Rush out now and buy as much Gale’s Prize Old Ale as you can

The new POA – an amazingly complex beer

The news that the Japanese brewing giant Asahi will be closing the Dark Star brewery in Sussex, which it acquired with the purchase of Fuller’s brewery in West London in 2019, is, of course, a tragedy for the people who work there – a Sussex martlet tells me that no attempt is being made to keep the small number of people still employed at Partridge Green within Asahi, as production of Dark Star beers moves to the Meantime brewery in Greenwich.

But as well as the human impact, there is also the new threat to what should be one of Britain’s most celebrated beers, which almost disappeared, which hung on thanks in large part to the passion and dedication of Dark Star’s head brewer, Henry Kirk, and which was relaunched after a resurrection at the Partridge Green brewery literally a couple of weeks before it was announced that the brewery would be closing.

I’m talking, of course, about Gale’s Prize Old Ale, the very last survivor of a tradition of solera-style British stock ales, first brewed at Gale’s brewery in Horndean, Hampshire a century ago, and still being brewed there when Fuller’s acquired Gale’s in 2006. John Keeling, then Fuller’s head brewer, ensured the beer survived by trucking up the last vat of POA, which still contained homeopathic quantities of the FIRST batch of POA, from Hampshire to Chiswick, but was only ever able to persuade his bosses to let him produce two or three more brews of this marvellous beer, rich, strong, deep, sweet-sour, dark, fruity, and umami-laden, thanks to each new brew being blended in to the stored, long-aged predecessor brews.

I wrote an article about POA in Pellicle magazine back in September where I said

If Gale’s Prize Old Ale were a building, it would long ago have been listed Grade 1 by English Heritage as something of exceptional national importance.

Sadly, there was not, 15 or so years ago, the appreciation of sour ales that there is today, and Fuller’s sales team simply did not understand Prize Old Ale, what it was and what it could be. Fortunately John Keeling resisted their calls to pour it away down the drain, and kept 80 hectolitres or so hidden in the Griffin brewery. Earlier this year Henry Kirk had some of that beer conveyed to Sussex, where he brewed a fresh batch of Prize Old Ale to the original Horndean recipe, carefully blended that into the old, well-travelled beer, and then waited while the aged yeasts and bacteria did their job.

An advert from 1928 for one of POA’s now vanished rivals, made by Davenport’s of Birmingham

The result is a marvel: an amazingly complex beer for a brew in one way so young, the sort of deep and fascinating palate (and palette) that beers such as Rodenbach or lambic achieve only after years in Belgian foeders: but then, parts of this beer have been around for a century. Among the flavours you’ll find damsons, dates, apples, stewed prunes, almonds, cherries, brown bread and red grapes, with just enough background tartness to balance the sweet, and a very dry, oily finish. I took two bottles a couple of weeks ago to a beer history conference in the US, and the American brewers and beer lovers who tried it raved over it. What this beer will be like when it actually has some bottle age (apparently there is some yeast in each bottle) I can scarcely wait to find out.

And now it’s all under threat again. When the Partridge Green brewery closes, the left-over POA, which was meant, had all gone as well as Henry Kirk and the POA fan club (which includes me, you might have guessed) hoped, to have been blended into another new batch of the beer brewed in a year or so from now, will be trucked back to Chiswick, where its fate will depend on whether or not Asahi realises what a fantastic potential flagship it has in this beer. Not the least of the problems is that Chiswick does not have the kit for short-run bottling. Apart from 5X at Greene King, there is no other beer like it being brewed in Britain today. It is, very likely, the style of beer that directly inspired Eugène Rodenbach, and if Rodenbach’s beers today are globally admired and venerated, then POA could and should be exactly the same.

I wrote a briefing paper for Henry Kirk back in January this year to support his proposal to Asahi to let him rebrew POA at Dark Star, in which I called the beer “A world classic and a heritage beer for the modern craft drinker”, and said

At a time when craft breweries around the world are installing giant wooden foeders – vats – to mature and age their beers in, and learning how to work with a host of micro-organisms to produce strong ales with the complexity of flavour and depth of taste of the finest wines, Prize Old Ale is both a remarkable century-old survivor and an exciting opportunity. It delivers everything a modern connoisseur of long-aged beers wants, and modern craft brewers are trying to deliver, with an authenticity and antiquity that very, very few other beers can match. The “solera” system used in brewing POA, where a little of each batch is held back to inoculate the following brew as it ferments, ensuring exactly the same micro-organisms get to work on the beer every time, and guaranteeing that the rich fruity flavours, underpinned with a touch of refreshing sourness, are reproduced with every brewing, is an ancient technique that modern craft brewers are only now re-learning as they attempt to make the sort of world-class beer that POA already is.

I said that

… with wood-aged beers, sour beers and the like proving increasingly popular, the time is perfect to show the world that in POA Britain has a beer that is as good as, or better than, any aged Belgian classic, Italian newcomer or American farmhouse-brewed star.

And I concluded that

Gale’s POA is the sort of marketing opportunity a global brewing company should be delighted to have in its portfolio. It has every exciting possibility of being turned into a cult premium beer, that would have a halo effect on the entire brand offering.

It looks as if that argument succeeded, with Henry being granted permission for the rebrew. Now POA’s future is threatened again, with the closure of the Dark Star brewery. So what can YOU do to try to ensure this marvel of a beer, this literally living example of Britain’s brewing heritage, survives? For a start, buy as much of it as you can. Show there is demand for it. Drink some, lay some down for a year, five years, ten years. I guarantee you will not be disappointed. Pester your local bottle shop to stock it, your local craft beer bar to stock it. Pester Asahi UK’s on-line retail outlets:,,

Second, write to Asahi UK and tell them how important this beer is, how important to Asahi it could be, and how Prize Old Ale has the potential to be a global phenomenon. Americans will form long queues for it, Japanese will adore it, Brazilians will attempt to imitate it, Belgians will turn a jealous shade of green. Ultimately, as all arguments involving commercial entities do, this will come down to money. If Asahi is smart, it could make a great deal of money indeed from this 100-year-old beer. I won’t doxx them by giving email addresses, but these are the people to send your letters to: Timothy Clay, managing director, Asahi UK, Sam Rhodes, marketing director, Asahi UK, and Stephen Young, sales director, Asahi UK, all at Asahi House, Chertsey Road, Woking, Surrey, GU21 5BJ. Tell them it will be bonuses all round if they let POA become the world-famous beer it should be.

31 thoughts on “Rush out now and buy as much Gale’s Prize Old Ale as you can

  1. I remember drinking Gales Prize Old Ale at the Star Inn, Weyhill and at the Peat Spade, Longstock many moons ago, when I lived in Andover. It was delicious stuff and I will be joining the campaign to keep it going, as well as trying to get hold of some of the latest iteration.

    I also remember, close to Christmas, drinking Gales Winter Brew, which I was told was a blend of HSB and Prize Old Ale. It was certainly a fine pint! Do you know if that was a fact?

  2. Sorry, Martyn, but I can tell you from personal experience (having worked for them) that nobody at Asahi understands what you are (quite rightly) saying.
    There’s nobody there that knows anything about beer. They know about branding, marketing and gimmicks, but beer? No.
    They would have no idea how to market a beer like POA – they didn’t even know how to market Meantime. Frankly it doesn’t surprise me that they are closing Dark Star – if it’s not Peroni they aren’t really interested. They’re not even interested in Pilsner Urquell, for God’s sake.
    An Asahi sales manager who I once approached about training his staff (which was my job) told me that his sales team “are not here to talk bollocks about hops, they’re here to sell brands.”

    It was criminal when Fullers bought Gales just for their estate of pubs and closed the brewery -quite apart from POA, I miss HSB, a lovely best bitter (best bitter is an especially endangered style, I believe).
    My sources here in West Dorset tell me that the pub-owning Fullers (not Asahi) are now trying to close in on Palmers, Bridport’s old-established brewery. Obviously, not being brewers anymore, this part of Fullers doesn’t want the brewery or the excellent traditional beers, they just want the estate, and will close the brewery down. Is there no limit to the damage that either (or both) Fullers entities will do?
    Boycott Fullers now. Apart from buying up all the POA you can get (fat chance for me down here in the deepest West Country).

  3. I don’t think that Greene King are brewing Strong Suffolk at present (5X is a component). I asked in the brewery shop a few months ago, but they mentioned some time in the autumn. I was clearly not the only person to have asked. Just checked their website. – nothing, except dull beer. Has another unique and marvellous beer style just been axed? We should be told.

    1. I could be wrong, but I thought there was a bit of 5X in the Old Crafty Hen that they were selling at some point. Have they discontinued that too? (I quite liked it).

  4. “Not the least of the problems is that Chiswick does not have the kit for short-run bottling”
    Meantime would be able to do that at Greenwich, if required.
    Of course the bottles wouldn’t be corked, but you can’t have everything…
    (I believe that Harvey’s used to get Gales to bottle (and cork) their Imperial Russian Stout for them, which of course stopped when Gales closed. Yet more destruction of tradition).

    1. According to John Keeling, it was the corks that were the reason why so many bottles of the last brewings of POA at Horndean were flat as the plains of Nullarbor, so corking is not necessarily good …

          1. If you look at a champagne cork, you’ll see it’s a layered construction designed to ensure no CO2 leaks out. Tne corks in POA were like ordinary wine corks.

    1. Having now opened my first bottle of the latest batch, I can definitely confirm that there is something which I presume is yeast in the bottom of the bottle. It is liquid and sticks fairly tenaciously to the glass.
      Whether this is viable enough to start up a culture for brewing, I wouldn’t be able to say without trying it myself.
      Sometimes, after the actual brewing yeast is exhausted, the beer being bottled is seeded with a little fresh (usually dried) yeast to promote a little bottle conditioning. *If* (and that is an real “if”) this is what has happened here, the yeast might be sufficient to start a culture, but be aware it is not the yeast that enabled the fermentation of the beer. If it is actually the yeast from fermentation, I would have thought that there is a good chance that it is insufficientl vigourous for further fermentation, but you never know.
      The only way to find out is to try it.

      1. The sediment at the bottom should be, if not pasteurised, a miniature sample of their mixed culture with which they do the solera brewing.

        The yeast for the main fermentation is the standard Gale’s yeast, aka Wyeast 1332 or WLP041. So if you use the sediment for the secondary fermentation only, you should be able to clone the beer. I’ll definitely try that as soon as I get my bottles.

        1. There is certainly sediment (I can’t analyse it, as I’m now retired, but it does look like yeast), which could be the yeast from the “solera” tank. However, the beer from the original solera at Gales has now been transferred and moved several times so you’d have to wonder how much of that still remains in the beer.

          Alternatively, the bottles *could* have been have been pasteurised and seeded with fresh yeast. I mean that it’s possible, it wouldn’t be an irrational thing to do.
          As I said above, if they did seed it (as a brewery where I used to work did) to encourage bottle condition and avoid bottles of flat beer, you won’t be cloning POA with the bottle sediment.

          Good luck with it anyway.

    2. Be careful, there is a Whitbread related yeast strain used in the fermentation but the true difference is the long period it was tanked with a finishing yeast, a Brittanomycese (sp?) (wild or lambic origin) supplied from the previous brew which has been held back.
      I have tried using recovered yeasts from bottles as far back as 1977 but it doesn’t work for either primary or secondary fermentation so must contain cultures of both, the volume of old POA added to the new must have some effect apart from the yeast.
      The query regarding Winter Brew, yes blended from POA and HSB, I used to ‘play’ with their steam engine in the 70’s and seldom left without a pint to help me on my way. RIP all three – never found beers as good anywhere else

    1. Yeah Henry mentioned they had unprecedented demand and temporarily withdrawn from sale while they bottle (and wax!) another 1300

  5. I’ve got a friend currently in Brighton, would be cool if he could bring one back. Anybody know where those could be bought in that area? None on the website at the moment.

    1. From the 1992 Real Ale Almanac:
      OG 1.092, ABV 9%+, 53 IBU, 90 EBC
      Maris Otter 88%, Black malt 2%, “Sugar” 10%
      Fuggle for bittering and aroma, Goldings for aroma

      Yeast is know to be the Wyeast 1332 or WLP041.

  6. Does anybody know how long yeast stays active in the bottle? I have 6 original bottles of Prize Old Ale unopened with original corks. 4 of them still have the red foil wrapping covering the cork. They all say OG 1092-1097. One of them has a best before indicator on the side of the label with a range of months Jan – Dec and years 88 – 92. I don’t suppose they will taste so good now. i live just down the road from the old Brewery. Still remember the taste of the original HSB and buying takeaway packs from the Brewery at Christmas time.

    1. It’s quite possible the yeast in those bottles is still viable – you’d have to open them and test the contents.

  7. December 2023 and I have only just discovered this page and thread, having just bought an original Gales Corker POA (sadly nip size only) on eBay! However, following the link to Dark Star in one of the November 2022 comments above, I find that you guys HAVE been successful in persuading Dark Star to reissue POA. I have just ordered a crate of 12 bottles from them.
    A BIG thank you to the owner of this page and everyone who petitioned for the future of POA! I should add that my late father introduced me to POA sometime around 1976 when he moved house to Petersfield in East Hants where Gales HSB and POA could often be found on local pubs.

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