Overseas Beer Cache: M&S Staffordshire IPA

As I think I’ve mentioned before, China’s beer availability is miles ahead of Korea’s. So, when I see something new, I feel a distinct need to see if it will fill the void in my heart.

This time I chose the Staffordshire India Pale Ale, an exclusive to the department store Marks & Spencer.

While shopping the other day spotted the Staffordshire India Pale –among a handful of other exclusive beers– in the store’s cold case.

Sold at 30RMB for 500ml, this beer is comparable in price to most specialty brews individually sold at foreigner-oriented grocers like City Shop around Shanghai.  India Pales are a rarity, so I couldn’t pass it up.

The bottle states the beer actually produced by Marston’s Brewery, which has a long history of brewing ales in the UK. According to RateBeer the Staffordshire IPA is an alias for the now-retired Marston’s India Export Ale.

The Staffordshire pours nicely with a full, frothy head. It had a distinct amber color and a nice frothy head. On initial inspection, it lacked any sort of distinct smell of hops. There was a hint of malt, but its (lack of a) smell had me a little worried about the taste.

Coming from California, I think I have different expectations of my India Pale Ales. American IPAs are known for their aroma and distinct bitterness and intense taste. Given that it’s almost impossible to find a bottled IPA in Shanghai, I didn’t have any expectation for the Staffordshire whatsoever.

More Information on BeerAdvocate

In short: Staffordshire IPA was a pleasant surprise. In true English IPA style, the Cascade, Fuggles and Goldings hops were not front-loaded for an in your face hop punch. It had a mild, but distinct bitterness that would be an excellent first entry into this particular ale style for the common lager drinker. The back label indicates Staffordshire’s “taste intensity” rating is six. I’m not sure what kind of metric was used, but it somehow felt accurate.

While the initial taste wasn’t particularly intense, its aftertaste definitely was. It left a citrusy flavor that finished it off nicely. The malt was definitely there, but not overpowering, and left a crisp taste to finish.

While attempting to find out more information about the beer’s history, I came across a review that succinctly described its taste:

“Initially not a particularly interesting beer, it grew on me as I got towards the bottom of the glass and the bitterness started to build up,” wrote Beer Pole.

Overall, I was pleasantly surprised by Staffordshire’s quality for a brew I would stumble across in Asia. While its 30RMB price is decent (with a 20 percent markup from the UK price), I’m unsure if I will buy it as often as Stone IPA or Green Flash Imperial IPA in the United States. In the end, it will be welcomed change of pace whenever I find myself wandering into Marks & Spencer on West Nanjing Road.

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