Endangered beers

Beers, like animals, can be endangered species: some can even go extinct. Nobody’s seen West Country White Ale in the wild for more than 125 years.

Camra, I’m very pleased to say, has recently decided that it could be doing much more than Make May a Mild Month for promoting endangered beers, and has set up a Beer Styles Working Group to look at ways of plugging and encouraging endangered beer styles of all sorts.

I’ve managed to blag my way onto the working group, mostly because I’m keen to point out to Camra members, and beer festival organisers (and brewers) that endangered beer styles in Britain go a long way beyond mild, stout and porter, and to try to get the other half-dozen or more endangered British beer styles recognition and promotion as well: and maybe even get some of the extinct beers remade. (That’s the advantage of beer: it may turn out to be impossible to resurrect the mammoth, but reproducing a vanished beer style generally only requires the will, a recipe and the right ingredients.)

So what ARE Britain’s vulnerable and endangered (and extinct) beer styles? Here’s my personal checklist: Continue reading

Watch out for Fuller’s whisky beer

Some time in the next couple of months or so, when things get a little quieter for the summer, Fuller’s brewery at Chiswick in West London is going to be brewing its own version of Gale’s Prize Old Ale for the first time.

The current version, reviewed enthusiastically here, was brewed at Gale’s brewery just before it closed in 2006, then shipped to Chiswick for maturing, before being primed and bottled late last year and released in the spring.

It’s a deliciously sour-sweet dark Old Ale, 9 per cent alcohol by volume, in a style that almost disappeared, and I am delighted John Keeling, Fuller’s director of brewing, is continuing to make it available for future years.

John has solved the problem of reproducing the microflora and fauna found at Gale’s Horndean, Hampshire home, which gave the beer much of its particular flavours, by saving 40 hectolitres of the Gale’s-brewed POA to add to the maturing Fuller’s POA. The beer will be kept in tanks for 12 months, then bottled and released some time around October 2009 – with 40 hectolitres again held back for priming the next batch …

Meanwhile Fuller’s is also due to finally release its whisky beer some time in the coming month. I spoke about the problems Fuller’s had with HM Revenue and Customs over trying to sell a beer that has matured in former whisky casks here _ funnily, Scots brewers don’t seem to have the same difficulty in getting permission to do the same thing.

The problem is that whisky leaches out of the cask into the beer, raising its alcohol level. However, John Keeling says, the brewery has found that if it releases the whisky cask-matured beer at a lower ABV than the beer was when it originally went into the casks – water it down, in other words – then the brewery can put it on sale.

Golden Pride, 8.5 per cent abv, was the beer that went into the casks, so Fuller’s will be selling its whisky beer at 7.5 per cent, the taxman will be happy and so, I am sure, will the customers be: I see that when I tried Golden Pride matured in ex-Glenmorangie casks at the Thornbridge brewery seminar on wood-aged beers last October I described it as

indisputably changed by its experience, with an oaky sweetness, and citrus and orange more noticeable than in the “straight” beer, it would make a good “after dinner” winder-down.”

Bring it on.

The Prize goes to Fuller’s

When Fuller’s announced in 2005 that it was acquiring Gale’s of Horndean, I couldn’t get very upset, in large part because I was angry at what Prize Old Ale had been allowed to become.

This should have been a proud and heavily promoted flag-carrier for British beer, about the last survivor of the “strong old ale” type made by almost every brewery in the country in the 19th century, still bottle-conditioned at a stomping nine per cent alcohol by volume and still, amazingly, available in corked bottles.

By the beginning of the 21st century, however, there was something very wrong: when you opened the bottles the ale inside was utterly flat, showing no condition at all, and the flavour was one-dimensional and over-sweet. Gale’s apparently bottled Prize Old Ale without adding extra priming sugar or yeast, relying on the yeast cells still in the beer, and the unfermented sugars that remained after the primary fermentation, to bring it into condition. Obviously, whatever the yeast used to do in the bottle in the past, it wasn’t up to the job any more. But nobody at Gale’s seemed to care, and what should have been a triumph was a disaster and an embarrassment.

The news that one last brewing of Prize Old Ale had taken place at the Gale’s brewery in Horndean just before it closed in March 2006, and the fermented beer had then been trucked up to Fuller’s brewery in Chiswick for maturing, gave me a little hope. At Horndean the beer was apparently matured for six to 12 months. Fuller’s looks to have taken at least 19 months: the last Horndean Prize Old Ale was only bottled in December last year, given the three months that Fuller’s likes to give its bottle-conditioned ales before it puts them on sale (believing they take that long to settle down after bottling), and they were released to the public in March.

Continue reading