This isn’t just beer, this is M&S beer……(sorry, it was too easy)

Posted on April 21, 2010


Since Cookie put me over his virtual knee for mentioning the election I thought I’d stick to what I know best – drinking some beer.

Never let it be said I don’t have my finger on the pulse when yesterday, just 4 or so months after launch, I got round to trying some of the Marks and Spencer revamped beer range developed and designed by Brandhouse. Mark Dredge has been asking about what makes good bottle labelling this week and I think Brand House have done a great job – all the labels are stylish and contemporary with a subtle nod to the beers heritage on each one (my favourite is the  Hughye elephant). The only thing that lets them down in my book is there’s nothing to show non beer drinkers why they should drink them – my guess is M&S shoppers aren’t all beer experts so I’d like to see each bottle tell you what it tastes like and some food matches on the label (like they do with their wines) rather than just the ingredients – but then I’d like the same of all beer labels!
I opted for the Belgian Cherry Wheat Beer, Belgian Wheat Beer, London Porter and the Staffordshire IPA, my M&S is a small one and didn’t have the full range, which is a shame because I fancied the Chocolate Porter but they did have a 4 for 3 offer I was happy to take advantage of – it’s a shame they don’t mention this on their website, in fact there’s no mention of beer at all :o(
Being a hazy sunny afternoon I started with the Wheat Beer. Brewed by the Huyghe Brewery, brewers of the superb Delirium Tremens, I was hopeful of great things but sadly the beer never quite reached them. Like Blue Moon* this beer is brewed with orange peel and coriander along with malted barley, wheat and hops. It has a cloudy, hazy gold colour with a powerful herbal, spicy and citrus fruit aroma. In the mouth there are spicy, fruity and herbal notes balanced by creamy malt. Coriander comes to the fore in the finish, along with citrus fruit, creamy malt and gentle hops. Blue Moon  is brewed with oats for creaminess and this beer seemed thin by comparison and the orange flavours not as fresh
Next step was the the Belgian Cherry, another beer from Huyghe, and it’s divine. I’m not usually a fan of anything cherry flavoured, with the exception of the occassional cherry bakewell, because I think it’s a really tricky natural flavour to replicate and often ands up tasting dreadfully synthetic and over sweet but not this time. The beer is a gorgeous deep red colour with a pink foam and smells of fresh ripe cherries. It is sweet but not sticky in the mouth and there’s just enough malt and hops to balance the fruit. It’s only 3.5% ABV and a pudding in a glass, delicious. 
I expected the 5.5% London Porter to be the best of the bunch and it absolutely delivered. Brewed by Meantime of Greenwich and based on a 1750s recipe that uses seven malts, this is a fantastic beer that’s worth the trip to M&S alone. It’s jam packed with classic IPA flavours roasted malt, spiced fruits, liquorice and then some. The first mouthful is sweet but that soon gives way to bitter hops mixed with burnt treacle. I had it on it’s own but I wished I hadn’t put all the Roquefort in the cheesecake because that would have been a brilliant pairing. 
The Staffordshire IPA is brewed by Marston’s in the home of British brewing you would expect this to be good and it is, not a patch on the London Porter but very refreshing with a mix of digestive biscuit and citrus flavours.
All in all a great selection of beers and far better than you’d expect from any supermarket range, even if it is Marks and Spencers. They’ve clearly done their homework on and picked some great breweries to give them a really strong range. As well as the Chocolate Porter I’d like to give the Southwold Winter, Tripel Abbey and Welsh Honey a try, must find a bigger store!!
*Blue Moon has just launch on draught in 100 London bars (that reads like they received a very well written press release) – if you’re down that way, try it – it’s amazing