I recently spotted Marston’s Pedigree VSOP at 6.7% ABV, retailing at £2.25 for a 500ml bottle (67p a unit). The bottle label says this “delivers a rich complex pale ale with an opulent and luxurious finish”. The one I sampled was distinctly lighter than its Greene King counterparts, but didn’t really seem to drink its strength, and – in common with several other Marston’s bottled ales – demonstrated poor head retention. There is another in the cupboard awaiting a second opinion. Another one from the Marston’s stable is Wychwood King Goblin (6.6%), which I haven’t tried yet, but which didn’t impress The Ormskirk Baron.
It’s interesting that nobody from the anti-drink lobby has yet seized on this phenomenon, as they surely would if Inbev came up with a 6.7% ABV Stella brand extension. But, on the other hand, the fact that these beers sell for more per unit than their lower-strength counterparts, and that ales of this strength tend to be too rich and heavy to drink rapidly in quantity, means that in reality they have little to worry about. This category does seem to be here to stay, though, and it will be interesting to watch out for the other major producers of premium bottled ales coming up with their own variations on the style.