Posts Tagged ‘burton upon trent’

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.

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

5 April, 2009

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.

Beer Review: Marston’s Pedigree Exceptional Premium Ale

26 April, 2008

IT HAS been a while since I last tried a pale ale. Greene King IPA was the last pale ale that I remember testing. So it’s about time for another. Marston’s Pedigree Exceptional Premium Ale will provide just that. Not that I knew that this was a pale ale when I picked up this bottle.

Marston’s Pedigree Exceptional Premium Ale bottle

The neck label proudly boasts that this is the “Official Beer of England”. The England Cricket Board coat of arms hints at some sort of sponsorship deal with the tedious and baffling pastime. And resolving my confusion about how any beer can be officially assigned to the English peoples.

Marston’s Pedigree Exceptional Premium Ale neck label

The main front label, like yesterday’s, is a fine piece of traditional imagery.

Marston’s Pedigree Exceptional Premium Ale front label

The logo roundel is tasteful. The logo of what looks like beer barrels are appropriate. The banner with the “Pedigree” name is the right proportion. And the ECB stamp is a sensitive promotional device. Unusually however, there’s no mention of the alcoholic volume.

Over on the back label, and everything is a mixture of black, white and red.

Marston’s Pedigree Exceptional Premium Ale back label

Most prominent of which is the red banner cutting through the middle. This has the Marston’s “Don’t Compromise” slogan. Straight to the point, but unoriginal. How about “Compromise In Order to Reach Agreements” or “Don’t Cooperate”.

The top of the back label opens with what I call the “story”. This one talks about 170 years of uncompromising excellence. It then goes on to say that it is brewed in Oak casks of Burton Unions in Burton Upon Trent. Also, tucked away in this little paragraph, they let slip that this is a Pale Ale. Why it’s hidden away is anyone’s guess.

Underneath the “story” section we get something that looks familiar. Not seen since the back labels of Badger beers, this Marston’s has a little grid and chart describing the taste! Fantastic addition here, chaps. These make it so much easier to know if you’ll like it or not before you buy it.

This take on the grid and chart sees the thing divided up into “Style” which comprises “See”, “Smell” and “Taste” subsections. And into “Bitter” and “Sweet” indicators. All of which shouldn’t need any further explanation by me. The “Style” row is the first place where we learn that this has an ABV of only 4.5%. Pedigree is clearly going to have to work hard in the flavour department to make up for that shortfall.

For “See” they describe the colour as “Golden Brown”. For “Smell” they’ve gone with “Burton Sulphur” whatever that is. And for “Taste”, they have the keywords of “Dry, Biscuity, Malt, Spicy, Hop”. The “Bitter” and “Sweet” indicators which use little pictures of hops and sugar cubes respectively both have two and a half out of five. Balance is clearly the intended order of the day with Pedigree.

Beneath this and the slogan banner, we get into the small print. This kicks off with the web address at www.marstonsdontcompromise.com. Like we’ve seen at least once before, this 500 millilitre bottle is made lighter by using less glass in order to please the eco-mentalists. The postal address of Marston’s Brewery in Burton Upon Trent, England is on there. As is a very detailed box outlining the recommended daily units of alcohol for men and women. Neither of which is exceeded by the 2.3 units in this bottle.

In the glass, it looks the promised shade of golden brown. But there’s a disappointingly absent head.

Marston’s Pedigree Exceptional Premium Ale poured into a glass

The label describes the smell as being of “Burton Sulphur”. I’m not sure if that’s what I’m smelling or not. I’d call it a faint smell of malted barley and an even fainter hint of hops.

A few gulps in and I can report that the “Bitter” and “Sweet” part of the label is about right. They are indeed balanced, in so far as neither are much in evidence. It’s hard to know what you’re tasting apart from the faintly bitter/sour hoppiness. I’m having difficulty finding any of the buscuity, spicy maltiness promised on the label.

And it doesn’t get much better in those other important characteristics either. It doesn’t have an awful lot of body. In fact, you could call it somewhat watery. It’s also not particularly complex for an ale. You could go as far as to call it boring. But then it is a pale ale, so perhaps that’s normal. If you think this is normal for a pale ale, do please leave a comment at the end of this post.

Marston’s Pedigree isn’t without merit however. There is still a lot to like about it. It’s not very gassy. It’s very easy to drink. And the tastes and flavours are almost totally inoffensive. I’ve had coffees that are harder to drink than this ale. This is one of those beers that would go well with a pub meal with friends and relatives.

I know a lot of you will love its lack of strong, complex flavours. But that’s why I can’t rate it highly. Maybe this means that pale ales just aren’t for me outside of the pub meal with friends and relatives scenario. Try it if a pleasant, inoffensive pale ale appeals to you.

Rating: 3.25

Have you tried Marston’s Pedigree or any others of the Marston’s range? Got any ideas, suggestions, recommendations, disagreements, corrections, advice or insults? Then leave a comment now!


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