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.

        hwww.caribbrewery.com/Ourbrands/Mackeson/tabid/75/Default.aspx

        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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