Learning to love the beast

Still making up around 90% of UK beer sales, mainstream brews are sometimes unavoidable. Katie Mather reviews the best(?) of the rest.

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Imagine, if you will, a day when the first thing on your mind isn’t finding the perfect beer. It’s a hot day. You’re in a rush to get out, to meet people, to take an afternoon all to yourself somewhere publess. Perhaps you’re packing a coolbox full of meat ready for a barbecue. Maybe there’s been a last minute decision to head off to the beach or out to the countryside somewhere. You don’t have time to head into town to the bottleshop, your stash is depleted due to a recent birthday and anyway, this occasion isn’t calling for cool points or perfection. Most of the people you’re going to be hanging out with have already threatened to exclude you from their fun plans, for lecturing them about hop varieties, selling out and spontaneous fermentation. So what are you going to pick up from the Spar garage on the way out of town?

If this sounds like the beginning of a horror film to you, then turn to the next article right now. We’re about to get stuck into some of the most bog-standard beers around. If you think you’ve got the stomach for it, scan on, dear reader, and prepare yourself for the XXX that is… the tinny. (If you could imagine a lightning flash and a dramatic roll of thunder here, that would be great.)

Here are four of the nation’s most popular, best-selling lagers available in sub-£4 four-packs (How? That’s another story). I’ve tasted them all so you don’t have to.

Carling


They say: “Britain’s best-selling lager for over three decades.”

The smell: Not as much diacetyl as you’d think. Only a hint of the freshest of sweetcorn.

The taste: Here’s where things get really weird. According to Untappd, this beer is undrinkable. “Absolute piss” was mentioned by one disgusted reviewer. However, if we’re being truly honest with ourselves, people do drink it, and they drink a lot of it. It can’t be that bad.

Verdict: With an open mind and an empty wallet, if you’ve not had it in a while you’d be surprised to find smoothness. There’s no bitter edge, mind, it’s only the lack of sweetness that shows there’s any bitterness there at all. Is that from actual hops? Probably not.

I remembered this being one of the worst beers I’d ever drank a couple of years ago. Now, I realise that it’s not great, but it’s probably hyperbolic to say it’s anything other than “not very good”.

Budweiser


They say: “The king of beers.”

The smell: Sweet and boozy. Like caramel popcorn and hangover breath.

The taste: A big round soft squidge of nothingness. Sweet. Overwhelmingly sweet. Oh god, so sweet.

Verdict: I’m a positive person but even I have to say: this is pretty rubbish actually. For a big beer, I can’t believe they are riding so hard on such okay branding. Bud Light is a touch more cost-wise, but you’d be so much better off just getting that instead.

Fosters


They say: “Truly embodies a ‘no worries’ attitude to life.”

They also say: “...moderate vanilla (????) and no hard edges or bitter aftertaste (also ?????)”

The smell: Recognisable as lager. Sweetcorn in abundance.

The taste: This is the only one that tastes of something different, but that’s not necessarily a good thing. What is that? What is that blue cheese penicillic tang? It’s a mysterious dead end in a labyrinth of mediocrity for sure, but it’s not making things more exciting. It has indeed given me more worries to consider.

Carlsberg


This is a weird one.

Full disclosure, when I started this taste test, I was not aware that Carlsberg had amended its recipes across the board – only that they’d brought out a more representative pilsner recently. What follows may shock you.

They say: “Probably the best beer in the world.”

The smell: Barely any aroma to speak of.

The taste: Sweet and easy to drink. I had been expecting an unpleasant metallic “ting” that I usually associate with BBQ tinnies to hit me in the backwash, but instead there was a very slight, pleasant note of bitterness.

Verdict: Interestingly (to me and perhaps nobody else in the universe) that tiny twinge of bitterness comes right at the end, placed there purposefully to encourage another swig. That’s right, I actually wanted more of this one.

If you are happy to drink corporate beer, give this another chance. It’s probably closer to a helles than a pils (although please don’t tell anyone from Bavaria I said that).

Conclusion

If you haven’t got a major supermarket near you stocked with Magic Rock, Vocation, Thornbridge, Wild Card or Yeastie Boys, things can seem a little bleak. Avoid making them bleaker by swerving the duds, picking up a few cans of Carlsberg and getting over yourself for the day. Alternatively – and this is quite an attractive option actually – get a bottle of lemon and lime fizzy water and offer to be the designated driver.

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