Tuesday 2 February 2010

It's Not Just Beer...

I know, I know, I could have done better with the headline because you probably guessed what's coming but I couldn't help myself - sorry!

So, into what this post is about and it's good news for those of you popping into the posher end of the supermarket category and it's that the new M&S beer range is really very good!

If you've been into Marks & Sparks recently, you will have noticed a slight change in their brand values, it's no longer M&S only, they have judiciously selected partner brands and allowed things like magazines and newspapers to creep in - but also managed not to become too busy and vulgar at the same time, which is a good trick to pull off one feels.

But, all that retail analysis aside, the best news, my fellow beer lover,s is that they have extended this fine logic to their beer range, and recruited some of the best brewers in the country to give their beer range genuine provenance and, to be honest, better quality.

Now, I must admit to not having managed to work my way through the lot of them yet but I will say, straight off the bat, if you're looking to crack open a few cold ones whilst chilling with an M&S ready-meal or with a  few mates watching the sport then look no further than their Czech lager at 5%.

I have to say that, outside of the mighty beautiful Pivo-loving country itself, I haven't had such a crisp, clean execution of a damn good lager! It's bright, zingy and finishes off with a fabulous zing of Zatec hop. Brewed at the historic Pivovar Regent, founded in Bohemia in 1379, I cannot see a social occasion or quiet evening in where I wouldn't be happy to drink this beer - marvellous stuff guys, marvellous.

I decided to then move onto the beers that weren't bottle conditioned, as it seemed a good curve on which to travel and cracked open the Lincolnshire Bitter from Batemans at 4.8%, which is (as you would expect) a bloody good British bitter. I was actually gearing up for a roast beef lunch as I opened this one and I did regret that it wouldn't be around for the leftovers, there's nothing finer in my book than a rare roast beef sandwich on malted bread with a punch of hot horseradish and a handful of peppery watercress and a slightly chilled British bitter at its side - sigh!

Anyway, nutty and full or toasty bread overtones, ending with an earthy bitter kick it was just what I wanted from what I heard someone call a 'beery beer' the other day!!

Next I stole some of the other half's Adnams Southwold Winter Beer (4%), it has a rich, plummy spiced nature to it with a hint of bitter chocolate that was very nice but a little rich before dinner, probably should have been served with the sticky toffee pudding we were having for dessert and then came my first low point in the range.

The Staffordshire IPA from Marston's at 5.5% is truly awful - sorry, hate to be that blunt, but it is. From the labelling that bangs on about hop being a natural preservative and then the ingredients listing an E-number (which I'm pretty sure is harmless seaweed extract carageen, but still...) to the dull nose and initial taste that is then suddenly totally over-ridden by a ridiculous level of Burtonised water that delivers a very harsh and prickly hop burn from the middle of the tongue right down the back of the throat.

And it's not the first time I've experienced this with Marston's contract brewing either, I got exactly the same horrid experience from the bottled MorrisseyFox blonde beer and I'm really sorry I've had to experience it again.

And so, given that it was now time to serve dinner, I was a little wary about my next move but decided it was time to get a backbone and try another one, so I opted for a bottle-conditioned Scottish Ale from Cairngorm and was really impressed. It uses some botanicals, which I believe include ginger and thistle, which sits really well as a food companion when you are having something that is relatively simple.*

All-in-all so far I'm really impressed with this range so far and will keep you up-to-date as I go through them a bit more.

*I have also tried the Scottish by itself and still found it eminently drinkable, a good herbal floral note that doesn't get in the way of the beer's refreshing qualities really appealed to me - I found it an excellent sipping beer at a family occasion, enough to dull the pain without totally anaesthetising! (Just kidding Cole/Arnold contingent - love you all!!!!)


Velky al said...

I wonder if I can persuade my parents to slip a few bottles of the lager in their cases when they come to visit Virginia in a few weeks. Either that or I will have to give up my search for an American pilsner even worthy of the name and move back to Prague.

Mark said...

Nice post. I've been planning something similar, I picked up four of their range in a 4 for 3 deal a while back, but I'm yet to try them.

I had their Christmas Ale in December and it was nothing short of terrible. Hopefully these will be a bit better.

I do question the decision to sell an own brand pilsner at the same time as adding Peroni to your range ... but that's a different point.

Paul Bailey said...

I also thought their Czech Lager was excellent. As I had just returned from a trip to Prague at the time that was a pretty stringemt test for the beer to pass.

ps. Have yet to try the other styles M&S are selling.

Pete said...

My favourite M&S beer is their excellent Cornish IPA which is brewed by St Austell. An easydrinking, refreshing hoppy IPA.

Melissa Cole said...

@Pete that's next on the hit list!

Melissa Cole said...

@Chunk, they've put Peroni in? How odd...

Mark said...

Yep. Not all of the stores carry branded products, and the ones that do have varying amounts of the full range.

I've seen both Peroni and Cobra in M&S though. Next to an own brand pilsner (at a similar price), I can't see many shoppers going for the M&S one.