2.8 - Common in photography

...And becoming more prevalent in beer. There's been a fair furore in the blogosphere over the decision to raise duty on those beers over 7.5% ABV to counteract the reduced duty on those 2.8%ABV and below. There have been a lot of strong beer reviews, but very few of the new wave of 2.8%-ers. Browsing the beer aisle in Tesco today I was pleased to find an extra few shelves had been gained from wine by beer. On closer inspection three of these beers turned out to be the mythical 2.8% brews I'd not yet seen. Feeling game for something different I bought one of each and I'll let you know how they worked out.

All three of these are 2.8%
Its not often that I review the Family or Regional brewers on this blog. I know a lot of people think they are staid and boring. If you're still reading then the brewers in question are Greene King (as Tolly Cobold), Fuller's and Marston's. First thing to mention is that at £1.39 a pop, there's no discernible saving over regular-strength brews. If you're looking for bang for your buck its not here.

The Greene King Effort is up first. Tolly Cobold Tolly English Ale is described thus: "This Fine Amber ale has been brewed using a complex mix of hops to offer balanced bitterness with strong tropical notes. All the flavour you would expect from a great English ale but at only alc. 2.8& vol." Will it stand up to that appetising introduction? Well, not quite. It starts off well with a good English hop nose, earthy and spicy with a hint of that metallic fuggles character. The digestive biscuits of caramalt are immediately apparent in the mouth, joined today by all-butter shortbread as a tolerable amount of diacetyl is added to the mix. There's a ghost of sweet pineapple, those aforementioned tropical hops must have been added in a minuscule amount. It finishes with a surprisingly moreish dry bitterness and peppery red fruit. I'd take this over GK IPA any day. (But please GK, sort out those clear glass bottles, I don't want to end up tasting something light struck!)

Similar in appearance, yet world's apart in taste is Marston's Pale Ale, likely a reworked version of their regular pale ale. On first getting the bottle open I grimaced as the familiar "Burton Snatch" prevalent in a lot of Marston's beers rears its ugly head. I don't enjoy the sulphurous quality at all in beer, reminding me of Icelandic drinking water, though some people swear by it. Thankfully it doesn't get into the taste and the eggy-pong soon dissipates leaving some sweet fruit esters. These are the most dominant flavours in the beer too, almost artificially so, I wonder if any unfermentable sugars went into this for body purposes? Finish is fairly sweet and a bit thin. Not dreadful but not inspiring either.

A beer that has had a few mentions in the digital world is Fullers Mighty Atom (launched October 2011). I did not like this one bit! Toffee and honey on the nose the body is like a mix of stewed oatcakes and melted butter. There's a touch of pithy bitterness that momentarily hides the butter then it returns in abundance Being a mainly malty beast I can see this as being a good beer for use in batters and stews. This was a disappointment for me though as I like the majority of Fuller's brews.

All three beers are well made, but of the bunch I'd probably only drink Tolly English again. It also shows that you shouldn't judge a beer by this brewer, as in this case the brewer I usually enjoy least produced the beer I enjoyed most in the bunch. Of course you might prefer one of the other two! I'd be keen to try some other styles of beer at 2.8% or below. Although a touch on the thin side I enjoyed the trial brew of Brodie's summer stout at GBBF. I think darker beers would have a bit more body so am quite surprised that all three of these examples are pale ales. Has anyone else come across any low ABV beers launched since the tax reduction came into effect?


  1. Hop Back make one called Heracles, which was on in the Waterloo for a while. It was by no means unpleasant, with a decent amount of hops, but a bit watery. When GFB is only 3.5% and so much nicer, I can't really see the point.

  2. The regular beers in Tesco are now £1.99, so there is quite a substantial saving with the £1.39 ones.

  3. Paul - I din't think to check other prices cos they never change the range in NI anyway. I was just thinking the 3 for £4 deal would be cheaper than these three were.

    Mark-heracles sounds like a watered back taiphoon

  4. My branch had the same selection, but I went for the fullers bottle , kinda regretting it now!!

  5. Steve

    Maybe 2 yrs ago, GBBF championed a beer at something like 2.5%. We tried it, and I thought, for a summer pint, it was pretty good.

    Whilst reducing the grain bill is the obvious way of reducing the ABV, it clearly thins the body of the beer. What I tasted was far from watery, though. Would love to find out how.the brewers did this....something to experiment with this summer!

  6. Ah, the year I didn't go along!

    A lot of these brews did away with pale malt and used cara and crystal malts that give that biscuit flavour and have less fermentable sugars -more residuals for mothfeel. I reckon if you used oats could get a bit more body.

    arn - you may like it!

  7. Meh... Cheers for the review though Steve, saves me the bother of trying them. ;)

    I reckon this sort of stuff is going to do a great job of convincing people to keep drinking the lagers that are on an even cheaper deal.

  8. Steve...think it was Pride n Joy from Weltons. Seem to remember a light yellow beer - presumably lots of light optic or maris otter. Just looked at ratebeer, they reckon it also has Munich, chocolate, amber and crystal in too. Must be in v small amounts given abv and colour.

  9. We tried a great 2.5%er from Brentwood at Tap East in Stratford -- easily as good as some beers at 4%+. In the past, we enjoyed a 2.8% Ration Ale from Harvey's. So, they can be good, but I reckon they benefit *massively* from the added zing of cask conditioning (though they'll need careful handling).

  10. As it's an interesting development/gimmick I'll probably try most of the 2.8s I come across (at least in the pub). So far I've only had BrewDog Blitz! and Hopback Heracles - they were okay but nothing that's gonna set the beer world alight. I've had Blitz! in bottles and although it was a bit on the thin side I'll definitely sample a pint of it the next time I'm in Camden. The Heracles was like Summer Lightning without the lightning.

    I think sometime over the next couple of years we'll get some excellent tasting low ABV beers


  11. @Gareth Still worth trying them, I'd like to try the Tolly on cask

    @Bailey yes, I'm sure all three would be better on cask

    @Mark I quite enjoyed Blitz in bottle, in fact it was my favourite until i tried the scotch ale on keg at Camden. It was certainly much nicer than nany state in any case!

  12. I've had the Wychwood one, though the name escapes me at the moment. It was alright, but a bit thin.

  13. I tried the Tolly and MArton's ones last week, both were very poor. The Tolly one left me mouth feeling like I'd licked an ash tray, horrific; especially when coupled with the rhubarb and custard penny chew taste.

  14. Whats the point? I'll take you ages to get smashed.