Beautiful beer lost in the vaults since 1869
From the UK Telegraph websiteÂ
It was brewed in the year that the Suez Canal opened, Charles Dickens embarked on one of his last literary tours and the Cutty Sark was launched in Scotland.
But the recently-discovered cache of 1869 ale should have been undrinkable, given the conventional brewing wisdom that even the best beers are supposed to last no more than a couple of decades. Beer experts, however, say the 137-year-old brew tastes “absolutely amazing”.
The Victorian beer was part of a cache of 250 vintage bottles found in the vaults of Worthington’s White Shield brewery in Burton-on-Trent. The bottles will not be sold and have yet to be valued.
According to Steve Wellington, Worthingon White Shield’s head brewer, said: “It was always rumoured that there were some vintage beers on site but no one had bothered to taste them because it was assumed they wouldn’t be drinkable.
“Uncovering such an interesting collection is fantastic, the most exciting discovery ever made in British brewing. I assumed they would taste awful. But they had the most astonishing, complex flavours.”
The bottles were sealed with corks and wax and stored in even, cool temperatures, in the dark and placed on their side to stop the corks drying out.
One of a handful of people to have tasted the 137-year-old beer is Mark Dorber, a beer connoisseur and publican at the award-winning White Horse in Parson’s Green, London, who has the largest range of bottled beers in Britain.
“It’s amazing that beers this antique can still taste so delicious,” he said. â€œEstablished wisdom would say beers this old should taste of vinegar, damp rags and Marmite. Instead, many show flavours of raisins and sultanas, baked apple and honey. The oldest â€“ the 1869 Ratcliff Ale â€“ is bright and luminous like an ancient Amontillado sherry and has a meaty character like smoked partridge with hints of molasses. It’s amazing it tastes this good after 137 years.”
The find includes ales brewed to commemorate royal events, including one made by the late Earl Spencer to mark the birth of Prince William in 1982. Another was brewed in 1977 for the Queenâ€™s Silver Jubilee.
The Ratcliff ale commemorates the birth of Harry Ratcliff into the brewing family which became part of the Bass, Ratcliff and Gretton empire. All the beers were bottle conditioned, which means they were allowed to develop and mature after they were corked, like a wine. They were also strong – around 10 per cent proof.
The high alcohol content, similar to barley wine, stopped them deteriorating.
George Philliskirk, the chief executive of the Beer Academy, which runs beer tasting sessions for the public, said: “It has always been known that beers with higher alcohol levels age far longer than less alcoholic beers. As hops are preservatives, beers with a lot of hops in them, such as India pale ales, have long been known to have great ageing potential.
“But this is remarkable, especially since the oldest beer tastes so fresh.
“This shows a potential for vintage beers to be taken seriously. Some top restaurants have started providing beer lists. Perhaps they should start including vintage brews.”
The beers will be recorked to preserve them and displayed at the Museum of Brewing at Coors Visitor Centre in Burton.