Thursday, January 31, 2008

The Session- Barley Wine

A Question of Style

There is often a fair bit of debate about where the line is drawn between old ales and barley wines. The beer I have chosen for this session, Gales Prize Old Ale, is often considered to be an old ale and indeed contains the word old in its name. However it seems to me that both World Beer Cup and BJCP style guides for Old Ale and Barley Wine have a vary wide scope. The contemporary ‘old ale style’ seems to draw its ancestry from sweet dark fruity Burton Ale at the lower end of its gravity and strong aged tawny October Ale* at the top, quite a range!

The contemporary ‘barley wine style’ also draws its ancestry from October Ale, with American versions showing a family resemblance to another of October Ale’s descendants, India Pale Ale. I would argue that there is no significant difference between strong old ales and barley wines.

A Very Precious Beer

In March 2006 the Horndean Brewery was closed following the purchase of George Gale & Co by Fullers in 2005. It was widely believed that following the closure of the brewery Prize Old Ale ,which relied on antique equipment, would be lost for ever. Fullers announced during the following year that they did intend to continue production of Prize Old Ale and then after I raised the issue on beer-pages here Fullers PR manager Georgina Wald confirmed that a Chiswick brewed version was about to be bottled.

Whether Fullers have been successful at matching the character of Horndean brewed Prize Old remains to be seen, what is for sure is that the only Horndean brewed Prize Old Ale I am ever likely to drink in the future sits in my cellar.

The Calvados of the Beer World

Michael Jackson once compared Prize Old Ale to Calvados apple brandy from Normandy. The beer certainly does display an enormously complex range of fruit and vinous aromas and flavours which slowly develop, meld and change as the beer ages. Horndean Prize Old was bottle conditioned by simply running the ale into bottles un-primed with only its residual yeast count to give it condition. As I have discovered with certain vintages of my own Merchant of the Devil Imperial Stout bottling in this manor accentuates the esters and promotes vinous oxidative characters to form in the beer.

With my own experience of Calvados being non-existent (I’m more of a port man myself) my description of the 2004 vintage went like this:

Big vinous fruit aroma, hints of caramel , and nutty malt. On the palate the vinous notes turn decidedly raisin, with hints of prunes and alcohol warmth, surprisingly the malt weight is relatively low with dry alcohol cleaning things up nicely. A truly exceptional beer.

Michael Jackson also once wrote of Prize Old Ale “Is there any beer that better accompanies a roquefort or stilton?” on this I am in complete agreement.

*October Ales or Beers were strong highly hopped beers brewed in the Autumn to mature through the winter and spring and be tapped in mid summer when the heat made brewing small beers


Martin said...

I was lucky enough to get some Prize Old Ale from the last Horndean batch to serve on draught. It was very interesting - some sourness from the wild yeast in there. In fact, if I hadn't had the head brewer from Fullers on hand to reassure me that it was OK, I may not have served it.

A nice beer and it will be interesting to see what Fullers have done with it.

Greig McGill said...

I have two of the 2003 batch in my cellar. Too scared to open and consume... I wonder when the "right" time is?

Kieran Haslett-Moore said...

The bottle I used for the photo was 2003 it was tasting great!

Anonymous said...

Before coming over to Dublin in late 1999 I lived in Hampton Wick not far from Hampton Court Palace,in the Village was The White Hart a Fuller's PH,their range of beers was good and their Golden Pride (brewed in the bottle)was 10.75%SG,it went very well with ESB,which if taken care of rates as a pretty good Ale.I feel with their old History and quality beers Fuller's will do Gales Ales proud.As for Barley Wine it was regarded hundreds of years ago as an Owld English Ale and along with real Cyder was giver to Farm Workers as Wages (pity the old traditions die,caqn you imagin working your PC after a few,Hic!,Hic!!