Name – Pedigree V.S.O.P – (Very Special Old Pale)
Brewer – Marston's
Classification – Strong Pale Ale.
Strength – 6.7%
Verdict - At A Glance
On the eye – Creamy bronze. Elegant.
On the nose – Malt whiskey. Oranges. All of it subtle. A veritable slumbering giant of a fragrance.
On the tongue – Skilfully pitched balance of taste and strength. Semi-nuclear pale ale with an impossible array of subtle flavours.
On the subject – Brewed by Marston's. Need I go on?
On the market – Not everywhere, but certain big stores are upping their stock. The guys over at Burton can help.
On the whole – 7.5/10
Only a brewery with a pedigree (cheap pun) like Marston's would ever dare to name one of it's beers 'Very Special.'
This is a fact we should all be pretty thankful for. I mean, just imagine the alternate reality, in which any old brewer felt able to name it's beers whatever they pleased... our supermarket shelves would be littered with brews named “Unbeatable”, “Peerless And Mighty” or “Our Competitors Should Get On Their Knees.”
Mercifully, we do not live in that world – and the reason why we don't live there is because companies like Marston's exist to help maintain the status quo. I'm referring to the status quo within which most other brewer's remain ever so slightly outside of their comfort zone. The hard-edged reality we live in is one in which companies like Marston's brew marvellous beers with marvellous regularity, they keep everyone else on their toes, and almost nobody who understands beer would ever think to dispute this.
However, in all honesty, is any brewer in the known universe – however marvellous their skills and reputation may be – really applying good judgement buy naming one of their products “Very Special” before it even hits the market?
The answer to this question, in case you were wondering, is conveniently provided by this quite spectacular pale ale - and that answer, very simply, is 'yes'.
Now, allow me to bring some important clarity to this high praise, because clarification is certainly needed. This drink is not the best beer in the world. Not nearly. The reason for this is simple – no beer over 6.5% ABV could ever lay claim to such a title. How's that for a provocative statement! I do hope to be proved wrong some day soon... In the meanwhile, for a pale ale which does overstep that mark, this beer is a pretty splendid example.
On this subject of strength, though - many people would agree that there is a point at which the alcoholic content of some beers becomes the chief quality of their character. The magic number for this point, for me at least, is around 6.5% ABV. Beyond this strength, the sheer 'wow factor' of the booze content can take over from any subtly of flavour or nuance of blend. Not that high strength is a bad thing, by any means. On the contrary, I've always said that when it comes to beer – strength is my weakness. But what V.S.O.P does so well, is to recognize these boundaries – and play with them. It nudges itself up to the point where alcoholic content becomes dominant, and it cleverly keeps itself on the tasty side of the line.
This shows impressive judgement from the brewers, but then, these guys do happen to be – in the opinion of very many beer lovers worldwide – one of the very finest producers of ale to be found this side of the asteroid belt.
So there you are... my secret is out. I think Marston's are pretty okay.
And what's more, I'm not ashamed.
So go ahead. Sue me.
In the meantime, I've got just a few drops left to savour and delight in...