Archive for January, 2010

Beer Review: Marston’s Oyster Stout

10 January, 2010

THE streets outside are covered with snow. The temperatures are freezing. What I need is a rich, warming, Winter drink. What I have, is a bottle of Marston’s Oyster Stout which cost a whopping £1.99 pence from the Bethnal Green Food Center.

It’s not the first Marston’s I’ve tried. Pedigree and Old Empire Original Export India Pale Ale were both perfectly fine. Just completely unmemorable. This though, is a stout. And stouts can be much more fun.

On the neck of the Marston’s bottle, is the Marston’s neck label. Cricketests might be interested to know that Marston’s is the ECB “Official Beer of England”.

The front-label is a traditional beer bottle roundel. It’s all very traditional and very Marston’s. The alcoholic volume is 4.5%. It’s “Brewed at the Marston’s Brewery, Burton Upon Trent”. And they describe the stout tersely with three simple words: “Dark” “Rich” “Smooth”. All the kind of words you want to sum up your stout to be.

Then it all gets a bit different. I’ve never put the words “Oyster” and “Stout” together in the same sentence before. And the pictures are positively coastal. A long way from the industrial west-midlands that strings to mind with Marston’s.

Let’s see if the back label can proffer some explanation.

Yes it can. Albeit it a tenuous one. Above the big “Marston’s Don’t Compromise” banner is the description we’ve been looking for. They describe it as “dark in colour with a mocha coloured head and a slight fruity aroma with a hint of chocolate. It delivers a rich, smooth, full bodied flavour”

Then comes the oyster and seafood connection as they inform us what it might go with: “the ideal accompaniment to eating oysters and other shellfish or just on its own”. Possibly the most tenuous beer name connection yet.

Most of the label is small print in several different languages. To save you time, I’ll rattle off the main details. The website listed is the long-winded www.marstonsdontcompromise.com. They apparently use lightweight bottles that are better to the environment. But bad news for those of us who like beer bottles built like nuclear bunkers.

The full name and address of Marston’s Brewery is printed on there. A complete list of ingredients isn’t. It’s your typical 500ml bottle, which, at 4.5% alcoholic volume, comes in at an unremarkable 2.3 UK units of alcohol.

With that out of the way, we can get to the interesting bit. What does Marston’s Oyster Stout taste like? How does it compare to other stouts? Will I like it and should you buy it? Let’s find out.

With no glugging, Marston’s Oyster Stout is easy-peasy to pour. The thin head you get at the  end quickly collapses into a thin patchy layer of coffee colour. The drink itself is as black as stout. Which is a good thing.

What does Marston’s Oyster Stout smell like? The label promises a “slightly fruity aroma with a hint of chocolate”. And do you know what? That’s pretty much how it smells. It has that fruity hoppy smell that you get with some ales that aren’t stouts. But you also get a slight whiff of the roasted chocolate smell you get with stouts and darker ales. It smells breezy and good.

What does Marston’s Oyster Stout taste like? The first two sips are powerful ones. On the flavour side of the equation, there’s not much to write about. Just a mild, slightly roasted malty flavour. I think. It’s hard to tell because whatever flavour was there on your tongue is immediately swept away by a torrent of aftertaste. And that aftertaste just isn’t as interesting as I hoped it would be.

As far as I can tell, it’s mostly just plain old bitter-sweetness. The bitterness has the edge of the sweetness. And it all feels quite dry. There’s not much more to say. That bitterness lasts a long time. It is, just like the label promised, “rich, smooth” and “full bodied”. It’s all of those things. But where’s the fruitiness and chocolate that it hinted at being capable of? Those things would have lifted it above mediocrity.

What am I enjoying about Marston’s Oyster Stout? Ignore the niggles, and it’s still a very good drink. I like how light and easy to drink it is. For a stout. I like how quickly you get used to the initial punch delivered to your taste buds. I like how well balanced the taste is. And I like how rich, smooth and full-bodied it is, at the same time as being drinkable. All things that point to good ingredients, a good recipe and a well made brew.

What aren’t I enjoying about Marston’s Oyster Stout? I’ve already said it. It could have stood out from the crowd by doing something a bit different. It hinted that it could do fruity and chocolaty, but it didn’t have the courage to go through with it. And that’s a pity. The strong taste, before you get used to it, will put some people off. It’s a little but gassy. And, at least down south, it’s hard to find and expensive.

How can I sum up Marston’s Oyster Stout? It’s not bad, but it could be so much better if they’d had the courage to pull off something original. As it is, there are better stouts and more interesting, easier to drink ales. Most of which also go just as well with sea food. So a lot like the other two Marston’s. Good, but lacking inspiration. This is one for the stout fans out there.

Rating: 3.9

Have you tried Marston’s Oyster Stout? What did you think of it? Leave your opinions, corrections, recommendations and places to buy, here in the comments.

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