Supermarket Sweep – Part 4

This is not just beer, this is...no wait this is just beer.

After a brief sit in the Asda Cafe while Tyler did my beer homework in  Part 3, I have been back behind the trolley and sweeping my way through Marks & Spencer’s Pudsey, West Yorkshire  store.  I knew from previous trips that they sell a lovely London Porter brewed by the reliable Meantime Brewing Company, but haven’t paid much attention to the rest of the selection before now.  The store is one of their bigger ones but with a very modest beer section, clinging onto the side of the wine aisle for dear life.  However, the beer alienation appears to stop there.  Bottom shelf beer includes some of the well known lagers, stouts and ciders, but the surprising thing was the four shelves above them.  With no fewer than 19 beers brewed for Marks & Spencer by 14 breweries and for the first time on this research I was faced with having to make a choice on which beers to buy.  Even with their beer offer of buy 5 for the price of 4, it was still a tough call.  I went for beers by St Austell, Oakham, Thwaites and Adnams.

Marks & Spencer Bottle Conditioned Lancashire Dark Mild, 500ml, 3.7% abv, £2.29

The beer is bottle conditioned and brewed by Daniel Thwaites, a version of their cask mild perhaps?  It’s described on the bottle as having “Roasted flavour with underlying nuttiness” and best to serve cool, not chilled.  I went along with this advice.  M&S tell me this beer has a “Taste Intensity” of 5.  More on this later.  It opened with a good pfft and poured almost black in colour but with a red hue when held up to the light.  It had a large tan head which lasted all the way down the glass.  I’d say this is the first ‘supermarket’ beer that has achieved this, but likely to be due to it’s bottle conditioning?  There is a very ‘mild’ malty aroma, and first tastes confirm what this beer is all about.  Lovely caramel sweetness and rich malt mouth-feel.  The sweetness gives way a little to some bitterness but you wouldn’t expect much more from the style.  It’s then the after-taste that makes this beer so good, the bottle does describe a “nuttiness” but I would take this a little further and describe the flavour as similar to a buttery peanut brittle sweet.  I’d buy this again if it wasn’t for the price.  I just feel that even though this is M&S, £2.29 is a little steep.

Marks & Spencer Southwold Dark Ale, 330ml, 7.2% abv, £2.29

I was really looking forward to this one.  Brewed by Adnams, and widely understood to be relabelled Tally-Ho. The bottle describes it as a barley wine style beer and as “rich and warming with a fruity aroma and sweet flavour” with a “Taste Intensity” of 7.   At 7.2% I think it just about scrapes into barley wine territory, but it is the all important characteristics of the style that come through in this beer.  It’s fruity, woody aroma and rich flavours, even if a little thin in the body, make this a very satisfying drop.  It has pudding wine qualities with juicy muscat grapes and an overall sweet roundness.  The aftertaste is delicate roasted malts and some milk chocolate.  I loved this beer but it was let down by the fact that it resembled flat coca cola.  No life to the appearance but nothing wrong with the taste!  At £2.29 I’d say it’s a decent buy considering it’s a special christmasy brew and carries 7.2% abv.

Marks & Spencer Cambridgeshire Summer Ale, 500ml, 3.8% abv, £2.19

Having run out of summer just the other week, I cranked the heating up and put a few jumpers on to build a thirst.   Afterall, this is a summer beer brewed by Oakham Ales, a “seasonal guest” and boasts “a clean cirtus aroma and bitter hoppy flavour” with a “Taste Intensity” of 3.  Of the beers I selected this is the only one that shares some of the recipe, namely Challenger and Mount Hood hops with Maris Otter malt.  It pours a lovely pale golden colour and has a small head, which due to the light carbonation disappears instantly.  It does have a very pleasant hop aroma and tastes and feels syrupy in the mouth.  The grassy Challenger hops then shine through and give way to a peppery, light bitterness in the finish and then back to the sweetness of the malt.  Another enjoyable beer that I’d happily recommed and would be a fool not to given that this beer is based on their Jeffrey Hudson Bitter (Champion Bitter of Britain 2001, 1999).  However, once again I feel that I wouldn’t go out of my way to shop for this beer when I can get a comparable beer for 30p cheaper down the road.

Marks & Spencer Bottle Conditioned Cornish IPA, 500ml, 5.0% abv, £2.29

This is another one of M&S’s bottle conditioned beers, brewed by St Austell Brewery and billed as a “Classic Indian Pale Ale brewed with Cornish spring water“.  M&S labels are quite traditional in their look and have plenty of information for anyone caring to read it, but no tasting notes except for a “Taste Intensity” score of which this beer is a 4.  I was a bit puzzled by the use of these scores to be honest.  A few notes about the flavours would be more use and in my opinion intensity of flavour means different things to different people and certainly means different things for different beer styles. What is refreshing though, is that all of M&S’s beers are just part of the wider M&S range, clearly a shop that doesn’t feel the need to tell us that this product is better than some of the other products they sell, i.e. not an Extra Special, or Finest* branding in sight.  Having said that, we all know that should M&S choose to advertise their beer, it would almost certainly depict a sensuous drink that oozes sophistication, regardless of the product they are selling.

It pours golden in colour and with good carbonation, the head quickly disappears to nothing.  Aromas of citrus fruits, lemon-grass.  The initial taste delivers a decent bitterness and flavour combination of grapefruit, lemon, toffee and a kind of iced-tea after taste, not unpleasant though and a flavour I happily associate with sipping a refreshing drink while relaxing in the shade.  This is a Cornish IPA after all.  For all of its flavour, this is an uncomplicated beer, summed up nicely by M&S who suggest it would go nicely with fish and chips.  Anyone else picturing summers past and looking ahead to a trip to the South West next summer?  It’s certainly not the best IPA I’ve ever tried, but I think I have been heavily influenced by the not so traditional take on the IPA, and the type of hopping that results in a huge tropical fruit hit.  If I could separate the two in my ‘reviewing’ minds-eye, I would be more excited about this beer.  Just to add that this beer won gold in the International Beer Challenge in 2009 and silver in the same competition in 2010, so take their word for it and not mine.

Overall, I was really impressed with the large selection of beers brewed for the Marks and Spencer brand.  They have some excellent breweries working with them and offer a decent bottle-conditioned selection for those that require it.  On the other hand, M&S don’t stock any other ales other than their own range and as I have laboured somewhat above, their beer selection is spoilt by the pricing, but this is M&S after all.

I fear my next trolley push will be my last in what has been an enthralling series of ‘big shop’ booze buying.  I’m fairly sure that Morrisons don’t have a beer range of their own and the three bottle co-op range seems to be a bit of an after thought.  If you do go looking for it, it’s usually found crammed on the end of an aisle next to the latest alco-pop deal.  So, I’m going to put on my suit and mosey on down to Waitrose and try my hardest not to look like I’m just buying beer.  God forbid! bloody beer drinkers.

And the rest:

Beer

Price

Brewery
Leicester bitter 5L

£9.99

Everards
Southwold Winter IPA

£2.29

Adnams
Wiltshire Rum Beer

£1.99

Wadworth
Southwold Summer IPA

£1.99

Adnams
German Pilsner lager

£1.99

Ginger Ale

£2.09

Robinsons
Lincolnshire bitter

£2.09

Marstons
Staffordshire IPA

£2.09

Marstons
Cheshire Brown Ale

£2.09

Robinsons
Cambridgeshire Summer Ale

£2.19

Oakham Ales
Belgian wheat beer

£2.19

Robinsons
Southwold Dark Ale

£2.29

Adnams
Cheshire choc porter

£2.29

Robinsons
Belgian cherry wheat beer

£2.29

Robinsons
London Porter

£2.29

Meantime
Irish Stout

£2.29

Robinsons
Hospital Porter

£10.00

Meantime
Lancashire Dark Mild

£2.29

Daniel Thwaites
Bottle Conditioned  Scottish Ale

£2.29

Hepworth
Bottle conditioned Cornish IPA

£2.29

St Austell
Bottle conditioned Norfolk Bitter

£2.29

Hepworth
Bottle conditioned Sussex Golden Ale

£2.29

Hepworth
Bottle Conditioned Welsh Honey

£2.29

Conwy
Bottle Conditioned Lancashire Dark Mild

£2.29

Daniel Thwaites
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5 thoughts on “Supermarket Sweep – Part 4

  1. Interesting batch of beers from M&S there, I’m quite surprised about how many beers from the more old school traditional breweries feature, rather than reaching out either locally to bring a regional twist or simply more variety.

    I have to admit again that naively had no idea M&S stocked beer (why not you fool, they stock wine), maybe I just thought it’s not their style I dunno. I’ll take a look locally the next time I am in to see if my list of options matches yours.

    Cheers

    • Cheers Phil. I know what you mean when you say you had no idea they stock beer. They don’t exactly shout about it, but they do seem to recognise what people might want from their beer section. However, having made a good stab at it, I reckon they could do much better. Come on M&S! (oh, and lower your bottle prices by 20-30p too).

  2. “Even with their beer offer of buy 4 for the price of 5, it was still a tough call.” you mean five for the price of four 😉

    I thought you had five…what didn’t you rate? I’ve tried the adnams and the St Austell. You can usually find out what the re-badged beer is by checking rate-beer, which is quite handy.

    They may be a little pricier but they’re a godsend among the poor selection we have in NI, though Sierra Nevada Pale ale has reached tesco so can’t complain!

    • Ha ha, yes quite right 5 for the price of 4, it just felt like it was the other way around! 🙂
      And I have to admit that I deliberated for so long that I didn’t pick my free bottle up!!!!!!! IDIOT!!!!!
      You’re right on the price though, I would buy them from time to time knowing that I’ll get a decent beer. SN Pale is in most supermarkets now which is always a good ‘go to’ beer. Cheer for commenting.

  3. Pingback: Supermarket Sweep – Part 5 « broadfordbrewer

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