Tuesday 11 April 2017

Spot the difference

Two bottles, different shapes but more or less the same labels. A change of bottle supplier, perhaps? No, a change of brewer - Lidl UK has moved production of its Hatherwood Craft Beer Co own-brand from the Marston's group to Shepherd Neame. I don't know why, but I assume Sheps offered a better deal.

All the names and descriptions are the same though, and presumably so are the recipes. But how could they be the same beer, when production has moved to a new brewer? Even more so in this case, when it's also moved right from one end of the country to the other - Purple Panther was brewed at Jennings in Cumbria, and Sheps is in Kent.

Fortunately, one of my local Lidls still had a few examples of the old version on the shelf alongside the new, so I grabbed a couple of bottles of the Porter (as I've enjoyed it in the past) with a comparative tasting in mind.

It took a couple of weeks before an opportunity and a couple of willing assistants came along. Without them seeing, I poured samples into six numbered glasses and gave each of them two of one version and one of the other: the initial challenge was simply to pick the odd one out.

And they did it. The two were remarkably close, yet subtly different - and it wasn't even age. Assuming I read the bottles rightly, the Jennings version was bottled in January and the Sheps one in February. When I  tasted them myself, the Jennings one seemed ever so slightly more dry and burnt, while the newer version was just a little softer and its cocoa note a tiny bit more pronounced.

An interesting exercise, and a lesson in just how hard it is to move a beer from one brewery to another without changing it, no matter the work and expertise that goes into taste-matching.

(And no, Young's beers from Bedford are good beers, but they still don't taste the same as they did from Wandsworth, damn the asset-strippers' eyes!)