Marks & Spencer Single Hop Ales

Marks & Spencer Single Hop Ales

Ten years ago, Marks & Spencer stocked a limited range of unexciting beers, generically packaged, with no information about where they had been brewed, or by whom. We would never have imagined then that we would one day be able to order from them a mixed case of four pale ales each designed to showcase a single hop variety.

  • Elgood’s Sovereign Golden Ale (5%)
  • Crouch Vale Hallertau Brewer’s Gold Golden Ale (4%)
  • Castle Rock Cascade Pale Ale (5%)
  • Oakham Citra IPA (4.9%).

The labels of all four bottles not only provide all of the essential information you might expect but also a potted history of each hop variety, e.g.:

The brewer’s gold hop was originally developed at Wye College in the UK in 1927 as one of the first ‘higher alpha hops’ and is now mostly grown in the renowned Hallertau region of Bavaria where hop planting dates back to 736AD.

Most casual buyers won’t be terribly interested in that level of detail — they don’t need to know about Wye — but they will pick up the intended message: it’s sophisticated stuff, this beer.

The range isn’t quite a Brewdog-style pseudo-scientific exercise in palate-training: each beer in the M&S range is made by a different brewery to a different recipe, so the hop variety is far from being the only variable in play. Nonetheless, three of the four do a good job of putting the hop to the fore.

Castle Rock’s amber-coloured Cascade IPA reminded us, perhaps unsurprisingly, of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale: restrained by modern standards, but citrus-juicy and full-bodied. The Crouch Vale Brewer’s Gold has a mellow central European character, lemon-sherbet hoppiness being balanced by bready malt: it would be good by the litre. Oakham Citra is one-dimensional, in a good way, being all about bright, Technicolor tropical fruit flavours and aromas. After each, we felt somewhat better educated.

The dud is the Elgood’s Sovereign. It doesn’t taste bad, as such, but like a beer with a dash of chocolate flavouring in it, presumably from whichever dark malt gives it its red-brown hue. The cheap Easter egg character overwhelmed what is, anyway, a fairly delicately-flavoured hop entirely. Weirdly, in the small print (as Simon pointed out to us) ‘honey flavouring’ is listed as an ingredient. Why is it there? And is it the source of a tacky vanilla essence note? The beer certainly didn’t taste of honey.

We bought our case of twenty 568ml bottles (five of each) from the M&S website where it was on discount from £40 to £36.50, plus £3.50 delivery. UPDATE: we also bought a case of ‘dark beers’ for £40 and have posted some brief tasting notes on our Facebook page.

10 thoughts on “Marks & Spencer Single Hop Ales”

  1. Sounds like (with 5 duds out of 20) id be better spending 40 quid on 15 bottles in beer Ritz or waitrose then. May pop into m&s next time I pass pick up a couple

  2. ooh another steve…i’ll also maybe pick these up in M&S, have seen them there but to me they’re almost rebadges of the brewers pre-existing beers

  3. Agree that Elgood’s offering is pretty poor. Oakham’s M&S Citra is fantastic though. M&S usually has a 6 bottles for the price of 5 on, although sometimes it is 3 bottles for £6. good value either way.

    Other good shouts in M&S are a London Porter Meantime, an Irish Stout from Carlow, rebadged Oakham JHB as Cambridgeshire Golden Ale, St Austell Cornish IPA and Adnams Winter and Summer IPAs.

    1. Didn’t realise it was JHB – had that one on the train the other night. I don’t know when I’ve had such an easy-drinking ale (in a good, flavourful way). Oakham continue to go up in my estimation – the Citra IPA was a “pause after each mouthful, what was that?” flavour-fest. (Again, in a good way!)

      Shame about the Elgood’s – I’ve never been knocked out by their stuff, and it sounds as if this one wouldn’t be any exception. On the price point, they’ve been going at £2.85 where I’ve seen them on sale, so £40 would actually be 15 for the price of 14, give or take.

      1. The main appeal of delivery for us, regardless of price, is that our nearest M&S is another town across and we don’t have a car.

        We also ordered a mixed case of porters/stouts/milds for about the same price. Slightly apprehensive about the Robinson’s Chocolate Porter…

        1. I’ve only had it once, but I liked it well enough – and beers with really obvious, flavour-masking additives are a pet hate of mine.

  4. Shame about the Elgood’s, since the Sovereign is the only British hop proper in the bunch I believe (a recent strain IIRC). Perhaps it is down to the particular brewing rather than the hop. I’d buy it though to encourage the revival of U.K. hop culture.

    Gary

    1. i don’t think it is the hop which is the issue with it, so i would buy other beer made with this hop.. I think it is the ‘honey’ flavour which left a disagreeable aftertaste

  5. Basically, I’m with what other corespondens say about the Elgoods Sovereign. Why add “honey flavour”? A shame really as Elgoods operate out of a fascinating traditional brewery, with a lovely restored garden behind – do visit if you get the chance.

    I’ve still to try the Castle Rock Cascade, but one comment I would make about these beers is they’re all in traditional pint (568ml) bottles, which makes the price rather more reasonable.

    ps. from memory, the Robinsons Chocolate Porter was light in colour; more like a bitter than a true porter.

  6. I second the praise for the St Austell M&S beers: the IPA is wonderful, and also the pale ale – reminds me of King & Barnes bottle-conditioned bitter from the 90s.

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