Let’s Get It Wrong: Marks & Spencers New “Craft” Beer Range

Island Hopper Pale AleA couple of days ago I noticed a small but good looking new range of beer in my local Marks & Spencer which included Anchor’s Steam Beer and Sierra Nevada’s ubiquitous Pale Ale.
Amongst them was also a small and nicely presented range of M&S own beer and as they were rebadged brews from Windsor & Eton, Meantime and (the one that got me really excited) Sambrooks, I decided I had to try them.
For the record there’s a Lager in amongst the range too but I didn’t pick it up as there was a three for five pounds offer running.
A couple of people mentioned on Twitter that I may be disappointed and I think in the back of my mind I knew that I was going to be, but I remained positive and hoped for the best.
Now I understand that a store like M&S probably has very tight rules on shelf life and the like but to sell beer that has been so heavily filtered and (probably) pasteurised to within an inch of its life is just another example of the high street stores jumping on a bandwagon while not missing the point, but instead deciding to completely ignore it, and it leaves Waitrose head and shoulders in the lead when it comes to finding interesting beer on the high street.

British Clipper IPAThe first bottle I opened was the Island Hopper Pale Ale (4.5%) brewed for M&S by Windsor & Eton.
Its aroma is a watery toffee sweet you found in the sink, the malting is limp caramel and biscuit and there’s barely a hint of hops save for the lightest bitter herbal waft which makes for a finish that’s damp and flaccid.
It went down the sink.
The second bottle I opened was Meantime’s British Clipper IPA (6%) which, though claiming to be rich and complex, is nothing of the sort.
The aroma is tinged with chemicals, the malting has some fig rolls and honey which isn’t too bad and the hops are light peppery leaves which would be pleasant if they weren’t so fleeting, and the finish has a nasty unnatural bitterness.
This too went down the sink.
Battersea RyeThe third and final bottle I tried was Battersea Rye (5.6%) which is Sambrooks rebadged for M&S and it came out by far the best of the bunch with the rye adding a nice round woodiness to the beer’s body.
It’s not a patch on their own version of this beer mind, it’s more like a distant memory of a beer you enjoyed.
The aroma is chestnuts and bran flakes and the malts have some treacle tart and raisins over which the hops are grass clippings and basil with a hint of aniseed.
Again there’s something not quite right with the finish though, something fake, something chemical tinged about the bitterness that I can only guess comes from the heavy processes that all the beer has gone through.

Some people (marketing people mostly) may argue that these bottles are a gateway to people who are interested in “Craft” beer but don’t know where to start but none of these beers taste anything like the beer that comes from the breweries in question and so my argument would be that this range, as with Tesco’s Revisionist range, are so close to every other heavily filtered and pasteurised beer on the high street shelves that people will probably try them once and wonder what all the fuss is about before returning immediately to their Greene King, Marston’s, cheap-as-chips brown water.

Ah well, maybe the Lager in the range is stunning.

About Simon Williams

Founder of CAMRGB. Member of The British Guild Of Beer Writers. Leftist bigmouth. Old and grumpy.
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10 Responses to Let’s Get It Wrong: Marks & Spencers New “Craft” Beer Range

  1. David says:

    I think you’re being really unfair. The new range includes Buxton Moortop (bottle conditioned), Brooklyn 1/2 Ale (unfiltered), Anchor California Lager, Fourpure Pils and Session IPA (both cans), Lagunitas IPA and others. And the Sierra Nevada Torpedos I bought there (3 for £5.00, where else is cheaper?) were three weeks old (have you had fresher American beer from a supermarket?). The California Lager was very fresh, too. What other supermarket has beer like this? Waitrose might be better, but M&S is now excllent for high quality beer, far superior to Tesco etc. There were even new additions to the normal range.

    • None of those are in my local M&S which, being in Leicester city centre, is one of the flagship stores.
      But I accept your point.
      However, I’m talking specifically about their own brands.
      That said, it still raises the question of why M&S insist on their own brand beers being so heavily processed when they have a range of other people’s beer which has not been – Buxton and Fourpure being two of them.

  2. Richard says:

    I agree with David, I think your article is unfair. Have you checked the reviews on untapped? A lot of people are raving about the new M&S beers.

    I have also tasted them against the brewery bottled equivalents from Windsor & Eaton, Sambrooks etc and cant tell the difference. The M&S ones definetly dont taste pasteurised.

    I think you should be giving M&S credit for supporting British breweries rather than just getting on your soap box.

  3. Yeah, this W&E one is a bit weird isn’t it? Kind of corn-y (and I’m usually happy with NS as a hop). Given I picked it up almost entirely to see if I agreed/disagreed with you, I’ve only myself to blame I suppose…

  4. Rory says:

    I also think you’re being unfair. I just picked up a few of the M&S craft beers before jumping on a train for a long journey. I definitely wouldn’t say it’s the best craft beer I’ve ever had but considering the previous offering was limited to very very average lager or undistinguished “old man ale” I’d say their new range gives you something more interesting. I actually thought the meantime IPA is very good and I can certainly recognise some of the hoppy notes from their London Pale Ale in there. Can’t say I’ll be keeping my fridge at home stocked up with their stuff but definitely a massive improvement on those big green cans of “Belgian Lager”!

  5. Nigel Jones says:

    I was impressed to find the store in Westbourne, Dorset had the excellent “to kill a moo cow” by Arbor Ales. Wonderful beer (I’ve enjoyed it before). Unfiltered georgousness

    I did try one of their new branded beers – it was so unmemorable I can’t even remember the name. Perhaps a step above the average supermarket beer but otherwise lacking. I aim to try some more varieties though just to be sure 🙂

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