Helpful prizes for small British brewers

FULL marks to Sainsbury’s for its support of British beers. Not only is its well conceived Great British Beer Hunt now in its third season, but its prizes remain the most helpful any small brewer could have.

The 20 regional finalists go on sale for three weeks next month in selected Sainsbury’s stores. All, I am told, will be priced at £1.50, with all but one in 500ml bottles.

The 12 top sellers from those regional finalists go into October’s grand final where they will be critically examined by industry experts. The overall winner will receive a six-month listing in 300 stores nationwide while the runner-up will go on the shelves of 150 stores for a similar period.

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Caesar Augustus from Williams Bros in Alloa was the overall runner-up two years ago and the company have no fewer than three beers in this year’s regional finals. So I took a closer look at six of the finalists with particular regard to the four brewed in Scotland.

The lightest of the sextet was Hilden Barney’s Brew, which is wheat beer from Belfast containing clear ginger notes on both the nose and the palate. Although it is a tad short for some tastes, I enjoyed the beer’s restrained hoppiness, light texture and the gentle, spicy, citrus edge that adds a little complexity. It is also a good option for the increasing band of beer and food matchers – proving to be an excellent stablemate for soft cheeses and, with those ginger touches, for prawns.

Similarly light in colour was the nicely aromatic The Honey Thief, Williams Bros, which actually seems less sweet than the label suggests because of the neutralising effect of the slightly bitter finish. That concluding twist also accentuates the early suggestions of orange and other citrus fruits which similarly counteract any overt sweetness.

A bit more depth comes from Wayfarer India Pale Ale, Orkney Brewery, with its very clear cereal influences and firm hoppy finish. Those elements are lightened by a sharpness on the palate that, when combined with the underlying pepperiness, delivers a balanced beer admirably suited to strong cheese and spicy foods.

Next comes a pair of wackily named beers from Williams Bros. Of the two, Hipsway is probably the richer and more textured, but this is neatly balanced by suggestions of soft fruit that gradually work into a hoppy, but not intrusive, finish. The other Williams beer (this time with only 3.8% alcohol) is the aromatic Gonny No Brew That. After a soft but racy opening, an ascending combination of hops and cereal influences take over to underline what a nicely integrated beer this is. As with the IPA, it also provides a pretty good food match with harder cheeses.

Finally, to a dark beer from Ridgeway in Oxfordshire – Querkus Smoked Oaked Porter (the 330ml bottle). Predictably, this has depth, an attractive toastiness and neat peaty hints behind its malty nose. Less conventional, however, are the supplementary flavours of chocolate and liquorice – along with an acidic edge that keeps the bitter finish from being too assertive. As you would expect, this is also a great match with slow cooked beef casserole.

So, do keep your eyes open for all of these beers in Sainsbury’s stores from 11 September for the rest of that month.

2012 Dourthe No 1 Sauvignon Blanc, Bordeaux, France, 12 per cent

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Too often, in the clamour for New Zealand or Loire sauvignon, well made versions from Bordeaux are overlooked. That is a crying shame given the beautifully rounded and perfumed touches this version embodies – with its fresh grapefruit and lime acidity, touches of sherbet and that textured tangerine backdrop. £7.50, The Wine Society

2011 Extra Special Vignes de la Citadelle, Côtes de Bourg, France, 13 per cent

Completing a double for the region, here is an ideal introduction to Bordeaux red. It delivers all the leafy aromas, plum and blackcurrant fruit, concluding vanilla and a dab of graphite that all typify what the region does well. The softish tannins and pronounced acidity make this a great crossover from New World reds. £7.25, Asda