10 Oct 2011

A British surprise

I roam the streets of Prague a lot and, as you all know, I like stopping here and there for a quick pint and that's why I have a very good mental map of the location of the toilets where I can offload those beers without having to pay for the privilege.

Marks & Spencer's branch in Vaclavák is one of those places. The loos are on the top floor, by the coffee shop, in the food and beverage dept. One day, about two months ago, I went there in quite a hurry and, as usual, I didn't bother to look too much around.

Once the call of nature had been answered, just when I was coming out of the toilets, something made me look down to my left. I don't know what it was, perhaps something I had seen on the way in, but not quite noticed. There they were, almost hidden on the bottom shelf, in a dark corner of the wine section, bottles of beer! And not the usual imported, or pseudo-imported, rubbish you find at most supermarkets, but stuff from M&S's own line of beers. I couldn't believe it! Two and a half years ago I had complained that at this oh-so British store you couldn't find any of the very good beers that are brewed in the Isles, and I wasn't the only one, Velký Al had the same complaint and he even started an e-mail campaign to try to change things.

I seriously doubt anyone in M&S paid any attention to our nagging, but I didn't care. At last I was going to be able to drink some of those beers I had heard about. That day I bought a bottle of London Porter brewed by Meantime, who claim to have followed a recipe from 1750 (the presence of wheat malt makes me doubt the historical accuracy). There were others, an Irish Stout brewed by Carlow Brewing co., an Italian Lager brewed by God knows who and a Czech Lager brewed by Regent, but I only had room for one.

A month or so later I went back and found Staffordshire IPA, brewed by Marston's and a Cornish IPA, from St. Austell.

I found a few more later at the branch by the Budějovická metro station. Besides the Stout, there was a Scottish Ale, from Cairgorn, brewed with thistle and ginger.

All in all, the beers are quite good, though at least in two cases, also a bit inconsistent. I liked the Irish Stout a lot the fist time I had it, not so much the second time; while I didn't think too much of the Staffordshire IPA the first time, but was very, very, pleased by it the second time. My favourite so far has been the Cornish IPA, though.

The only real problem with this are the prices. Not because they are high, but because they are unpredictable. When I first bought the London Porter it cost me 70CZK, when I went the second time, the price was well over 100CZK, then I saw it again at 70 or so CZK and the other day they had it at 140CZK (always for 0.5l bottles). The same could be said of the rest. I don't know the reason behind this (I've spoken with someone from the company and they weren't able to give me an answer, either), but it'd be great if they could make up their minds. For example, if I had bought the Porter at 110CZK I don't think I would have been unhappy, but I don't think, either, I would have wanted to buy it again, not when I can get St. Peter's Old Style Porter or Fuller's London Porter, which I believe are better, for a lower price, but if they kept it at 70CZK, I'd gladly buy it more often.

On the other hand, I'm not so sure that Marks & Spencer have much interest in keep on selling this product line here. The beers can't be found anymore at the Budějovická's branch and in Vaclavák they are way too hidden for people to notice them easily, it's almost as if they were ashamed of carrying them. I hope I'm wrong with this and that, consistent prices or not, I will be able to keep on buying these beers in the future. Despite how much, and how well (both in quantity and quality) the offer of imported beers has grown, English beers are still underrepresented here (and not so much for lack of interest from this side, but more because of the lack of flexibility of some brewers there), so it's positive have another channel to get them.

Na Zdraví!

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4 comments:

  1. I don't know much about the interests of M & S, but for example their Palladium branch at Náměstí republiky just begun to offer the aforementioned beers, couple of weeks ago you wouldn't find them there... and yes the prices are not stable at all, I even managed to buy the IPA's at something like 55 CZK and the porter at 65 CZK! Strange marketing tactic if you ask me.

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  2. The Cornish IPA is very similar (although apparently not identical to) their Proper Job, which won the best bottled beer prize at the Great British Beer Festival, and which (as luck would have it) is usually available as a cask beer at our local here in Cornwall. M&S have really upped their game on beer in the last year or two. Their German pils isn't bad either.

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  3. Just picked up a bottle of the Cornish IPA at Novy Smichov... chilling as I write.

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  4. I hope yours won't be as fizzy as mine was yesterday.

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