Chris Hall reviews Marston’s Old Empire
Before I begin singing the praises of this masterful interpretation of India Pale Ale, I need to get something out of the way. I can’t stand ales packaged in clear glass bottles. It drives me mad. Why Marston’s, or indeed any brewer, does it I have no idea. It increases the chance of the beer spoiling (becoming lightstruck or ‘skunked’ by UV rays, hence beer being traditionally bottled in green or brown glass) and it cheapens the beer’s appearance. Old Empire’s label however is fantastic, one of the few to actually acknowledge IPA’s journey with a rather lovely embossed detail of a tall ship.
The liquid is bright, glowing amber, generating a tight, white head the second it hits the bottom of the glass. The smells here are more hop than malt, but are incredibly appetising. Bunches of freshly sliced tropical fruits are thrust under your nose, whilst a rich, biscuity aroma laden with toffee lingers in the background. It really is a fantastic mixture of smells.
The moment it hits your tongue, that toffee flavour works quickly to coat your tongue, paving the way for punch after punch of spicy hops on its way to the back of your throat. The hops keep going long after you swallow, and the finish is quite simply spectacular, as the toffee flavour returns to blend beautifully with the lasting crackle of the bittering hops.
The body is lighter than that of say, White Shield, but it never lacks in flavour. This is brilliantly crafted pale ale, and it is about as refreshing as a beer can be at this strength. You feel as though you are in the hands of a professional, and can really relax as you are guided through a masterclass in flavoursome, pale refreshment.
With Old Empire’s feisty and potent hop character, it is easy to see the link from this particular fashion of powerful pale ale to the more modern, American-style hop-bomb IPAs. One of my only reservations about this beer is the feeling that New World hops have been used in place of traditional English varieties, but this is more like an adaptation than betrayal. Old Empire is a beer that succeeds in reaching back to the past, whilst retaining enough personality and sheer class to belong in the present, and the future, of IPA.