The first few beers reviewed for 'Pete Drinks' came from Abel & Cole - a company better known for delivering organic fruit and vegetables, but who've been expanding their range to cover all manner of other organic goodness.
- Samuel Smith's Organic Best
- Black Isle Yellowhammer IPA
- Shepherd Neame Whitstable Bay
- Little Valley Withens IPA
- Black Isle Red Kite Ale
Beer is a slightly unusual case in the organic world, in that it doesn't really command any real price premium and it's not something that breweries seem to make a big deal about. That's not to say that they don't make it clear (most of these beers have 'organic' in their name or state it clearly on the bottle), but the quality and nature of the beer takes precedence over it's organicity.
Your average beer buyer is more interested that Little Valley's Withens is an IPA than the fact it's organic.
A side effect of this is that if you're deliberately shopping organically in the supermarket, it's a harder job in the beer aisle than it is in the fresh produce section. If you are already be looking to Abel & Cole for that part of your shop, it's easy to have your beer needs delivered to your door at the same time!
As I noted in the five reviews above, the beers we got were a bit of a mixed bag – some suffered from the lack of bottle conditioning but broadly they were an interesting and drinkable bunch. Certainly they were just as successful a collection as I might have had if I'd just walked into the supermarket and picked a random half dozen bottles from the shelves. Given the convenience of delivery and the reasonable pricing, if I had a weekly Abel & Cole delivery arriving anyway, I could well imagine adding a bottle or two on a fairly regular basis.
However, I do think that Abel & Cole could benefit from some changes to their line up.
One of my bugbears when it comes to bottled beer is that it should be bottle conditioned. I'm not alone in this - when you see a bottle declaring "CAMRA Says This Is Real Ale", that's what it means. And who am I to argue with CAMRA? Only one of the beers we got was bottle conditioned and it's the one that's unfortunately no longer listed on Abel & Cole's website (although the Brakspear Oxford Gold that's replaced it is also bottle conditioned).
I can't quite fathom the reason for this aversion to bottle conditioning on Abel & Cole's part; it's not like you can't get organic, bottle conditioned beers - Black Isle (one of the well represented, organic only breweries) produce more than half their range this way, and there are plenty of other too. Yes, you might want to let a bottle conditioned beer sit for a while to let the sediment settle, but your don't often start opening up your beer as soon as the nice man delivers it (yes, ok, we've all had days like that, but...!)
Overall, a convenient way to feed your organic ale needs, but one that could benefit from a more carefully selected range.