By Roger Clapham
This feels almost like some sort of guilty confession or worse still that I’m doing someone’s advertising for them, but this year I found some really good beer in a surprising place – Marks & Spencers.
I was never a big fan of M&S – as a child I’d be dragged in there on occasion by my mother and want to leave immediately, and more recently whenever one of their adverts with the supposedly seductive, breathless voiceover appeared on the TV I would shout obscenities at the screen until it disappeared again. However, this summer, after a tip-off and a quick lunchtime stroll to their food branch in St Pancras station I was converted – and like many things in life, it was all because of the beer. Here’s three of my favourites (be warned though – its M&S so they aren’t cheap, usually around or just over £2 a bottle).
First up, a bottle conditioned Cornish IPA, brewed by the good folk at the St Austell brewery in Cornwall who are responsible for the increasingly widely available and ever reliable Tribute ale. This is a traditional old fashioned India pale ale, heavily hopped with a citrus aroma, and quite strong (although this one is somewhat neutered for an IPA) at 5%. Bottle conditioned as well which means the flavour is still improving whilst its on the shelf, but fortunately there’s little in the way of sentiment so the value conscious drinker (like myself) doesn’t feel too cheated by having to leave some beer in the bottle. Highly recommended.
Next, it’s Southwold Winter Beer, brewed by Adnams in Suffolk, who I’m already a big fan of. This one doesn’t disappoint either – dark brown and smelling rich and fruity, you can really taste the dark chocolate malt used in the brew. Ideal before a roast (or even Christmas) dinner and at a mere 4% you can almost hear the Saturday afternoon wrestling crowd chanting ‘Easy! Easy! Easy!..’ as you swill this down.
Finally, something a bit different – their Belgium Wheat Beer, brewed by the Huyghe Brewery in Melle, Belgium. Wheat beer isn’t massively popular in the UK, but in parts of Northern Europe they love it. A few varieties such as Erdinger, Hoegaarden, and even the US-made Blue Moon have landed on these shores though and developed a somewhat drunken fan base – I’ve seen grown men fall off barstools from drinking Erdinger. This version follows the usual wheat beer model – hazy looking, almost banana yellow in colour, and thick, sweet and spicy with the coriander they add into it when it’s fermenting. It’s 4.5% but tastes a lot stronger – good party booze really, I honestly think a good few of these would knock me out cold. But in a good way.
So there you are, treat yourself to one of these if you have the misfortune to have to go shopping this week. And if none of those float your boat the Cheshire Brown Ale (from Robinsons in Stockport, not pictured) is a particularly fine brew too. It also has a picture of the tremendous piece of Victorian engineering that is Stockport viaduct on the bottle, which is reason enough to buy it I’d say. Happy Christmas. Cheers…