Budget Beer Advent Calendar – Closing Thoughts

This madness was all triggered by an emergency trip to Spar. In the end it made me reflect on the high and improving quality of supermarket beers and what that means for pubs and the craft beer boom.

Low cost, variety and quality

At the till a bargain bin of beer caught my eye. Spar does not usually have anything of the sort. You’re luck if you can get any ale at all and even then it’s going to be Old Peculiar or something equally uninspiring. So imagine my surprise when I caught sight of the familiar label of Kelham Island Pale Rider. When I found out there were several Kelham Island bottles down to £1 I collected as many as I could fit under the pushchair.

The following day I gave a colleague a lift to work and he thanked me by giving me a bottle of beer. Then an idea struck me. I’d seen a lot of advertising and publicity around beer advent calendars. In fact I’d mentioned one from Ales by Mail as a potential Christmas present. But I decided I’d rather have a ‘proper’ present and that £60 was a bit too rich for my tastes.

Suddenly my discovery of the Kelham Island beers and the gift I’d been given seemed serendipitous. And I came up with a plan. The rules were these. Each day from 1-24 December I would drink a different beer. It must be either: 1) Discounted in some way; or 2) A gift for something I have done to help someone.

I would try to assemble the cheapest, most varied, highest quality beer advent calendar known to man!

The beers

My advent calendar consisted of 24 different beers from 20 different breweries.

You can find out more about the individual beers at the following links:

Days 1-4 – Days 5-8 – Days 9-12 – Days 13-16 – Days 17-24

Advent Calendar Total

Reflecting my tastes, there were 5 dark beers and 19 lighter beers.  ABV ranged from 4.2% to 8.5%, with 10 in the 4.0% – 4.9% range, 7 at 5.0% – 5.9% and 7 at 6.0% or over. Eighteen of the beers were from the UK, with 2 each from Belgium and the US and 1 each from Germany and Czech Republic. In terms of style they were mainly variations of types of UK ale – IPA, pale ale, best bitter – but lager, wheat beer and an interesting Belgian fruit beer were all represented. I had tried 18 of the beers before, six of hem were completely new to me.

My initial aim was to keep the total cost down to under £30. I paid for 18 of the beers and six could be classed as gifts for things I had done for people. Without these gifts it would have been a challenge to keep the total down to £30.

My final total came in at £27.55, a saving of £29.35 on the RRP. An interesting point is that £17.94 of those savings came from my six ‘free’ beers. But four of those were in pub or brewery settings, where prices are generally higher than supermarket purchased beers.

In truth, if I’d had no free beers, the final total might have been closer to the £35 mark, with a saving of about £15 on RRP.

But then I like to support pubs and I’m not one to turn down a free beer!

Another initial aim had been to keep the quality up. I think I achieved this. Although the hardened craft drinker might have found it a bit boring, I think most drinkers would have found enough variety to keep them interested an looking forward to the next day. It was certainly comparable, on the whole, with what was offered by Ales by Mail.

The supermarket versus pub question

As a general rule, I prefer to support pubs and local breweries. It’s not that easy to do that if, like me, you have a young family. This really limits your ability (and desire) to go to the pub and drink a few pints on a regular basis. And if, like me, you live in a town with a pretty motley assortment of pubs that’s another barrier to getting decent beer and another reason for more limited pub attendance.

There is no doubt that the round-the-clock availability of cheap booze in the supermarkets (combined with other social factors) has been one of the largest contributing factors to pub closures. As supermarkets latch on to the popularity of beer, many pubs outside of the London bubble will have to up their game on range and price or risk failure.

I have come to rely on the supermarket (particularly Waitrose) for getting decent, varied beer at a decent price. I still support local pubs and breweries, but a significant proportion of my beer volume is through the supermarket channel. Not only is the selection good, but it’s also cheap.

I tend to only use Ales by Mail et al for sourcing fairly special beer, which means I don’t use them that often. Over the coming years I can see the supermarkets, Waitrose in particular, making inroads into the craft market currently dominated by specialist off-licences and online retailers. As knowledge and interest of the average beer consumer in the beer category increase the market will certainly be there.

My life stage and market forces see more and more of my volume going to supermarkets. And I WANT to support local pubs and breweries. Most people don’t care.

Closing thoughts

I found the budget beer advent calendar to be a fun challenge. Scouring the supermarket shelves for interesting beer at a discount became a slight obsession. I found the biggest challenge to be drinking every day. When you HAVE to drink every day having a beer can lose its appeal – especially if you are feeling a bit under the weather. Much respect to those who have attempted to do this every day for a year!

To sum up, this exercise has shown me that you can get a varied selection of high quality beers for decent prices from the supermarkets if you are prepared to shop around and study the 3 for £5 deals etc. And if you are not looking for anything too trendy or spectacular then doing it this way is certainly better value than going to beer mail order companies or specialist off-licences.

In 2015 I expect that getting an even wider range, of even better beers, at a discount will get even easier and the pubs and craft specialists are really going to have to up their game to compete. With Lagunitas and Brewdog now becoming readily available in both supermarkets and Wetherspoon’s it won’t be long before more breweries follow suit.

There is an interesting tension though, between the price of trendy keg beer and the price of cask beer and the price of bottled beer in the supermarket. Something’s got to give and I’m pretty sure I know who the winner will be. I’ll be interested to see how some of the people making ridiculous margins out of the craft beer boom react as craft goes mainstream. One thing’s for sure the gold rush is ending.

As ever, thoughts appreciated in the comments section.

Budget Beer Advent Calendar – Days 17-24

The rules are these. Each day from 1-24 December I drink a different beer. It must be either: 1) Discounted in some way; or 2) A gift for something I have done to help someone.

I will try to assemble the cheapest, most varied, highest quality beer advent calendar known to man!

I was away for a few days, so you get the final double bill in one post.

You can view previous days here: Days 1-4 – Days 5-8 – Days 9-12 – Days 13-16

Days 17-20: Belgium, Czech Republic, London and Southwold

Around the houses, checking out some of the best European beers in the supermarket, one of my favourite cask ales of the year in bottle and getting trendier in London.

Advent Calendar 5

Wednesday 17th December

The Beer: St Stefanus Blonde, 7.0% ABV, 330ml.

How the brewer describes it: With roots dating back to 1295, St. Stefanus Blonde is the original abbey beer contracted to the Van Steenberge Brewery. To this day, it’s brewed with three different yeasts and matured for at least three months. This speciality Belgian Blonde beer is an unpasteurised, high fermented beer that is then refermented in the bottle.

The price: £2.50 (reduced from £2.99).

The source: Waitrose, Horsham.

Thursday 18th December

The Beer: Waitrose Czech Pilsner (Herold), 5.0% ABV, 500ml.

How the brewer describes it: A classic Czech lager, made at the Herold Brewery, situated in Breznice Castle in Bohemia, where beer has been produced since the 15th century. The beer is made from Saaz hops and locally grown barley, which is malted within the Castle walls.

The price: £1.41 (reduced from £1.88).

The source: Waitrose, Cobham.

Friday 19th December

The Beer: Redemption Urban Dusk, 4.6% ABV, 567 ml.

How the brewer describes it: Chestnut coloured Premium Bitter with malts providing coffee aromas and some hazelnut and caramel on the palate, while Bramling Cross hops offer some dark fruit flavours. Citrus notes and an earthy bitterness lasts into the finish.

The price: Free (usually £4.25).

The source: A gift from my friend Charlie at The Parcel Yard in King’s Cross station. Slightly tenuous, but for being a good mate and attending his stag do and wedding this year (it was pretty tough!)

Saturday 20th December

The Beer: Adnams Ghost Ship, 4.5% ABV, 500 ml.

How the brewer describes it: This Pale Ale has a good assertive pithy bitterness and a malty backbone. It is brewed with a selection of malts – Pale Ale, Rye Crystal and Cara – we use Citra, and a blend of other American hop varieties to create some great citrus flavours.

The price: £1.50 (in a 2 for £3 deal, usually £1.99)

The source: Waitrose, Salisbury.

Days 21-24: Pale and fruity – just how I like it…

I finished the calendar with four beers I know well and would buy in a heartbeat if I was offered them at a discount. They are all pale and well-hopped and are all stand-out beers.

Advent Calendar 6

Sunday 21st December

The Beer: St Austell Proper Job, 5.5% ABV, 500ml.

How the brewer describes it: A powerfully authentic IPA with a modern twist, Proper Job is brewed with a blend of imported hops, Cascade, Chinook and Willamette for a punch of citrus, pine resin and a hint of spice for a classic IPA. Voted the South West’s Champion Golden Ale and Champion Bottled Beer by CAMRA in 2013.

The price: £1.67 (in a 3 for £5 deal, usually £1.99)

The source: Waitrose, Salisbury.

Monday 22nd December

The Beer: Downton Chimera IPA, 7.0% ABV, 500ml.

How the brewer describes it: This is a truly classic IPA bursting with resinous hoppy flavours that packs quite a punch – just as a traditional IPA should. Refreshing for the summer, yet strong enough to be warming in the winter; a traditional India Pale Ale, brewed with a hugely increased hop rate for a strong, floral aroma, and a powerful, bitter taste. This award winning IPA is seriously drinkable, but deceptively strong…. not a beer to be taken lightly!

The price: Free (reduced from £2.30 – price on Beers of Europe).

The source: My Mum gave me this for Christmas, for being a great son (obviously!) It came form the Downton stall in the Christmas market in Salisbury. The only question is: How did she know?

Tuesday 23rd December

The Beer: Oakham Ales Citra, 4.2% ABV, 500 ml.

How the brewer describes it: A light refreshing beer with pungent grapefruit, lychee and gooseberry aromas leading to a dry, bitter finish.    

The price: £1.59 (reduced from £1.99).

The source: Waitrose, Salisbury.

Wednesday 24th December

The Beer: Brewdog Jackhammer, 7.2% ABV, 330 ml.

How the brewer describes it: The devastatingly bitter finish will drill straight through your taste buds. If you like hops and bitterness then go ahead. But be warned: this beer has more bitterness than a human palate (or nipple) can detect. For freaks, craft beer junkies and stamp collectors only.

The price: £2.08 (reduced from £2.60)

The source: Brewdog, online shop. To celebrate my Brewdog shareholding significantly increasing in value, I decided to have a Brewdog Christmas with 24 bottles. This was the first – a nice way to start the festivities.

Final total

Total spent: £27.55

Normal price: £56.80

Saving: £29.25

So there you have it. Twenty-four different beers, from 20 different breweries. Lagers, pale ales, IPAs, stouts and more. I’ll be writing up my thoughts on this ‘experiment’ over the Christmas holiday, so do keep an eye out.

What do you think of my advent calendar? Could it have been better? Should I have spent more money down at the pub, or are publicans doing fine at Christmas? Let me know your thoughts in the comments section below.

Budget Beer Advent Calendar – Days 13-16

The rules are these. Each day from 1-24 December I drink a different beer. It must be either: 1) Discounted in some way; or 2) A gift for something I have done to help someone.

I will try to assemble the cheapest, most varied, highest quality beer advent calendar known to man!

You can view previous days here: Days 1-4 – Days 5-8 – Days 9-12

Days 13-16: A local gem, Yorkshire giants and an old favourite

I visited the Kissingate Brewery for their Christmas party and got a freebie of my favourite dark beer of the year. It stands up well to some more seasoned beers I tried on days 14-16.

Advent Calendar 4

Saturday 13th December

The Beer: Kissingate Six Crows, 6.6% ABV, 567ml.

How the brewer describes it: A rich, dark and decadent stout with intense notes of molasses, bourbon, oak and wood smoke.

The price: Free (reduced from £2.50).

The source: Kissingate Brewery, Lower Beeding, nr. Horsham. Gary kindly gave me a complimentary drink voucher in return for me publicising his beer and being a great customer!

Sunday 14th December

The Beer: Timothy Taylor Landlord, 4.3% ABV, 500ml.

How the brewer describes it: A Classic Strong Pale Ale, Landlord has won more awards nationally than any other beer: This includes four times as Champion at the Brewers’ International Exhibition and four times as CAMRA’s beer of the year. Refreshingly reliable, nationally renowned, this full drinking Pale Ale with a complex and hoppy aroma.

The price: £1.67 (in a 3 for £5 deal, usually £2).

The source: Sainsbury’s, Wilton Road, London SW1.

Monday 15th December

The Beer: Kelham Island Pride of Sheffield, 4.2% ABV, 500 ml.

How the brewer describes it: A light copper bitter crafted from a range of choicest English malted barleys including Maris Otter, Tipple and Crystal malts. Spicy British hops complement the malty, caramel flavours and fruity American hops add a refreshing bitter sweet palate.

The price: £1 (reduced from £2.40).

The source: Spar, Coltsfoot Drive, Horsham.

Tuesday 16th December

The Beer: Fullers Golden Pride, 8.5% ABV, 500 ml.

How the brewer describes it: Everybody loves a pint but good things come in smaller measures too. Golden Pride is a premium, superior-strength bottled ale, bursting with flavours of sweet orange oil and toasted grains. At 8.5% ABV, it’s to be savoured like a fine wine.

The price: £1.66 (in a 3 for £5 deal, usually £2.50)

The source: Sainsbury’s, Wilton Road, London SW1.

Running total

Total spent: £17.29

Normal price: £36.81

Saving: £19.52

NB. The beer on Tuesday 16th December was actually consumed on Wednesday 17th December due to a serious bout of man flu!

Budget Beer Advent Calendar – Days 9-12

The rules are these. Each day from 1-24 December I drink a different beer. It must be either: 1) Discounted in some way; or 2) A gift for something I have done to help someone.

I will try to assemble the cheapest, most varied, highest quality beer advent calendar known to man!

You can view previous days here: Days 1-4 – Days 5-8

Days 9-12: Could this really be getting tough?

The effort of drinking beer every day is actually starting to become a little tiresome. But must…keep…going…

Advent Calendar 3

Tuesday 9th December

The Beer: Kelham Island Pale Rider, 5.2% ABV, 500ml.

How the brewer describes it: A legendary premium pale ale forged from the finest Maris Otter malt and a special blend of American hops. The nose is of fresh citrus and berry fruits with a smooth juicy malt character and deceptively moreish finish that belies its strength

The price: £1.00 (reduced from £2.40).

The source: Spar, Coltsfoot Drive, Horsham.

Wednesday 10th December

The Beer: Brooklyn Lager, 5.2% ABV, 330ml.

How the brewer describes it: In the late 1800’s when Brooklyn was one of the largest brewing centers in the country, lager beer in the “Vienna” style was one of the local favorites. Brooklyn Lager is a direct descendant of the Vienna style, displaying an amber-gold color and a firm malt center supported by refreshing bitterness and a floral hop aroma that give way to smooth caramel malts in the finish. The aromatic qualities of the beer are enhanced by dry hopping, the addition of fresh hops as the beer undergoes its long, cold maturation. The result is a wonderfully flavorful beer: smooth, refreshing and very versatile with food.

The price: £1.50 (in a 2 for £3 deal, reduced from £1.90).

The source: Sainsbury’s Local, Cobham.

Thursday 11th December

The Beer: Surrey Hills Shere Drop, 4.2% ABV, 567 ml.

How the brewer describes it: The flagship beer is pale in colour with a subtle hint of grapefruit and lemon in the aroma. The wonderful hop bitterness is complemented by a balanced malt flavour. The beer has a long finish, which is moderately dry.

The price: Free (usually £3.90).

The source: A reward for a year of hard work at my office Christmas Party. This beer at the Old Plough, Stoke D’Abernon.

Friday 12th December

The Beer: Bath Ales Barnsey, 4.5% ABV, 500 ml.

How the brewer describes it: Rich in fruit with hints of chocolate, we’ve made Barnsey a full-bodied dark ale that is both complex and deeply satisfying. Barnsey is a truly rewarding and enjoyable beer, carefully brewed using a mix of Maris Otter, Chocolate and Crystal malts together with Bramling Cross hops. Barnsey contains wheat and barley malt.

The price: £1.67 (in a 3 for £5 deal, usually £2.00)

The source: Sainsbury’s, Wilton Road, London SW1.

Running total

Total spent: £12.96

Normal price: £27.41

Saving: £14.45

Can I keep finding good beers that will keep my interest up and see my through another twelve days? Stay tuned in to find out!

Budget Beer Advent Calendar – Days 5-8

A beer a day keeps the doctor away. I think that’s the saying. Beer advent calendars seem to be a thing now. In fact they seem to be all the rage.

I didn’t have £60-£70 to spare or a generous friend or relative. I decided to get creative and was inspired by a great find in a bargain bin at my local Spar.

The rules are these. Each day from 1-24 December I drink a different beer. It must be either: 1) Discounted in some way; or 2) A gift for something I have done to help someone.

I will try to assemble the cheapest, most varied, highest quality beer advent calendar known to man!

You can view previous days here: Days 1-4

Days 5-8: Supermarket favourites

The next section of my calendar starts in Scotland, taking in Southern Germany and London before arriving back in Scotland with an icon of the craft beer movement.

Advent Calendar 2

Friday 5th December

The Beer: Harviestoun Schiehallion, 4.8% ABV, 330ml.

How the brewer describes it: Like the famous mountain it takes its name from, our gutsy craft lager, Schiehallion (pronounced “She-hal-i-on”) brings intense reward for the sort who like to plant their flag at the very top.

The price: £1.43 (20% off, reduced from £1.79).

The source: Waitrose, Cobham.

Saturday 6th December

The Beer: Erdinger Weissbier, 5.3% ABV, 500ml.

How the brewer describes it: Erdinger Weissbier is not only the undisputed classic in the Erdinger product range, it is also quite simply the wheat beer par excellence. It is brewed using fine yeast according to a traditional recipe and, of course, in strict accordance with the Bavarian Purity Law. Even today, the beer is still bottle-fermented in the traditional way; it takes three to four weeks for Erdinger Weissbier ‘with fine yeast’ to mature.

The price: £1.57 (20% off, reduced from £1.99).

The source: Waitrose, Cobham.

Sunday 7th December

The Beer: Meantime London Stout, 4.5% ABV, 500 ml.

How the brewer describes it: Meantime London Stout is derived from the original Stout Porters of the early 19th century. Made without the roast barley used in their Irish descendents; dark malts and London water work closely together to give a beer of great complexity. Soft mocha coffee and vanilla notes on the nose hint at the lingering vanilla notes on the tongue. A velvet mouthfeel holds a rich and complex palate of caramel, molasses, and nut roast, which gives way to a gentle malt-bitter dryness.

The price: £1.57 (20% off, reduced from £1.99).

The source: Waitrose, Horsham.

Monday 8th December

The Beer: Brewdog Punk IPA, 5.6% ABV, 330ml.

How the brewer describes it: This 5.6% trans-atlantic fusion IPA is light golden in colour with tropical fruits and light caramel on the nose. The palate soon becomes assertive and resinous with the New Zealand hops balanced by the biscuit malt. The finish is aggressive and dry with the hops emerging over the warming alcohol.

This fresh, full flavour natural beer is our tribute to the classic IPAs of yester-year. The post modern twist is the addition of amazing fruity hops giving an explosion of tropical fruit flavours and a sharp bitter finish.

The price: £1.50 (in a 2 for £3 deal, usually £1.90)

The source: Sainsbury’s Local, Cobham.

Running total

Total spent: £8.79

Normal price: £17.21

Saving: £8.42

Over the next few days I have my work Christmas party – let’s see what value and interest can be extracted from that, and I’ll revisit the USA and Sheffield.

Budget Beer Advent Calendar – Days 1-4

A beer a day keeps the doctor away. I think that’s the saying. Beer advent calendars seem to be a thing now. In fact they seem to be all the rage.

I didn’t have £60-£70 to spare or a generous friend or relative. I decided to get creative and was inspired by a great find in a bargain bin at my local Spar.

The rules are these. Each day from 1-24 December I drink a different beer. It must be either: 1) Discounted in some way; or 2) A gift for something I have done to help someone.

I will try to assemble the cheapest, most varied, highest quality beer advent calendar known to man!

Days 1-4: An Eclectic Mix

Over the first few days I’ve visited Sheffield, Belgium, Peterborough and Brooklyn

Advent Calendar 1

Monday 1st December

The Beer: Kelham Island Easy Rider, 4.3% ABV, 500ml.

How the brewer describes it: A light easy drinking pale ale with a refreshing citrus zest and blackcurrant aroma which dances on the palate with the malty sweetness of Maris Otter leaving a satisfying, lingering finish.

The price: £1.00 (reduced from £2.40).

The source: Spar, Coltsfoot Drive, Horsham.

Tuesday 2nd December

The Beer: Kasteel Rouge, 8.0% ABV, 330ml.

How the brewer describes it: Kasteel Rouge is principally a “blend” of two artisanal, quality products, Kasteel Donker and a cherry liqueur. The beer was launched in 2008 and is the “fruitiest” offering within the Kasteel beer range.

The price: Free (typically around £3.00).

The source: I gave a colleague a lift to work for a couple of days and was rewarded in turn.

Wednesday 3rd December

The Beer: Oakham Ales Scarlet Macaw, 4.8% ABV, 500 ml.

How the brewer describes it: Tart gooseberry and soft peach on the nose. Gooseberries and fruit to taste, before an intense bitterness that’s as sharp as a macaw’s screech!    

The price: £1.72 (20% off – reduced from £2.15)

The source: Waitrose, Cobham.

Thursday 4th December

The Beer: Sixpoint Sweet Action, 5.2% ABV, 355ml.

How the brewer describes it: Through all of the madness emerged an undefinable beer called Sweet Action; a beer that your brain cannot categorize but instead speaks directly to your palate. Our senses and intuition sometimes trump rational thought. It’s Mad Science.

The price: Free (usually £1.99)

The source: A Christmas gift from my friend Phil, for being a good mate (ok, slightly dubious, but hard to find discounted beer at the pub – and I did buy him a 17-year old single malt as his present). The Lynd Cross (JD Wetherspoon), Horsham.

Running total

Total spent: £2.72

Normal price: £9.54

Saving: £6.82

Over the next few days we’ll be visiting Scotland and Germany and heading back to Brooklyn and Sheffield to see what else they have to offer.