Saturday, 24 April 2010

Super-premium ales

One of the reasons marketeers put forward for people buying premium bottled ales is to give themselves a treat. And a growing category that directly addresses this motivation is the “super-premium” extensions of existing brands, with ABVs well above 6%. One of the first of these was Greene King’s Old Crafty Hen, a very complex beer including a proportion of an oak-aged beer called Old 5X, and which retailed for an eye-watering £2.49 for a 500ml bottle (77p a unit). I have been very impressed with this, although the price means it can only be an occasional treat, and such a rich, multi-layered beer is one to be savoured rather than guzzled. I was much less impressed by the cheaper Abbot Reserve at the same strength (£1.99, 61p per unit), in which the distinctive slightly sour, bittersweet character of the standard Abbot Ale seemed to be overpowered by cloying sweetness.

I recently spotted Marston’s Pedigree VSOP at 6.7% ABV, retailing at £2.25 for a 500ml bottle (67p a unit). The bottle label says this “delivers a rich complex pale ale with an opulent and luxurious finish”. The one I sampled was distinctly lighter than its Greene King counterparts, but didn’t really seem to drink its strength, and – in common with several other Marston’s bottled ales – demonstrated poor head retention. There is another in the cupboard awaiting a second opinion. Another one from the Marston’s stable is Wychwood King Goblin (6.6%), which I haven’t tried yet, but which didn’t impress The Ormskirk Baron.

It’s interesting that nobody from the anti-drink lobby has yet seized on this phenomenon, as they surely would if Inbev came up with a 6.7% ABV Stella brand extension. But, on the other hand, the fact that these beers sell for more per unit than their lower-strength counterparts, and that ales of this strength tend to be too rich and heavy to drink rapidly in quantity, means that in reality they have little to worry about. This category does seem to be here to stay, though, and it will be interesting to watch out for the other major producers of premium bottled ales coming up with their own variations on the style.

10 comments:

  1. I enjoyed Morland Old Crafty Hen [baron rating 4/5] too (http://theormskirkbaron.blogspot.com/2010/03/morland-old-crafty-hen.html)

    But... I do find these ales to be more on the sweet side (for obvious reasons) and so they are not normally to my liking.

    It's interesting how we now have 2 categories for bottled ales: 'premium' & 'super premium'!

    Have you tried Adnams Innovation [baron rating 5/5]? It's a great example of a strong beer (6.7%) but hoppy too so it's not overly sweet or fruity - just a great complex IPA.

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  2. I was also un-impressed with Abbot Reserve, and found it very dis-appointing. I have tried the Old Crafty Hen, and the 5X Old Ale certainly added something.

    I wouldn't worry about the health lobby, as like you say, these beers are an occasional treat, rather than everyday supping ales.

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  3. I agree with you Paul, I too found the Abbot Reserve to not be anything special, in fact the normal Abbot ale is miles better!

    Anyone tried Suffolk Springer?

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  4. Never seen Adnams Innovation, but certainly would try a bottle if I did.

    Incidentally, does this topic not underline the total lack of innovation in the lager sector as opposed to the ale sector? The only innovation in lager seems to be bringing in another lacklustre samey brew from Estonia or wherever...

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  5. Chimay Bleu, courtesy of the Trappists ,room temperature in the
    Charlemagne Veterans Lodge,Gosselie
    Wallonia.After Benediction of course.Simply another dimension
    oh and one can smoke too.
    Adieu mes amis

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  6. I dislike Abbot Reserve from the bottle, but from the cask it's rather good I reckon.

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  7. I like OCH, really, I do. Smooth. I've got a VSOP lined up for this afternoon, as it happens.

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  8. I am impressed with the price information. Something all to many bloggers forget.

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  9. Interesting post. I like OCH, it's complex but quite drinkable - maybe too drinkable for its strength.

    And I agree about the innovation in the ale sector. The only example of that I can think in lager recently, other than lower %abv additions, is the "Artois family"

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  10. I've tried a few examples of the Pedigree VSOP now and find it does grow on me. I like its dry, relatively light character and it's a complex beer that merits exploration. You also get a powerful whiff of sulphur on opening the bottle. However, the head retention remains very poor and that is a touch offputting.

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