Goose Island Brewery Yard Stock Pale Ale

Brewery Yard beer bottle by candlelight.

A meticulously recreated 19th Century pale ale produced with the close involvement of beer historian Ron Pattinson? Yes please.

As with the Fuller’s Past Masters beers, there was never a moment’s doubt that we had to taste Goose Island Brewery Yard, but the talked-about price — £20 for a 750ml bottle — did give us a moment’s pause. Fortunately, when we asked around for where it could actually be bought (lots was given away as, essentially, marketing bling) we were pointed toward Clapton Craft who had it at a much more reasonable £12 a bottle. We ordered two, along with some other interesting stuff to justify the postage, intending to drink one now and leave the other for at least a couple of years.

Brewery Yard in the glass: beer foam.

First, putting aside matters of history, expectation and industry politics, how is it as a beer? The aroma is unmistakably ‘Bretty’, which is to say very like Orval. (It’s a different strain of Brettanomyces, apparently, but, until we’ve had more practice, the distinction seems lost on us.) There’s also something like hot sugar. In the glass, it looks like an extremely pretty bitter, at the burnished end of brown, topped of with a thick but loose head of white. The taste was remarkably interesting with, once again, Orval as the only real reference point: Brewery Yard is thinner, drier and lighter-bodied despite a higher ABV (8.4%). There was something wine-like about it — a suggestion of acidity, perhaps, or of fruit skins? There was also a strong brown sugar tang, as if a cube or two had been dissolved and stirred in. That’s a flavour we’ve come across before, in two of the Fuller’s Past Masters beers — 1966 Strong Ale and 1914 Strong X — and not one we’re all that keen on. So, as a beer, we didn’t love it wholeheartedly, and probably wouldn’t spend £12 on another bottle.

But it’s not just a beer, is it? It’s the equivalent of one of those expensive scholarly books that hardly anyone reads and which are priced high for libraries. As an academic text in liquid form, it’s hard to fault. It’s not ‘inspired by’ or fudged, it’s as earnestly faithful as can reasonably be expected. If you’re interested in how 19th Century beer really tasted, it’s a must.

And, finally, as a marketing exercise for Goose Island? Well, it’s exactly what we’ve been asking for on our ‘Hey, PR People!’ page for years: a project that gets people talking because of its substance, not because of packaging or gimmickry. It’s an ad we don’t mind paying for. Once. We hope it sells out and gets them lots of coverage, and that other breweries jump on this particular bandwagon. (With Ron in tow.)

Past Masters 1966 strong ale and Orval, by candlelight.

If, after reading that, you’re not convinced, or you just can find any for sale anywhere, there is a hack that can get you in the same territory. Because it tastes rather like Orval blended with a Fuller’s beer, we tested a mix of the Trappist classic with that Past Masters 1966 (Past Mastorval…) and the combination of Brettanomyces, Goldings hops and brown sugar was close enough to get the point across. Melissa Cole is right, though: ESB would have been better again.

Disclosure: we’re kind of pally with the people who worked on this project. We have corresponded fairly frequently about aspects of beer history with Mike Siegel of Goose Island; and have done various favours (sharing scans, books, etc.) for Ron Pattinson, as he has done for us.

13 thoughts on “Goose Island Brewery Yard Stock Pale Ale”

  1. Interesting, it didn’t taste like Orval at all to me. To my taste the Brett. used in this beer is a much milder strain than the one in Orval.

  2. I give it much higher marks. Orval is the closest beer, but largely in the nose–once Brewery Yard hits your tongue, that comparison weakens. It’s got a very interesting deep bitterness, as if the hops had been boiled for hours. I suspect that’s the effect of high bitterness and Brettanomyces–the dry, leathery yeast and the Clusters. But there’s also quite a nice citrus-rind top note, and lots of deep, boozy malty notes.

    Alan, Maris Otter, if memory serves.

      1. Thanks Jeff and Ed. Is Chevallier still too scare? Probably. Maris Otter is lovely but its only a 1960s introduction. I am starting to obsess about a pre-Chevallier malt porter circa 1790 but would need a time machine to accomplish it.

        Any sign of a Farnham Whitebine and Chevallier pale ale, Ed?

        1. Do you mean scarce, or scary? Either might work in context.

          Martyn Cornell (blog post linked) also questioned their use of whisky barrels for ageing.

          Still, given realities, this was a very sincere effort at historic accuracy.

          1. Wonderful! Any inquiries from project planning historians collaborating with breweries making claims on your supply?

  3. Am I right in thinking that stock pale would have been an upmarket but fairly regular drinking beer? And if so, could you imagine being a couple of 1870s blades who hit the town to get tanked up on stuff like this every weekend? What would it be like as your go-to Saturday night drink?

    1. Ron says ‘Stock Beer was a strong Beer which was matured for many months or years and then blended with young beers or ales to give them the aged flavour. It was called Stock because a stock of it was kept in the brewery. It was rarely sold just by itself (I’ve only found a product called Stock Ale or Beer a couple of times in old brewery price lists).’

      So, in the spirit of our Orval blending experiments, that’s probably what we’ll do with the other bottle.

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