La Goudale Witt (4/5) are good examples, while the gluten free Grain d’Orge Bio Sans Gluten was fucking awful (1/5).

Then there was alternative Spanish lager Ambar Especial. There’s a funny story about this one. An acquaintance was in Zaragoza and posted a picture of a local beer that he favoured over San Miguel and Cruzcampo and the like. He mentioned how it wasn’t available in the UK yet. It was funny because that very day I’d seen it in our local Aldi, and I think it was only 99p per bottle. Next time I went in I took a picture for him, and later, on his return home, he went straight out and bought what looked to be the stock for one whole store. Anyway, I only scored it 3.5, which isn’t bad.
Seasonal gimmicks
Ok, final section now before I start wrapping this up. It’s a fairly inconclusive one though, to be honest. I’ve only had the pleasure of trying one seasonal gimmick from Lidl so far – Shepherd Neame’s Burns Ale which I scored 2.5/5. Aldi have been getting all sorts in over the years though – Christmas themed ales like Reigndeer from Sadlers (3/5), Redbreast by Jennings (3/5), Yule Love it! By Thwaites (3.5/5), Rocking Rudolph by Greene King (3/5) and Wychwood’s Bah Humbug (3/5). They also embrace Burns Night (Blackwolf Brewery’s Rabbie Burns, 3.5/5) and Halloween (Wychwood’s Dunkel Fester).
Anyway, these kind of beers aren’t really my kind of thing. I only buy them because it’s more or less a guaranteed distinct beer to add to my log. So I’m not going to compare across this genre – for now anyway.
Conclusions
So which of the two budget supermarkets should you go to to fulfil your beer needs? I think it’s plain to see that Aldi is the choice for me. If Lidl is a lot more convenient for you, it has offerings that are worth a try, but Lidl consistently has the greater range, and it changes fairly regularly. Not only that, but the most important thing, the quality, is just that bit better. I’m not consistently buying by beers from Aldi just at the moment (do I do pick up anything distinct that comes in), but there’s certainly a case for doing so in preference to the mainstream supermarkets. Sure, the mainstream supermarkets have the range and they have the offers, but Aldi has great prices and solid alternatives that if you’re like me, you might find a little less depressing than the choices you have to make at Tesco or Sainsburys (or Asda or Morrison’s. You guys don’t escape my ire either).
Over to you now. Please tell me about your favourite supermarket beers in the comments, and join me next week when I’ll be talking about something else, which I think will be a revisit of the standard Wild Turkey Kentucky Bourbon, but which, as ever, is subject to change if I haven’t written enough of it. See you then.




2 comments:

  1. I thought I detected an underlying snobbishness 'comparable to what I would classify as sub-standard established beers'. And then I saw that Brains Rev.James Rye is scored at 3.5/5 while that bland abomination called Bombardier is scored at 4/5. Then I knew that prejudice is rife!

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  2. Here's another funny story about Ambar. I've been going to Spain 4/5 times each year for the past 5 years and have never seen Ambar.
    Last Friday I went to a new restaurant. I wasn't feeling too well and so I decided I'd have a small beer instead of a bottle of wine.
    It was of course Ambar and I enjoyed it very much. I'd decided to stock up with some beers from Lidl or Aldi, googled them and saw your review, so thanks for that.
    btw "supercedes" is spelt supersedes and "they haven’t tried to fool you or I" should be "you or me".

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