M&S, Scottish Craft Lager
This version of Harviestoun’s Schiehallion beer, brewed in this case for M&S, is serious, next-level lager. Unusually laced with wheat malt, which gives it a thicker mouthfeel and a notably earthy, grainy aspect, this hits you with a triple whammy of big, sweet, juicy caramelised malts; then unsweetened grapefruit, pepper and lemon notes; and finally a lingering bitterness that rolls on and on. It is so flavour-packed, in fact, that it may be too much for some lager drinkers.
Brewed for Tesco by Marston’s, this “hybrid lager” uses six hop varieties, and yet, despite that apparent surfeit of ingredients, this thin, fizzy drop tastes of very little. If you really concentrate, you might discern a slight marmalade note in there, but its main characteristic, a curious soured lemon flavour, is mostly reminiscent of Shandy Bass. It is reasonably bitter, which thankfully offsets its potentially cloying sweetness, but if you are offered a bottle of this at a barbecue, opt for wine.
Lidl, Perlenbacher Premium Pils
Despite the German label announcing: “Gebraut nach dem Deutschen Reinheitsgebot,” this is produced in France and is so dull and sweet, so lacking in a pilsner’s trademark dry hoppiness, that you could easily mistake it for a mainstream US beer. You get a little dusty bitterness at the end but, fundamentally, this is all about sickly candied malt. It will get you drunk, but beyond that …
This disappeared from Waitrose and Sainsbury’s in 2013 after the Portman Group, the trade watchdog body for the drinks industry, decided its cartoon artwork might appeal to children. It was a ruling (of some stupidity) that marginalised this interesting, malty, full-bodied lager. It is less crisp and dry than you might expect, but there is plenty to chew over in the way its upfront hop character, all grass and dry straw, falls away to reveal a surprisingly dark, almost treacle-toffee sweetness.
M&S, Five Hop Lager
Brewed by the Hogs Back brewery in Surrey, this new M&S beer cannot trump its Scottish lager (see above), but it is creditable in its own right. It opens with a classic burst of spicy, herbal saaz hops, reveals lemony and subtler melon flavours (skilful use of New World hops, perhaps?), and tops out in a clear, dry bitterness. Its sweetness is nicely restrained, too. It lacks staying power, it all tails off somewhat, but still.
This is brewed in Memmingen in Bavaria, where lagers tend to be sweeter and maltier in the Munich helles style, and despite its piny aroma, it lacks the assertive dryness you expect in a pilsner. Yes, it has a little grassiness and hop edge, but the dominant flavour here is flabby, honeyed sweetness. The label does warn you of its “subtle hop flavour”, but, really, life is too short for beers this meek.