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29-04-2014, 08:50
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And so I tried several of the Marston’s revivalist beers over the weekend, which the postman had struggled up the path with: I enjoyed the Dark IPA and the Steam Beer, though my brow furrowed at the Saison, which I thought miles away from what I recognise a saison to be; it was lacking in austerity and flintiness and felt fat and ale-like on the palate. There was some boiled lemon sweetness but it confirmed the view that I had felt when first drinking it at Craft Beer Rising: it wasn’t a saison, even though the right yeast was used. It was drinkable but if you are going to call something a saison I would expect it to have some of its characteristics. Hey ho. Several months before, I had also tried the Greene King speciality beers with which the postman had struggled up the path and enjoyed a couple and felt let down by the rest. But at least they’re trying I thought.

However, the other thing that the beers propelled into the forefront of my thoughts was a memory of InBev’s Artois Bock, which perhaps one could say was one of the first attempts by a massive brewery to go all craft. Released in 2005 after much tasting and contemplation by the likes of Michael Jackson and Mark Dorber, it had, according to a piece I wrote in the Morning Advertiser at the time, ‘a smart stainless steel font and bespoke glassware, while quirky ads told the trade of this new arrival in what was called the “Artois family”’. No mention of the taste then.

One of my main memories of it was that in 2005 I was in my first year as secretary of the British Guild of Beer Writers and one of our major awards was sponsored by Artois Bock and InBev, which didn’t go down well with some members (InBev had announced the closure of the Hoegaarden brewery at the time). It was served at the Guild’s awards and dinner (and untouched by some) along with caramelized boneless quail with grapes, shallots and a Fuller’s Honey Gold reduction, accompanied by sweet and sour endive; meanwhile a wine writer won the eponymous award. The Artois family was then joined by something called Peeterman, an ethereal (read bland) light beer and then the ‘oak-aged’ lager Eiken Artois — all went the way of the ark in 2008.

I suppose it was all an attempt to give the brewers of Stella a bit of an upmarket cache, but as soon as I saw bottles of the Bock knocked down to £1 in the supermarkets I guessed the beer’s days were numbered — the beer was ok, but I seem to recall being underwhelmed by its character, disappointed, especially as the tasting notes on a chalkboard in the White Horse seemed to bear little relationship to what was in my glass (I blamed myself). Meanwhile, Peeterman was incredibly watery and I never even bothered to try Eiken.

I hope that the larger breweries continue to produce their niche beers, if only to demonstrate that their brewers can make good beers beyond the ones they make day in and day out (I also hope that they can perform that great mythical dance of being a ‘gateway beer’). However, if you see the bottles discounted in the supermarket then remember Artois Bock, the beery Nineveh of its day.

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