by Daniel Burt
(Beer Delegate, Japan)
Marston's Firestoker: watch for the smoky oak aftertaste
The bar is deathly silent. All eyes are trained on one sole, downtrodden figure. Somewhere in the far distance, a dog barks.
"Sorry!" demands the incredulous barman "You say that again please?" he asks, almost accusingly.
"...A pint of that fruit beer please, mate." The solitary figure mumbles. His request inflected with a stifled melancholy that belies the knowledge that soon, he'll be subjected to jeering, mockery and abuse until his friends become too drunk to coherently form swear words.
Fruit beer in hand, he walks that loneliest of miles back to the table where his friends regard him momentarily; at best he is an unsettling curiosity, at worst an outright pervert.
So goes the law of beer: It will contain hops, yeast, starch and water. The addition of fruit is subversive, dangerous and frankly a bit girlish.
However, this confrontation with my small-minded and bigoted companions could so easily have been avoided.
After all, with a name like Marston's Firestoker, who would suspect that it would contain both hints of cherry and a lick of vanilla?
Through the bottle we can see that Marston's Firestoker itself is a light brew, pale almost, which upon pouring seems in stark contrast to the head, such as it is, which is meagre and soon dissipates. The nostrils are assailed by what some might find a miasmic and cloyingly sweet aroma which certainly betrays the presence of vanilla.
I think at this early stage we can already eliminate the olfactory bitter drinker (I'm a huge fan of sweeping generalisations, so much easier than actually learning "facts"). Frankly, I can tell that this won't really appeal to people who want some bite to their bitter, as the hops were clearly not the dominant factor in this beer... Blimey, it's been a rollercoaster of emotions already and I've not even had a sip yet.
Unsurprisingly, the taste is smooth – so much so in fact that it does seem to initially lack kick. The blurb from the bottle also suggests we can enjoy "a subtle note of cherry and vanilla", but really, it's subtle in the same way as a nuclear war.
Don't get me wrong, it's a lot more successful than the time I had to add Tango to Gin for want of a better mixer (that night I slept in the recovery position to avoid choking on my own vomit – remember, safety first kids!), but I can imagine it polarising the hundreds of thousands of readers who are no doubt hanging on my every sweet word.
So, is it one step up from drinking cheeky Vimto? Well... the lack of edge is initially a little disappointing, though certainly doesn’t stop Marston's Firestoker initially going down well; it is smooth and it is light.
Towards the end of the pint, Marston's renowned brewing technique comes through with the familiar smoky oak aftertaste providing an interesting counterpoint to the supercilious tang of the vanilla. How effectively these two play off each other is down to the drinker's own discretion. I found it enjoyable mix, though some might find them irreconcilable.
The addition of both cherry and vanilla more or less necessitates the need to chill the beer. Elementary really, but at room temperature I can't imagine this being an appetising prospect. Drinking it at pace did also grant a slight fuzzy feeling as the 5% ABV did its glorious work, coupled with perhaps an almost imperceptible sugar high, obviously not as blatant as the double vodka-redbull combo (the drink manifesto of the idiot... ahh, happy days), but still quite uplifting nonetheless.
Depending how you like your beer, Marston's Firestoker is either an enjoyable one off, or a sickly sweet, devil's concoction. Personally, I found the first bottle very enjoyable as an anomaly of real ale.
Though really, after that, the vanilla extract does become a little too overbearing even for my sugary palette. Still though, a nice enough starting point before moving onto something with a little more bite.