buying beer london

Department stores and beer: Fortnum and Mason

I was walking past Fortnum and Mason at lunchtime, and thought I’d wander in to look at the newly refurbished food hall. With proud boasts of an expanded wine section (and bar) I thought it would be worth checking out the beer selection.

Stonch’s post about the beer selection in Army & Navy had reminded me that A&N was actually one of the better places to shop for beer in London; it also reminded me of the fact that the best place to find beer in Spain was not specialist booze shops but actually El Corte Ingles, a good-quality chain of department stores. So I thought F&M might be a reasonable place to find some nice beer.

Unfortunately not.

They sell two beers, yes, two. They are an “English Ale” and an “IPA”, both brewed for them by the West Berkshire Brewery. You can get them in gift packs (though not on their website – search “beer” and you get beer mustard and… er… teddy bears. Are F&M customers really such sloppy spellers?)

F&M sell more types of average Polish vodka than they do beer. They even sell “Spirytus Rektyfikowany” which at 79% is just meths, right? It’s not as if there aren’t plenty of “luxurious” beer styles they could stock, like imperial stout, barley wine, vintage Belgian abbey ales etc.

However, before I picked up my pen to write to Messrs Fortnum and Mason and give them a piece of my mind, I thought I would at least try their own brand. Perhaps these beers are just so good that no other beers are necessary.

So: The IPA (5%) – bitter yet balanced with a lovely hop aroma. A very nice brew indeed, though can’t match the body and overall impact of a classic such as Goose Island.

The English Ale (4%) – apparently “this rich, full-bodied ale calls to mind stout yeomen at archery practice in the autumn before Agincourt – and other images of antique Albion”. Eh? That said, it’s quite interesting, because there is a hint of smokiness in the aroma and flavour, unusual for this style, I’d say. It also has a good body and a rather bitter aftertaste. Good, but not as drinkable as say, Young’s Special or London Pride.

So definitely good brews – but if I ran a shop and only stocked two beers, they wouldn’t be it. So it’s pen to paper time in the Boak and Bailey household.

Random plus point though: the top-hat-and-tailed shop assistants are experts in wrapping bottles elegantly yet quickly so that they don’t clink in a carrier bag. Great for the budding alcoholic who doesn’t want to attract attention at work!



  1. Stonch has covered Army & Navy’s beer selection here.
  2. Fortnum and Mason are at 181 Piccadilly, London and have been serving posh ready meals there for 300 years. It’s a department store although mostly famous for its food hall (currently being expanded) and its luxury hampers. It’s worth a look if you’re a tourist, looking for a nice gift, or just up town on a wet afternoon and want to gawp at how the other half live (yes, those people really are doing their weekly shop here…)
  3. Here’s a link to the West Berkshire Brewery – they make no mention of the F&M link on their site. I don’t think I’ve had the pleasure of tasting their other stuff, but they seem like a decent bunch. I’d certainly want to try more after these beers.
  4. For more about El Corte Ingles, see the Wikipedia article here. I’m sure I’ll be writing more about them and their magnificent selection on imported beer later this year…

2 replies on “Department stores and beer: Fortnum and Mason”

D’y’think maybe the English Ale might possibly be pitched at tourists? It is pretty cringeworthy copy, though.

I blogged on two beers I found in El Corte Ingles, including their own-brand Cerveza Especial here

I’m sure it is pitched at tourists, and indeed, it might make a nice classy gift for someone who lived abroad. I’m being charitable.

I love the El Corte Ingles selection – not been to Barcelona, but in Seville, Cordoba and Granada there was a great mix of beers from all over the world – although a poor showing from Britain. That could be due to the beer duty though – the British bottles were significantly more expensive than the others so I guess they just don’t shift that much.

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