I was invited to take part in an impromptu tasting of old beers behind our bar at GBBF. I use the term "old" deliberately. These weren't "aged" beers in the sense that they hadn't been kept carefully in a cellar, or some such controlled environment, with a view to tasting them at a later date. Instead, they had come from God knows where and ended up in a CAMRA stall at the beer festival. The carefully controlled conditions they had endured are unknown, but most likely consisted of years of neglect somewhere or other, before ending up being donated to CAMRA, where the most controlled environment waslikely to be a cardboard box on a non temperature controlled warehouse shelf.
We wondered if we were in for a gourmet vinegar session and as the first bottle, M&B Centenary Ale from 1979, was opened with not a hiss, we feared the worst. To our surprise, the beer had loads of carbonation and was as clean as a whistle on the palate. Sherry and dark sugar notes dominated in a good way. It was perfectly drinkable. One of our company remarked that this bottle of beer was brewed long before he was even a twinkle in his dad's eye. Sadly I couldn't say the same, even if then, by way of compensation for that melancholy thought, I had a lot more twinkle then than now.
Our next bottle however wasn't quite so good. Centenary Ale from Home Brewery of Nottingham hadn't endured the years as well. Brewed in 1978, it was still conditioned but exhibited distinct marzipan flavours, as well as considerable stale cardboard notes. You can't win 'em all.
Our next two were really rather good. Both were well carbonated and again showed rich sherry/port like notes.Both were brewed to celebrate the marriage of Prince Charles to the late Diana Spencer. Royal Wedding Ale (1981) from Bourne Valley Brewery was first of the final pair. This was rather a nice bottle with a fired on label. Plenty carbonation again in this one, from a brewery which was then only three years old. (Brewing started in 1978. but, sadly, brewing ceased in October 1985 following a
split in the partnership behind the brewery.) We finished off with Celebration Royale from King and Barnes. King and Barnes were taken over by Hall and Woodhouse in 2001 and the Horsham Brewery closed. They must have known what they were doing though, as this may well have been pick of the bunch, though it mirrored the M&B in many ways with its rich fortified wine flavour.
This was an interesting little interlude and it was good that the surprises were mostly pleasant. Why not have a root through your cupboards? You might just enjoy that old bottle that you find, but even if you don't, you are drinking liquid history. Our host my colleague Ian Garret sourced these beauties for around a pound a piece from the CAMRA memorabilia stall. I have quite a few old bottles at home. One day maybe.
A bit of a CV. Tandleman is a veteran beer lover, local CAMRA Chairman and activist, beer writer, beer reviewer and pursuer of all things good in beer. He lives in the North West of England and London. Despite his CAMRA membership, he does not limit himself to cask conditioned beer, though he believes that cask conditioning, when done correctly and appropriately, brings a quality to beer that is hard to equal by any other kind of presentation. He is a strong supporter of Northern methods of beer dispense and avidly detests poorly presented beer and dislikes pasteurisation. He regularly visits Germany, has conducted corporate British and German beer tastings for CAMRA at the Great British Beer Festival where he has worked for years on Biere Sans Frontieres and was Deputy Organiser at CAMRA's very successful National Winter Ales Festival in 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012 and at the Manchester Beer and Cider Festival from 2013 to date. He admires good brewers wherever they are and has travelled extensively in pursuit of good beer to drink.
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