It’s a clickbait beer, of course, a meme ale, designed at least in part to get as many mentions on social media as possible. And yet … perhaps because I’m a big fan of Marmite, I rather liked Camden Town Brewery’s Marmite Ale, made with actual Marmite as one of the ingredients. You wouldn’t want to stick on it all night for a session, but as a lightly chilled accompaniment to, say, barbecued steaks it would do very well.
Curiously the “base beer” is Camden’s Hells lager, rather than an ale, though the recipe has been tweaked with the addition of some smoky Rauch malt – smoked malt itself being a Marmite-like divider of popular taste into haters and lovers. Again, I enjoy smoky beers, in moderation, and the degree of smokiness in Marmite Ale has been pitched pretty much perfectly, underlining this as a barbecue beer.
The whole point of Marmite, of course, is that it is a umami bomb, loaded with glutamates, and humans react strongly to umami, apparently because our brains identify foods that stimulate a high umami reaction as containing essential proteins. Other high-umami foods include tomatoes, and I found a distinct tomato note in Marmite Beer, which was actually pleasant rather than the turn-off one might have expected.
Umami is found naturally in other beers, notably very strong ales and very strong stouts, and the source here is probably the same as with Marmite: autolysed yeasts, which release umami flavours when they die. Marmite is made, as I’m sure you know, at Burton upon Trent, using yeast from the big breweries still based in Burton, and also from other breweries around the country, and the Marmite factory was opened in Burton in 1902, making the brand 120 years old next year.
I ordered a four-pack of Marmite Ale though the post, and gave a couple of cans to my brother, another Marmite fan. I haven’t seen it on sale in any outlets local to me, sadly, as I’d like to try a few FAB pairings: I suspect Marmite Ale with margherita pizza would work very well, as would a Welsh rarebit made with Marmite Ale. Marmite Ale with sausages, Marmite Ale with smoky bacon, Marmite Ale with macaroni cheese – this is not the most sophisticated beer ever made, and the food pairings it suggests are also far from cordon bleu, but I suspect they would be delicious.