Last year the supermarket chain Lidl introduced an expanded range of beers. For weeks the promises had crackled like lightning through the beerosphere; Lidl was going to shake things up. Lidl was going to upset the apple cart and kick ass, take names, bust chops and call cops.
After the words came the deeds, and the start was patchy and shaky. A few more real ales appeared on the shelves. Asahi made an appearance. Did Lidl always stock so many interchangeable Master Brewer's beers?
Eventually, and happily, Lidl slipped into gear after a grinding start, and it would be a pretty snidey driving instructor to fail someone five seconds after turning the key in the ignition. Lidl's beer range got bigger, broader and better serviced. The creation of the Hatherwood Craft Beer Co. line of own brand craft beer (their words, not mine, simmer down in the back) saw some decent brews hit the Lidl shelves. Winter Warmer (brewed by Hog's Back Brewery) was a delicious, cakey seasonal brew. Green Gecko IPA, brewed by Marston's, is simply a good IPA. It's got admirable scores on Ratebeer and Untappd, but more importantly it tastes nice, smells good, and is cheap.
Now it's Aldi's turn to roll out an own brand craft beer line, and it seems this has been done with little to no fanfare. Was this insecurity on Aldi's part? A secrecy ploy to confound and blindside Lidl? A third and even less believable reason? Aliens?
Whatever, Aldi has released the "Great British Brewing Co." range, a gang of five beers, produced by Sadler's, Hog's Back, Brains Brewery, and Twickenham Fine Ales, and this intro has gone on long enough so here's Spill The Beans, a coffee porter from Brains.
From the neck there is a surprisingly powerful blast of molasses scent and the unmistakable hum of dark, roasted coffee. It's the few months I spent when I just turned 30 and had a black coffee phase (still the closest this reporter has come to a mid-life crisis), it's a surprising whack of smokey and burned biscuit. It pours good and slow with a soundtrack of healthy and happy glugging, filling the glass with the black of polished leather, a little black lagoon with coffee swamp gas rising from its glassy, slightly foamed surface.
The first mouthful of Spill the Beans is an uncomplicated slice of dark chocolate and coffee. The mouthfeel is thicker than I expected, although the carbonation does pummel a little hard on the tastebuds and makes the initial gulp feel stilted and pressured to a slight degree. On further inspection, with a few more concentrated mouthfuls, a caramely taste builds, and a warming, cosy and bitter coffee aftertaste takes up residence in its favourite chair, stroking a burly dog of indeterminate breed and staring at the unlit fireplace.
By this point the scent from the glass still, unsurprisingly, remains as coffee and malt, brightened by a thin falsetto of gingerbread.
The final mouthful leaves a rich and slightly charred aftertaste, this little £1.09 330ml porter carrying out a successful, if polite and restrained, scorched earth campaign on the senses. Slightly singed earth, perhaps?
Spill the Beans Coffee Porter is cheap, but not chatty. Cost-effective but not debased and faded. It's a good beer, a tasty and warming porter at an easy-drinking 4.4% abv, and throws its coffee taste out before it like a grenade. It's not the thickest porter, but this might make it not die on the shelves as spring/summer looms and pale and hoppy become the orders of the day.
The other beers in the range- Sunny Dayz Golden Ale (from Hog's Back), All 4 One (a four hop lager also from Hog's Back), Red Rye IPA (a Twickenham Fine Ales joint) and Land of Liberty American IPA (from Sadler's) all retail at the same price, which undercuts most of the individually sold bottled beers on the Aldi shelves. I'll be drinking and writing about the rest of these beers over the next four nights, and investigating whether or not the rest of the range hits the spot.
And can you believe I wrote a whole article about a beer called Spill the Beans without posting a clip of Mabel Pines doing that exact same thing?