The upside of the current hype about craft beer (and I know it annoys the hell out of many of you) is that supermarkets and high-street retailers are putting a huge amount of effort into expanding and improving their beer ranges. Marks & Spencer has been at the forefront, with 20 new own-label beers from leading British breweries so far this year. Eight could be described as craft, and these include a very drinkable pale ale from Berkshire called Island Hopper ("£1.85 for 330ml; 4.5% abv) and the incredibly citrussy Double Hopped Citra IPA(also "£1.85 for 330ml; 5.9%), from Oakham Ales in Peterborough, that I know will appeal to my friend Mark (*waves*), who loves M&S's original Citra.
Marks and Sparks also has a single hop range " beer buyer Jenny Rea is particularly excited about the rather more butch Suffolk Jester IPA (5.2% abv), which is made from hops grown in Worcestershire. M&S also has a range of regional beers, including a nine-hop Kent Pale Ale (4% abv), from Westerham, which is as hoppy as that sounds, and a satisfyingly full-flavoured, bottle-conditioned Cornish Pale Ale (4.4% abv). All are at "£2.40 for 500ml, and all are on a three for "£6 deal until 3 August.
The Co-op is also putting the emphasis on regionally sourced ales, though it has a core range in most stores, among which I especially like the Co-operative Bumble Bee Ale ("£1.75 for 500ml; 4.6% abv), which is made with Chilean Fairtrade honey and has a really refreshing, natural honeycomb flavour: perfect for summer. Of the store's regional beers, I like Williams Bros Seven Giraffes Extraordinary Ale ("£1.99 for 500ml; 5.1% abv), which uses seven varieties of melted barley and a dash of elderflower that adds an attractive summery, but not cloyingly sickly, note. It's available only in Scotland, though.
Oddbins, meanwhile, is so buoyed by its beer sales, which have increased 31% since last year, that it has even opened a dedicated beer shop in Blackheath, south-east London, that carries more than 300 different beers. Oddbins, too, is concentrating on local brews: in the Clapham branch recently, I enjoyed Hackney-based Pressure Drop Ales' big hoppy Pale Fire ("£2.60 for 330ml; 4.8% abv) and Five Points' rich, savoury, almost winey Hook Island Red ("£2.60 for 330ml; 6% abv), which I mentally earmarked for a pulled pork sandwich. Finally, if you don't have an issue with canned beer, Beavertown's Neck Oil Session IPA ("£2.30 for 330ml; 4.3% abv), brewed in north London, though for once not in Hackney but in Tottenham Hale, is a cracking drop for a barbecue.