Marks and Spencer has established itself as Britain’s best supermarket for craft beers. With a range from the UK’s best breweries and some really decent American stuff, it’s a dependable source an nearly every high street.
In addition to the great range from some big names, M&S sell four of their own beers, brewed under contract by Meantime, Sambrook’s, Hog’s Back Brewery Co., and Windsor & Eton. So is the Marks and Spencer Beer any good?
Five Hop Lager
Brewed at Hogs Back Brewery Co. in Tongham, Surrey.
This 4.5% lager was brewed, unsurprisingly, with five hops and is aged “for a month or more”. (The fact that they don’t know exactly how long it is aged for concerns me somewhat…)
It’s an amber gold beer with slow bubbles rising through it up to a big white head. It smells metallic, with vegetal, herby note to it (maybe the “herb extract” that’s listed next to hops in the ingredients.
It’s exceptionally smooth, with heavy carbonation. That said, the fizz is mellow and melts away. It’s not a prickling attack of the tongue but an all-encompassing sherbet tingle.
The flavour is massively sweet with that metallic note from the nose translating into the taste. The finish tastes of gas. I couldn’t pick up any hop flavours other than a bland herby bitterness. No crispness, no grassy bite and no dry finish. Disappointing.
Island Hopper Pale Ale
Brewed at Windsor & Eton Brewery in Windsor, Berkshire.
Another 4.5% offering. Very safe. It’s very dark for a pale ale. I’d call it amber. It smells like a beer which is a good start.
How to describe the taste? I’m going with: EW NO HOLY MOTHER OF GROSS GET THIS AWAY FROM ME NOW.
It tastes of medicine. Bitter, disgusting medicine. That’s all the detail I can go into, because it was immediately poured away. There’s a peppery aftertaste that lasts infinitely too long. Rank.
British Clipper IPA
Brewed by Meantime Brewing Company in Greenwich, London.
After the last one, I’m really hoping for something better. Meantime being on the label fills me with hope.
It’s 5.8%. It’s the same amber colour as the pale ale. The white head is loose and bubbly and dissipates quickly.
On the nose, I’m getting a lot more malt than hops. Fuggles and Goldings melt into the background of a very sweet malt (which has added sugar too).
It’s sweet and spicy, with a peppery finish. It tastes of everything I started to expect after I smelled it. IT tastes of nothing else. The hop bitterness is there, but it is a bland, burnt sugar bitterness that contributes very little to the flavour other than the typical “beery” flavour.
Brewed by Sambrook’s Brewery in Battersea, London.
It’s 6.8%. It’s brown. Off-white head. Not very appealing to be honest.
It smells of smoked fish to me. But that fades away to reveal quite a pleasant citrus smell. That’s the most interesting note I’ve got from any of the beers so far.
It has a light rauchbier smoke with a peppery finish but a lovely sweet clementine flavour rising through. IT’s overly sweet, but at least it adds complexity. It’s not great, but it’s better. I wouldn’t give it any more than a 5, but that’s more than I’d give the others.
Overall, nothing has stood out at me. I would not buy any of these again and if I was offered one at a party, I would take a Carling over the Pale Ale. I’d take a Bovril over the Pale Ale. I would take going thirsty over the Pale Ale any day.
I sincerely hope that nobody picks one of these beers up when buying a few beers at M&S. Stick to the breweries’ own beers. Buy a four pack of Lagunitas IPA and try the Fourpure and Camden cans. Steer well clear of these pale imitations, because even when they’re trying to be pale they’re brown.
Eight quid wasted, really.