Tasting the difference

Morrison’s isn’t a supermarket I get to very often (although this may be about to change), and it’s taken me a while to get round to checking out their ‘own brand’ beers. In the past I’ve seen beers brewed by Titanic and Black Sheep in the range, but at the moment they all seem to be from Marston’s or Ringwood (owned by Marston’s since 2007). Last time I was in, I bought one of each – at £1.50 you might as well; here’s what I thought.

Dark (Ringwood) Not sure if this is a mild or a very dark bitter. Fairly thin, either way; competent but not exciting.

Amber A bit more full-bodied, with some of that satisfying hoppy prickliness going on. I say ‘some’, though – again, this struck me as a light beer, lighter than it needed to be.

Stout Light is the word, again; there’s some burnt-grain bitterness, but a lot of sweetness too, and the body’s thin. It’s as if a stout has been blended 1:3 with a dark mild. It’s not unpleasant by any means, it’s just not necessarily what you’d be expecting.

IPA Now this was more like it: tropical fruit a go go, a proper new-model IPA. I’ll be getting this one again. (Ratebeer says: ‘One of those that fall into the “I’ve had worse…..” category’, ‘Bit on the boring unremarkable side.)

For another set of comparisons, I bought the two separate Marston’s IPAs currently available at Sainsbury’s – their own “Taste the Difference” IPA and Marston’s Old Empire IPA. All three of them – these two and the Morrison’s – are within a couple of decimal points of a.b.v. (they’re all over 5.5 and under 6), and I wasn’t expecting there to be much difference. I was surprised.

Sainsbury’s IPA I was particularly surprised by this one, and not entirely in a good way. “Toffee apple” is the best flavour descriptor I can think of: the flavour’s dominated by a great wodge of sweetness and burnt-caramel bitterness, with some fruit in the background. It’s well within the style parameters of a twentieth-century IPA, but even in that context it’s rather offputtingly heavy. Taste the difference you most certainly will.

Old Empire IPA Ratebeer has strong opinions about this one: ‘bitter disappointment to notice that this has nothing to do with IPA‘, ‘Not IPA as it says on the bottle.‘, ‘I have no idea why they wrote IPA on the label.‘ Well, excuuuuuse me. It’s actually well over on the ‘tropical fruit’ side from the previous one; like Sheps’ ‘historic recipe’ IPA, it’s basically midway between the IPAs we were (occasionally) drinking in the 1980s and what the style stands for now. Not bad at all.

To sum up:

Morrison’s own-label beers are (currently) best described as ‘light’, nay, ‘undemanding’. This works better for some styles than others; for the IPA I think it works rather well.

Marston’s three* IPAs cover the range from 1980s toffee apple to 2010s fruit salad, and two of the three are pretty good.

*Unless, of course, you know different.

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