Tuesday, December 8, 2020

Aldi Beer Advent Calendar 2020 Review Beers 1-8

Let’s go back to another lifetime. It’s November 4th, 2020. The day after the election. No winner had been declared, John King had become an Internet sensation, and slow counting Nevada memes weren’t even a thing yet. With all this uncertainty in the world, one thing was certain: I was heading to Aldi.

Aldi’s beer advent calendar made its debut in 2019, building on the existing hype of the wine and cheese calendar offered in the past. In 2019, I wrestled with buying the beer calendar but ended up passing. For some reason, the fact there were repeats in a $50 package bothered me. I want 24 different beers for 24 days. Then 2020 came in to rectify the problem. The second I saw 24 different beers, even for the same $50, I jumped into action, researching like Dexter (reference once again relevant with the reboot).

In specific corners of the Internet, the day Aldi releases its advent calendars might as well be Black Friday, if not Christmas itself. For weeks our local store had signs up explaining the process and limits. Aldi-focused influencers (there is a shockingly large number of them) had Q&A’s to let the fans know how to handle the experience. Just like any other obsessive part of the Internet, they were filled with opinions and rampant speculation.

My store opened at 9:00 AM and based on what I read, beer calendars were not the hot ticket item so I rolled in at 8:30 AM. I did not understand what I signed up for. I was the 15th person in line. A store employee came through the line handing everyone tickets for whatever alcohol calendars they wanted, limited to two per person for each calendar. As she went through the line and people got 6 tickets each, I started to become nervous that I was going to miss out. I also started to feel self-conscious; was I the lame one for not buying a shit ton of Aldi alcohol repackaged like The Price Is Right's punch-a-bunch? When the employee got to me, to my relief, she still had tickets for all 3 calendars. I sheepishly stuck to the plan and only got the beer calendar. I only have one word to describe how I felt: jubilated. I had researched, planned, and executed and things had gone perfectly, or so I thought.

As I stood outside, the line behind me grew longer and longer. It was almost silent except for one chain-smoking middle-aged woman discussing the election on her phone quite loudly. Ten minutes before the store opened, there were at least 40 people in line and excitement started to grow. People started asking about the non-alcoholic calendars and the employees informed everyone that those were first come, first serve. This threw me into a tailspin. I had planned on grabbing their ever-popular cheese calendar and I was just envisioning those Furby trampling videos from the late 90’s.

I didn’t have long to panic. The doors opened. It was on. I made a beeline for the cheese and grabbed my calendar. Then I snagged myself an iced tea and cashed in my ticket for the beer calendar. It was a successful trip but the store was filled with chaotic energy. I was one of the first people to pay and head out. Around me, carts were overflowing with calendars filled with cheap booze. As I was leaving, two women who lowered the average shopper age by at least 20 years were exclaiming how exciting this whole thing was. The store clerks, who did an incredible job, were shocked at how obsessive all the customers seemed to be.

Fast forward to the present and this box of beers had become the Siren of my home office. Truth be told, in my thirty-some odd years of life, this was my first real advent calendar (I don't count that Vista Bay calendar I reviewed last week). I have been clamoring to open these and get my thoughts on the Internet. I am going to roll these reviews out in 8 beer chunks leading up to Christmas. I have a newly designed, totally original, rating system from 1 to 5. 1 is awful, I would not drink it, even if it were free; actively offensive. 2 is I would drink if it were free but I would have to grin and bear it. 3 is totally middle of the pack, average, would be happy to drink for free but likely not buy for myself. 4 is a solid beer and I would happily drink it for free and may buy it for myself. 5 is a good beer that I would be willing to buy and would want to reach for another. This scale does not indicate how true to style the beer is. So, without further ado, here are reviews for the first 8:

Day 1: Wernesgruner

Origin: Germany
Best by date: 07/08/2021

This beer is available year-round at my local Aldi. There is a strong honey note that is undeniable. The hops add a very spicy, herbaceous Old World hop note with a welcome amount of bitterness. The lagering is very clean, there are no off flavors. This is true to style; if you like a German pilsner, you will enjoy this. For my personal tastes, if it were a bit drier (not to say it's sweet), this would be in my fridge all the time. Day 1 comes storming out of the gate. Rating: 5/5

Day 2: O’Shea’s Session IPA

Origin: Ireland
Best by date: 28 AUG 2021

As advertised, this beer is light on body but packs a lot of hop punch. There’s not much malt character and no sweetness, but loads of hops. Hops impart an aggressive lemon zest with a touch of pine playing the back notes. It does have a decent amount of bitterness as expected. There was a little bit of a cardboard note indicating this beer could be on the older side. This beer is totally inoffensive but there are way better session IPA’s in the world. Rating: 3/5

Day 3: Brens

Origin: Belgium
Best by date: 09/26/2021

I legit cannot get past how this looks like a movie prop for a Becks, it is eerily similar. The red foil label is a dead ringer. Not surprisingly, this is a Euro Pale Lager and it does it well, very true to style. Very light with clean lagering with some grassy German hops in the back without being bitter. There is a little bit of paper hanging around, indicating it could be on the older side. For a green bottle, I did not get any skunky notes.Rating: 4/5

Day 4: O’Shea’s Celtic Wheat

Origin: Ireland
Best by date: 28 AUG 2021

What is this? Celtic wheat seems like a “cute” way for an Irish brewery to make a wheat beer. I assumed this was going to be a Witbier or a Blue Moon clone but it's nothing like those. It’s malty sweet upfront, almost like it wasn’t fully fermented followed by a large amount of herby world hops. Maybe a hint of citrus hanging around? This beer is so much nothing it is hard to even talk about it. Definitely not something I would reach for again. Rating: 2/5

Day 5: Kristoffel Bruin

Origin: Belgium
Best by date: 01/28/2022

The first dark beer of the calendar! Described as a “Belgian brown ale,” I was confused whether this was supposed to be a dubbel or just a brown ale fermented with Belgian yeast. The bottle even says Abbey style to add to the confusion. It has mild caramel malty notes with mild sweetness and a great amount of clove character from that Belgian yeast. It’s fairly dry on the back. None of this comes together in the way an impressive Abbey Ale does. It’s kind of like a dubbel lite. I certainly don’t hate it but would much rather have a true dubbel. Rating: 3/5

Day 6: O’Shea’s Irish Lager

Origin: Ireland
Best by date: 28 AUG 2021

Per internet sleuthing, this should be a helles. Helles style beer is known for this beautiful malt character without sweetness and a soft, not bitter finish. This beer doesn’t hit any of these marks. It has a malt sweetness that screams of extract and is possibly under-attenuated. You get grassy hops on the back with moderate bitterness. A bit of paper indicating it may be on the older side to round it out. This beer does not come together at all. Rating: 2/5

Day 7: Saint Alena

Origin: Belgium
Best by date: 09/29/2021

Another Euro Pale Lager, and after enjoying Brens I was excited to try this one. Is this supposed to be a Saint Pauli’s knock off? It is very light, no malt character, and compartively has a large amount of grassy hops. The finish has more bitterness than expected. Something about this just didn't come together for me, probably too much bitterness? Doesn't even come close to the Brens, I didn't even enjoy it. Rating: 2/5

Day 8: O'Shea's Grapefruit India Pale Ale

Origin: Ireland
Best by date: 28 AUG 2021

On day 8, I am starting to learn a little bit. I am learning that I don’t love the O’Shea’s offerings, but I think my tune may be changing. This is a totally drinkable IPA. There's a good amount of body without being sweet or malty that holds up to the rest of the flavors. The hops and grapefruit merge well into a general citrus note with a pronounced pithy bitterness. I wish it had more grapefruit. But as is, a total middle of the road west coast IPA - solid but won’t be setting the world ablaze. Rating: 4/5

The first 8 days have been an interesting mix of styles with an interesting mix of tastes. In 8 more days, tune back in for the newest bunch. Part 2 here.

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