Auntie Hilda's Supermarket IPA Challenge

Everyone has, or had, an Auntie Hilda. Even if she wasn't really your auntie. And wasn't called Hilda. And had an Adam's apple. Auntie Hilda was the relation or friend who, on hearing it was your birthday and knowing you liked a beer, went to the supermarket and pciked out some interesting bottles for your pressie.

Which is why, if Hilda was alive in the UK in the 1980's, you ended up drinking Hobgoblin or Fiddler's Elbow.

But what if Hilda's shaky grasp on reality extended far enough to remember you liked beers called 'IPA'? If she went shopping today and plonked three beers into her trolley, what are your chances of getting a decent beer?

There's only one way to find out.

We sent someone - for argument's sake, let's call them Hilda - to a large supermarket close to where they live. The only stipulation was to buy the first three beers with the words that featured 'IPA' on the label.

How well did Hilda do?

Beer number one was Greene King IPA. Cue wailing and gnashing of teeth (mine, not Hilda's. Not with the state of her dentures). But, here's the thing - it wasn't bad. It wasn't game-changing, but market leading food and drink products rarely are. That's why they're popular. It wasn't vile, it wasn't fermented from dead babies injected with botulism. It was a mildy hoppy, reasonably carbonic, inoffensive bottle of beer. I would never have dreamed of buying it myself. Not even in one of those technicolour dreams I have after eating too much cheese. But I've drank worse. And would go so far as saying, if I were offered it again at a barbeque, I wouldn't adopt that face that suggests the host has just asked you to have sex with a horse.

Next up - Brewdog Punk IPA. With its Equity for Punks collar. Bringing share ownership to the supermarket masses. Jello Biafra must be shitting himself that he didn't think of that one.My relationship with Punk and Brewdog is like that I have with the pair of collared doves that perch on my garden fence. Most of the time, I love them; predictable, content, reassuring. Sometimes, I wish they'd shut the fuck up. Sometimes, I wish a passing hawk would rip their innards out and arrange it across next door's lawn to spell out 'LOL'.But I'm on an upward slope with Punk at the moment. This bottle was two-weeks fresh, nasally orgasmic and relentlessly fruity. Hilda did good.

And last - but by no means first - was Meantime IPA. So either her Irish national lottery numbers coughed up last week or she was hitting the value gin on her way around the aisles. Not the cheapest bottle on offer, but it is 7% and a 75cl job. And it was strangely un-nerving. I've known it to be dusty and lemony but this was all rather meh. Orange marmalade with a slightly metallic tang. Wet twigs. Old Cointreau. Obvious alcohol and a smear of green apple.

So, in summary: surprised that Greene King wasn't bad; not surprised Brewdog was so good, surprised Meantime wasn't better. And for Christmas, Hilda would be better off spending her heating allowance on Punk.

This post was brought to you in the spirit of supporting IPA Day. Because anything that gets brewers and consumers and writers excited about beer is a good thing, yes? You don't have to buy into the the bullshit of IPA being the "pinnacle of brewing innovation". You may feel that the individuals and organisations behind it are self-publicists who see it as no more than free publicity.

Do me a favour. Grab a beer, drink it down and take it easy. IPA Day is what you want it to be.

Because: IPA isn't a style. It's a declaration of intent. Whether the intent is to say: we're traditional, we're bleeding-edge.

Drink IPA. Don't drink IPA. But do keep an open mind.

1 comment:

  1. There's an interesting (if you find this kind of thing interesting) episode of can you brew it where they talk about Meantime IPA. By the sound of things any problem that could happen to the beer (e.g. oxidisation) was basically ignored as it would be representative of a traditional IPA. I like it but it's not particularly exciting.