St Michael’s Canon #1: Mackeson

Mackeson beer mat detail.

Michael Jackson’s Great Beer Guide (2000) was our bible when we first started to take an interest in beer, but, despite our best efforts, we didn’t get anywhere near tasting all 500 beers on his list.

Some had gone out of pro­duc­tion by the time we got our hands on the book, while oth­ers were from far-flung cor­ners of the world and unavail­able in the UK. There were a hand­ful, how­ev­er, that we just skipped over out of snooti­ness, and in our haste to get to those big shouty IPAs and impe­r­i­al stouts.

Now seems like a good time to go back and fill in a few embar­rass­ing gaps in our knowl­edge, start­ing with a beer which played an impor­tant part in British beer his­to­ry, and whose pack­ag­ing is utter­ly icon­ic: Mack­e­son Stout.

It was one of the ear­li­est ‘nation­al brands’ in the 1950s and was the tro­jan horse with which Whit­bread began the takeover of at least one small­er region­al brew­ery. “Why both­er brew­ing your own stout,” Whit­bread seem to have sug­gest­ed, “when you can stock this one which has the weight of nation­al ad cam­paigns behind it?”

It was also one of the hand­ful of beers from which Amer­i­can home brew­ers, via Jack­son, spun out an entire ‘style’, and from which, there­fore, almost every ‘craft beer’ call­ing itself a milk stout is descend­ed.

In his GBG, Mr Jack­son described it as ‘The world’s most wide­ly known sweet stout’, and it was an assump­tion that it would be sick­ly that put us off try­ing it, despite an extreme­ly entic­ing pho­to­graph and tast­ing notes which men­tion evap­o­rat­ed milk and cof­fee.

Mackeson Stout can.He enjoyed it at 3% ABV from a hum­ble 275ml bot­tle and sug­gest­ed that ‘with glitzi­er pack­ag­ing it could be the beer world’s answer to Bai­ley’s’. It is now only avail­able in cans at 2.8%; we got hold of a four-pack of 330ml cans for £3.97 from Tesco.

(A side note: can­ning was prob­a­bly seen as tak­ing the pack­age fur­ther down mar­ket, and yet, with the cur­rent vogue for ‘craft beer’ in tins, it actu­al­ly looks rather cool, espe­cial­ly with that bold, retro black and white design.)

In a suit­ably posh glass (we want­ed to give it fight­ing chance) it was oil-black, but with yel­low-brown high­lights at the edges. The head looked paler than in the pic­ture accom­pa­ny­ing MJ’s notes but was still a pleas­ing shade of off-white. The aro­ma had an unfor­tu­nate hint of but­tered pop­corn and not much else.

We were, there­fore, extreme­ly pleas­ant­ly sur­prised by the taste – a sort of dry fire­place ashi­ness, wrapped up in a body that, while not ‘creamy’, did sug­gest a 4% beer rather than one flirt­ing with low alco­hol ter­ri­to­ry.

It did­n’t seem remote­ly sweet, and cer­tain­ly was­n’t sick­ly. The but­tery note per­sist­ed, and we could have done with­out it, but it did­n’t pre­vent us con­clud­ing that Mack­e­son remains a decent beer; that not many ‘craft beers’ at 2.8% are as enjoy­able as this; and that we should have lis­tened to Uncle Mike a decade ago.

We’ll cer­tain­ly make a point of keep­ing some in the store cup­board from now on for school-night sip­ping, and mix­ing with oth­er beers.

16 thoughts on “St Michael’s Canon #1: Mackeson”

    1. That was our assump­tion.

      Not sure where it’s made now, but Wikipedia reck­ons it was being made at Hyde’s when you tried it.

      1. Mack­e­son is brewed in the Caribbean to a far stronger 4.9% out of Trinidad and Toba­go.

        Mrs Pro­fes­sor Pie-Tin and I nor­mal­ly hol­i­day there in late October/early Novem­ber when prices are incred­i­bly cheap
        and the weath­er is good – 500 quid will get you a week in Barbados,flight and hotel.

        Anyway,the Mack­e­son makes a nice change to the uni­ver­sal­ly awful Carib lager and all the oth­er weak,tinny stuff you find through­out the Caribbean.

        Served ice-cold and before din­ner it’s not a bad way to bridge the gap between a hot day on the beach and a night of lim­ing.

        1. [from the Carib web­site] “It is pri­mar­i­ly direct­ed to young adult males who are fit­ness-con­scious and enjoys social­iz­ing, (Gen­er­a­tion Next).”
          This is a far cry from the image of the lit­tle old lady drink­ing milk stout in the cor­ner of the snug.

  1. Pop­u­lar with old ladies, at least here on Mersey­side, in the 50s and 60s. My grand­moth­er used to enjoy an occa­sion­al bot­tle of Mack­ies.

  2. My grandad used to bring my grand­ma a bot­tle of Mack­e­son home from his club.

    Bit of an orphan brand now. I won­der how many brew­ers it’s had?

    1. Wikipedia reck­ons it was with Young’s in the late 90s, then Cameron’s, then Hyde’s, and pos­si­bly now Wells & Young. No infor­ma­tion at all on the can or, as far as we can tell, on the InBev web­site.

  3. I was also pleas­ant­ly sur­prised when I tried it. And have com­mer­cial­ly brewed a milk stout since.

  4. still a love­ly drop, my pater­nal grand­moth­er would always have it with her Sun­day lunch (always called it Mack­ie, she was Liv­er­pool Irish and made tremen­dous York­shires), one of the first beers I was aware of through some­one in the fam­i­ly drink­ing it rather than it being adver­tis­ing, I remem­ber the like bot­tles they used to sell it in, got some at Adnams’ lit­tle offie in South­wold in 2000 and remem­ber writ­ing some­thing after tast­ing it and then Orval, will have to dig it out — about 10 years ago we had it at a Beer­writ­ers Guild din­ner and because it was in a can the then chair­man sug­gest­ed we put it into jugs, the thought that cans wouldn’t look very sophis­ti­cat­ed on the table. How things change. There was also an export ver­sion brewed in the 1990s, I remem­ber Roger Protz had it in the US (I think) and raved about it. And yes it was a 1001 Beer etc. I must get some more in. Not sure about Gold Label though (might be pre­empt­ing you…), very sweet and too car­bon­at­ed for my lik­ing.

    1. just realised re the ref­er­ence to Gold Label, I was think­ing along the lines of the shelf of shame where Mack­ie and GL always seem to be, rather than Jacko’s book, where it wasn’t.

        1. It is and all, missed it when I looked last night! I think it’s on sale in one of the pubs in Dul­ver­ton, might try it but I might also mix it with a half of HSD

  5. When my moth­er was car­ry­ing me, her crav­ing was for Mack­eson’s Stout. She did­n’t crave it with my oth­er sib­lings (two broth­ers and a sis­ter) and I’m the only one with a taste for beer. In fact, my sib­lings don’t real­ly drink that much at all. So MS was my first beer, real­ly! That’s what I think of when I see it.

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