Waitrose doesn’t discount its sell-by date products heavily enough in my opinion, taking off just 25p whilst its competitor, Marks & Spencer razes prices to the sub-pound level. Accordingly, I’ve developed a special visual filter for M&S’ yellow stickers.
However, Waitrose is still one of the best supermarkets for quality beer in the UK – especially Hertfordshire (there are no branches of Booths down here) – and these offers retail at good figures way below the charges for the food items.
Last year, I wondered aloud whether this chain might maraud the craft beer market by having on-site drinking as it does for coffee because all it needs is a license, someone with beady eyes, vertiginous stools and a big fridge.
This beer costs just £4 and is an absolute steal.
I’ve bought it several times now. Most recently, the cashier held it aloft searching the packaging for that flying saucer security tag.
“Oh, this looks like it should be dear”, she said, scanner hovering in mid-air.
“Certainly looks that way”, I enthused.
“Looks pretty, though”, she surmised.
Brewed by Marston’s, Number 1 Horninglow Street is part of a Burton Union series. This is its bottle-conditioned IPA and comes in at 7.4 per cent abv.
The presentation of this beer is obviously taking its cue from Fuller’s Vintage Ales (also sold in Waitrose). This is no bad thing, because even though those burgundy-boxed gift bottles would’ve got Marstons’ marketing board gabbling, this ale goes completely its own way.
It’s more approachable, with none of the vinousness or brawl of its Chiswick counterpart. It pours a clear amber and has the kind of blaze that reflects your surroundings – Escher-esque – in its bosom. It confers introspection at a certain level of maudlin (which I always achieve).
Spoots of carbonation rouse up the glass. There’s a white milky head that hints at the deep abv – heavy ales don’t generally rock up big lathers. There’s a fleshy body like biting into a pregnant nectarine.
On the nose, there is barley – and fields of it. There’s also a hint of honey though none is included in its brewing. Further notes of Armagnac and sherry, naval oranges, apricots and custard. There’s even a curlicue of almonds if you’re really open to suggestion.
It imparts no real dryness, but leaves a fruity sweetness on the lips. It’s gentle for such a heavy beer – neither the heft nor alcohol are apparent front of house.
This ale reminds me a little bit of Shepherd Neame’s 1698, though without that brewery’s earthy leaf litter profile.
Another parallel with Fuller’s is the way this beer harks back to the brewery’s own core beers. In the Fuller’s Vintage range, you can still make out ales like 1845, Golden Pride and even London Pride – it’s all there in the sherberty yeast.
Number 1 Horninglow Street is likewise a conduit to Marston’s star player Pedigree, and so reflects its own flagship ale.
I went to seek out some Pedigree for comparison purposes and found this was no easy task in St Albans – Tesco’s doesn’t have it, Sainsbury’s nope, Waitrose nada, off-licences nietchka. None of the 52 plus pubs in the city serve it at all!
Morrison’s is the only supermarket that stocks it but there were further complications: I took the bottle off the shelf and wondered why it was so sticky. When I got to the register, the cashier – an old boy cheated out of retirement – tried to scan it. I saw his lips mould “aww bolluks”. It was only available to buy in multipack – the adhesiveness was the gutspill of its siblings that got smashed on the warehouse floor.
The only way this item could be sold to me was if a manager put it through the register as a bottle of Adnam’s Ghost Ship (retailing for an improvised token price) – so that’s officially what my pennies went on.
What gives with St Albans and buying Marstons products?
Another fletch in Horninglow Street’s crown is that despite being bottle conditioned, (insert that little CAMRA speech bubble if you wish), the yeast stays laminated to the bottom of the bottle leaving the beer in the glass completely crystal.
Special or celebration beers like this from major breweries also confer other benefits to the consumer – not least the price. Though I understand that quality costs money, the older, bigger boys can still put it on the table for less.
They can also take the complexity integral to cask ale and push it that bit further.
It’s a solid riposte to the hundreds of opaque hop resins produced by UK breweries that I drink all the time. That corner of the market – sumptuous though many of the beers are – has become more occluded and dense than the beers themselves.
North Brewing, Verdant, Northern Monk, Cloudwater, Loka, Vibrant Forest, Deya, etc are all very competent brewers. They turn physics into art – adept at refining ever sharper hop flavours. But the problem is I can’t tell them apart – I’m completely lost (but often blissfully adrift) – in this oasis of yellow fruit and playschool creche psychedelia.
Fridges showcasing today’s sprat breweries from roughly the 2010 vintage (neweries, maybe?) seem to lack the imprint – good or bad – of unique character like breweries used to. In part this is due to a lack of back generations honing the yeast, but also because the yeast itself often headlines as style – think of Brett, Champagne yeast and Kveik, and so is imported.
This ‘home’ deficiency robs many modern beers of a genealogical stamp. Subsequently, their products end up as one-off sipping beers without context – a brief flare-up on Untapp’d.
Number 1 Horninglow Street IPA is memorable. It’s a great value beer with its own USP which is why I write this post – my endorsement should be taken in the spirit it’s intended. This low-cost offering from a macro intrudes into craft esoterica with big peasant feet, and is distinct precisely because it’s not trying to mimic it.