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.