Beer Review: Marston’s Old Empire Original Export India Pale Ale

THE last Marston’s I had was the utterly fine yet unremarkable Marston’s Pedigree Exceptional Premium Ale. There was nothing memorable about the experience. But the quality makes me want to try another Marston’s. So, from my local Tesco comes this, Marston’s Old Empire Original Export India Pale Ale.

Marston's Ole Empire India Pale Ale bottle

My relationship with IPAs has been rocky. I vaguely remember calling some of them boring. But, with an open mind and a British brewing industry that regularly surprises, I’m giving it another try.

Marston’s have gone for the same shape bottle as Pedigree, but with the trendy transparent glass that’s popular with those young people nowadays. This works as long as the beer inside looks tasty. And I’m happy to say Old Empire passes that test. It looks right.

Don’t miss the things embossed around the bottle. Around the shoulder, is the Marston’s logo. And around the bottom we learn that they were established back in 1834. Which is a reassuringly long time ago.

Marston's Ole Empire India Pale Ale neck label

The neck label is the same as other Marston’s neck-labels. That means it doesn’t have anything useful. Only a boast about it being the “Official Beer of England”. Inside the roundel is a crest with the letters “ECB”. Which, I think, means that this is the official beer of cricketists.

Unlike Pedigree, Marston’s have completely abandoned the traditional roundel. Instead opting for a contemporary splash of everything. And I think it works.

Marston's Ole Empire India Pale Ale front label

It tells you everything you need to know. It tells you that it’s an India Pale Ale, or IPA as the Real Ale know-it-alls abbreviate it to. And it tells you that it has an alcoholic volume of 5.7%. Something that makes it stronger than a lot out there.

Where the front label is clear and concise, Marston’s have printed a medium sized novel on the back.

Marston's Ole Empire India Pale Ale back label

Where do you look first? In Tesco, you just don’t know where to look. Sure, you could studiously read the whole thing. But then you hold up the old ladies with their trolleys filled with Bovril.

Reading it for the first time, here at my desk, the top is where I’ll start. To their credit, they do give a good little description of Old Empire right at the top. They describe the smell as a “strong hop aroma”. They describe the flavour as hoppy and the taste as “rich malty” and “bitter”. Oh, and they describe this India Pale Ale which you can see through the glass as “pale in colour”.

This big middle chunk of text is devoted to their Burton India Pale Ale story. In a paragraph clearly cooked up by someone in marketing, we do find that Burton really did do a fine job of refreshing our chaps in the Sub-Continent during the 19th Century. Marston’s Old Empire, they say, is a re-birth of Burton brewed IPA.

Further down, and the small-print begins. They have a web address, which is a mouthful at www.marstonsdontcompromise.com. It’s not a bad website. But that’s not hard when the efforts of many brewers are as informative as tabloid journalism. I even found the Old Empire homepage on the Marston’s website at http://www.marstonsdontcompromise.com/beer/empire.asp. Well worth reading if you want to know about malt, grain, hops and other beer nerd facts.

Under that are the vital statistics. This bottle is the regular 500ml. Which, when combined with the 5.7% alcoholic volume ale within, brings it to 2.9 UK units of alcohol. That means that if you’ve managed two of them in one day, you’ve had too many.

The last little detail is their address. Old Empire was brewed by Marston’s Brewery in Burton Upon Trent. If you’re from Burton Upon Trent and you have something interesting to say about it, do please feel free not to leave a comment at the end of this post.

What does Marston’s Old Empire taste like? Should you buy it? I’m looking forward to finding out.

Marston's Ole Empire India Pale Ale poured into a glass

It looks like there’s a decent head. But there’s not. It settles into a patchy layer of foam. The colour was never going to be a surprise. But something on the bottle is. The back label has a map showing the ship route from Britain to Bombay, which is only visible when the bottle is empty.

How does it smell? The label described the smell as having a “strong hop aroma”. It certainly is strong smelling. This is a pungent beer. But I like it that way. Does it smell of hops? Yes. And a little bit of malt. I like it.

How does it taste? The label described it as having a hoppy taste with a “rich malty, bitter taste”. Does it have those things? Two civilised gulps in, and I’m delighted to report that yes it does. And it does them all very pleasantly indeed.

The flavour is rich, spicy and hoppy. Not heavily hoppy. It won’t overwhelm you with hops. Probably because I think it’s a bit dry and malty. Very quickly, a much stronger aftertaste rolls into the equation. This brings with it an intensely bitter aftertaste. Like the flavour, the finish is hoppy. But unlike almost every other hoppy beer, that hoppy finish doesn’t cling on to your tongue for the next three days. Instead, it gives you a quick burst of hoppy bitterness, gets the job done and exits.

What am I enjoying about Marston’s Old Empire India Pale Aie? I like the flavours and tastes with this one. They are not boring. I like the hoppy flavour and taste it manages without being too hoppy. Not like drinking a hedgerow like with some ales. I like the quality. Like all good bottled ales, you can tell that you’re drinking something pure and well made. And that’s something that helps make it clean and drinkable. I even like the effort made with the bottle and labels.

What don’t I like about Marston’s Old Empire India Pale Ale? That bitter finish is wearing. It’s not hoppy and interesting like some. Or gentle and smooth like others. They could have done something, anything, about it. Some of you will love it though. Within the confines of being an ‘IPA’, they’ve done well. But I can’t help feeling that there are more interesting bottled ales out there. Besides that, I found myself burping a lot. Which could mean that it’s gassy. Or that the bottle was shaken a bit. Which could be true.

To try to sum up, Marston’s Old Empire India Pale Ale is a very good IPA. But less than thrilling compared to some of the amazing bottles that you can find on shop shelves. This is a good, solid, particularly bitter, hoppy ale. Recommended if you like that sort of thing.

Rating: 3.8

Have you tried Marston’s Old Empire India Pale Ale? What did you think of it?

Do please leave your opinions, corrections, requests, recommendations and places to buy here in the comment.

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6 Responses to “Beer Review: Marston’s Old Empire Original Export India Pale Ale”

  1. john wilkinson Says:

    I’ve quite liked this in recent times, especially as Tesco have been selling it at £1.14. BUT, yesterday I went to our local Co-op where it’s been £1.69 and noticed that it has a new bottle. Sorry, “packaging”. Open her up, and what? Now no nose to speak of, certainly nothing like the hoppy blast you got before, and pour it out and what do we find? A bloody Boddington-like creamy head that doesn’t go. And it tastes sweet. For Heaven’s sake, what have “Marston Thompson Evershed” done with it? It’s a completely different beer, and NOTHING like an IPA. I was tempted to say all this to the brewers, but what’s the point? I’ll only get some customer services eejit, blathering on about “maintaining quality” blah blah. This has been re-built to appeal to the young, and I will never buy it again. Ever. Bastards.

  2. Gregory Burgess Says:

    If Mr Wilkinson thinks this tastes sweet, then perhaps he’s had one over the eight – it is strong and, given his colorful language, I think his review is best ignored. Take it from me: It’s as good as ever!

  3. Anonymous Says:

    I was brought up on Allsops IPA which arrived in wooden cases of 24 reputed quart bottles each with its own straw jacket. I like Marstons ‘Old Empire’

  4. tom Says:

    had my 1st taste of this last night….excellent stuff! best drank chilled and necked straight out of bottle

  5. Dave Says:

    Respectfully, if you’re writing about beer and haven’t heard of Burton Upon Trent, you have some research to do, sir.

  6. John Says:

    Great ale, good flavour, clean on the palette. Highly recommended.

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