Saturday, 5 December 2015

The Good, The Bad, and The Thrifty

Few phrases in the English language can send an online forum about craft beer into total chaotic meltdown quicker than “B&M Bargains haul”. Yet here we are, because Christmas is coming and festive austerity is biting. It’s cheap beers from here until the New Year for this reporter, and here’s three of them of drastically varying quality.

Simmer down and strap in because tonight I’m drinking the Good, the Bad and the Thrifty. In that order.

Opening a bottle of Oakham Ales’ Citra and taking a strong sniff from the open neck is like crashing a sports car into a lime plantation. There’s a tiny hint of lemon too, as if maybe the sports car had a lemon-scented air freshener that you briefly flew through as you were thrown from the wreckage into miles and miles of limes, but mainly it’s maximum lime.

Extracting oneself from the delicious aroma wreck and actually pouring the damn beer rewards the drinker with a glassful of polished brass liquid of such clarity that you can play video games through it. Admittedly upside down, but still notable. The head is crisp, clean white with a perfectly bubbly texture. Citra is a supermodel of beers.

On an earnest inhale from the glass, the nose remains quite lime-heavy and bites at the back of the nasal passages. The scent becomes a little more complex with notes of tropical fruit appearing on a longer, deeper huff from the deliciously bubbly surface of this American Pale Ale.

The first mouthful is strong apricot and kiwi, with rolling and sizzling bitterness that tingles on the roof and walls of the mouth. There’s an undercurrent, a subtle counter-melody swamped in fruity buzz, that’s hard to pick up on at first but after multiple sense-wracking forensic glugs I can safely say it’s almost the taste of gummy bears, so hard to pin down because it’s in a medium so different to the thick and chewy form in which we normally find it.

Drinking until there’s only a finger of beer left in the glass, the scent trapped there becomes more biscuity, more malty and a little more floral, with the wild lime notes fading away.

It’s tough to not finish this drink by tilting back one’s head and skulling what’s left in the glass, and a wonderfully oily, slick and fruity taste is this beer’s final word.

Citra is a stellar beer. Citra is an absolute megastar and it’s pretty much the beer version of those stories about Keanu Reeves taking public transport everywhere and being super-humble, because it’s a nigh-on permanent fixture in branches of B&M Bargains, where it sells for a mere £1.29. And it’s racked out on shelves next to Dead Crow. Good grief.

Santa Claus is dead.

Last year I reviewed Dead Crow Bourbon Flavoured Beer. I didn’t much like it. You can read about just how horrible I thought it was here. It’s had a label redesign since then and doesn’t look so much like something that would be served at a really terrible Deadwood-themed bar any more. The reason I chose to write about this beer tonight is that last year I reviewed it on its own, in sensory isolation, in a state of Beer Zen. This time I want to see what it’s like to throw Dead Crow into the mix with other beers. Will it still be awful? Probably.

On opening the bottle there’s a smell of burned, melted sugar, of disastrous bakery fire. So far, so Crow. Pouring it out into a glass and wondering why you didn’t just pour it into the sink elicits a glassful of dirty amber with a single millimetre ring of embarassed bubbles that passes, shame-facedly, for a head.

The nose from the glass is vomit. It’s still vomit after more than a year. Vomit vomit vomit. Flashbacks to a half-remembered house-party vomitorium when someone was sick in the kitchen and then someone else saw and they were sick and then I saw and smelled the whole thing and I was sick in a bin.

The first taste is just sugar and horribleness and shame. It’s like being punched to the ground by a golem made of sugar and vomit which then proceeds to vomit itself into your mouth and I have to drink the whole thing and I hope you are all happy. It’s made all the worse by the fact that the senses retain the memory of the last beer, a really nice one.


In all fairess there is a hint of marzipan in the taste that I never noticed before but it quickly gets thrown against the wall and machine-gunned by the overall taste of sugary calamity.

Torture. Worse than when I drank it in painstaking isolation for my review of it last year.

This reporter treated the beer like medicine and downed the last half of it in one and is not sorry at all.

Having enjoyed the Good, and muscled through the Bad, it’s time to taste the Thrifty.

Imagine dying. Imagine dying and going to Hell. Imagine going to Hell but instead of People Hell you get sent to Snake Hell through an admin error. Imagine going to Snake Hell and living for 500 years in Snake Hell with all the really bad snakes that killed other snakes, robbed them and put on human-suits in order to sell the bodies of their dead friends to humans to be made into belts.

Imagine Snake Hell is also full of hornets.

Then imagine that after 500 damn years in Snake Hell you get a reprieve because there’s been some kind of massive celestial cock-up and you get returned to life, exactly where you left off, except now you’re immortal and made of gold and you get the job of Emperor of Humanity and also a Ferrari to make up for how bad everyone feels that you ended up in Snake Hell.

Höga Kusten beer retails for 69p at B&M Bargains. I’ve never heard of this Swedish beer before, and have no idea about the brewery that made it or its pedigree. Despite this I can already hear the Ferrari’s mighty engine rhythmically chanting “no more Snake Hell no more Snake Hell no more Snake Hell” as I open the bottle.

There’s little nose from the neck at first, and with perseverance there’s a little bit of malt and biscuit. It pours to the colour of a dirty penny with a head that’s at least slightly better than that of Dead Crow.

The scent from the glass is dead grass and damp. Football boots at half time. It takes a good scrape, a good long inhale, but there’s a tiny bit of citrus there, a little hop note. Spectral lemon, transparent and shaking chains almost silently. A barely-there wail of a ghost fruit.

The taste is supermarket stubby lager mixed with more damp. It fills out a little after a few mouthfuls, with smoked biscuit appearing, and subsequent mouthfuls build up some grassy notes. Weirdly, after half of the beer has gone, a caramely, nicotine-like snap appears and plays an odd tune on the senses for a few moments. Höga Kusten is alright. It’s a 69p beer from B&M Bargains that isn’t a mouth-shredding chili monstrosity.

It's evident that throwing a bottle of the worst beer known to mankind into a session certainly makes at least the previous beer seem all the more wonderful. But how does it affect the beers that follow it?
Well, the final taste of the thrifty part of tonight’s alcoholic trinity is sweet, cloying and tacky on the tongue. As the aftertaste fades there’s something else there in the background. I had gargled, I had cleansed my palate, but still, after drinking this bottle of Höga Kusten from what I thought was a clean slate there’s still, unbelievably, the vengeful ghost-taste of Dead Crow cracking its knuckles on the tastebuds.

Go to Hell, Dead Crow. Go to Snake Hell.

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