17 October 2007

Marks, but few sparks

You'd think by now I'd have got over the fact that multinational supermarkets totally stiff their Irish customers on beer selection, but no: here I go again. Tesco are the worst offenders, but even Lidl offers a much superior beer range 80 miles up the road in the UK.

So I was delighted to see Marks & Spencer had seen some sense and graced the shelves of their Irish stores with three bottled offerings. First up is an Italian lager called Birra D'Oro. It's a rather gassy and bland affair. Slightly dry, but otherwise unworthy of note. I presume they're going for something resembling Nastro Azzurro, not one of the world's great beers, but they've even failed at that. More vapid than vaporetto.

Next is a Belgian witbier, innovatively titled Bière Blanche. It pours a very pale yellow and is not so much cloudy as slightly misty. Bizarrely there's no aroma. The orange zest listed in the ingredients does come through in the flavour in a sort of sherberty way. However, this is a cipher of a witbier. €3 I won't see again.

I figured I would do better with M&S Irish Stout, knowing that it is contract brewed by the Carlow Brewing Company, makers of the excellent O'Hara's. The first thing to confirm my prejudice was the superb head retention. This was followed by a rich, full bitter chocolate and roasted barley flavour. Excellent stuff, but not quite up to the standard of bottled O'Hara's and 20c dearer too. (O'Hara's on draught, incidentally, is nitrogenated: better than Guinness, obviously, but a touch flavourless.)

Of course, the feeling that M&S were looking after us didn't last long, with the announcement of their new range of bottle conditioned beers which have yet to arrive here. Whether they ever will remains to be seen. I'm pessimistic.

And that brings me to my second pet peeve. Birra D'Oro, says the label, is "Brewed in Italy", not "Italia"; Bière Blanche "Brewed in Belgium", not "België/Belgique". Yet for some bizarre reason, the stout is "Brewed in Eire", not Ireland. What's that about, apart from poor spelling?


  1. It sounds better. Rest assured, they have tested this with a consumer panel, and they thought Eire had a more authentic feeling.

  2. Would have been more authentic if they'd spelled it correctly (Éire), but then you wouldn't want it looking scarily foreign, I suppose.

  3. I used to have an Irish colleague (actually she was more than a colleague for a while) who once went absolutely spare at me for referring to Ireland as "the Irish Republic". It seems the whole national nomenclature issue is a thorny one.

    The M&S Irish Stout is cracking - just too expensive at £2.20 here in the UK.

  4. It is pretty straightforward, if not very intuitive. "The Irish Republic" was a short-lived entity of dubious legality, declared by the rebels in 1916 but never really actualised politically. Independent Ireland was called "The Irish Free State" to begin with, and then just "Ireland" after it became a republic. "The Republic of Ireland" is the state's official description, and hence what the soccer team play as, but it is bizarrely not synonymous with "The Irish Republic".

    While "Éire", being Irish for "Ireland", is the real name of the country, its use in an English language context is incongruous, and also usually ungrammatical as "Éire" is the nominative case, whereas a line like "Brewed in Ireland" would use the dative (I think), which is "Éirinn".

    Where beer and politics and grammar meet, there will you find me.

    Totally agree about the price of the stout, mind.