Ancient Adnams’ Tally Ho

Adnams' Tally Ho c.1977.

When we saw the tiny 275ml bottle in the window of an antique shop, we couldn’t resist spending £1 on a bottle of Adnams’ Tally Ho that we guessed was at least thirty years old.

“Whatever you do, don’t drink it,” said the man in the shop.

Having consulted various authorities, including current Adnams’ Head Brewer Fergus Fitzgerald, who may well not have been born when this beer was bottled, we decided to ignore the shopkeeper’s advice, not least because of the opportunity this presented for a sensory encounter with the period of British beer history in which we have recently been so immersed.

Tally Ho is a bottled beer produced in draught form for a few outlets at Christmas. It has an original gravity of 1075.

CAMRA Good Beer Guide 1980

In the early nineteen-eighties, there was some controversy among beer geeks over Adnams’ yeast: their Bitter, once held up as an example of what ‘real ale’ should taste like, began to seem bland. The brewery eventually admitted there had been problems, especially with infections in their yeast in the summer of 1983 (letter from John Adnams, What’s Brewing, Feb 1986). The beer was cleaner and more consistent thereafter, but did it have the same character?

And was our antique bottle of Tally Ho a chance to get a glimpse of the old, dirty, more interesting Adnams?

We got our yeast from Adnams… it was really Whitbread B yeast, and they’d got it from Lacon’s in Great Yarmouth…

Patrick Fitzpatrick of Godson Freeman & Wilmot, recalling 1977

We’ve drunk old beers before, but those had been ‘cellared’, and we had no idea how this one might have been kept. We were delighted, therefore, to hear an assertive hiss on popping the cap: it was neither flat nor a ‘gusher’. Its condition was remarkable given its age, and a fairly compact, sandy-coloured head formed on top of a near-black body. An aroma reminiscent of raisins steeping in brandy — distinctly Christmassy — enveloped the glass. There was plenty of life in it. 

In the course of thirty years, it had thinned out, and so felt rather watery for its (supposed) strength. It also seemed a little slick. We noted a tongue-numbing clove or Szechuan pepper quality; a streak of rubberiness; a snatch of nail polish; a passing suggestion of rotting veg; some port-wine fruitiness; and an aroma that reminded us of leather-bound books decaying under a coat of dust. Extremely complex, in short, but not all that pleasant.

As for the yeast, we concluded that it was remarkably similar to the Harvey’s strain, which we’ve got to know quite well from the case of their strong beers we bought last year. Does anyone happen to know if Harvey’s use Whitbread B or a descendant thereof?

This has been educational, and we’ll certainly be keeping an eye out for more old bottles of barley wine or imperial stout on our travels.

13 thoughts on “Ancient Adnams’ Tally Ho”

  1. Well at least it didnt kill you.
    Out of interest the records here say that out yeast originated from Morgans brewery in Norwich in early 1942, later that year Morgans were bombed in the 2nd world war and although they rebuilt in 1950 they didnt use the same strain again. We believe that the yeast was a desendent of the whitbread B strain but it doesnt behave like that yeast now (we have carried out some small scale experiments). There are some files here from the late 70’s early 80’s about the issues with our yeast. Although soem of was to do with an infection the rest came down to the fact that our yeast contained at least 5 different strains of yeast and the inconsistency and stability of each strain was at the root of the problems. So the dominant strains within that mix were isolated to give us some consistency. it’s not clear whether the original yeast from Morgans had 5 strains or if it picked up the other strains while at the brewery.
    I’d be interested to see John Adnams’ letter to whats brewing.

  2. On the brewery tour, the lady said they had terrible trouble with their misbehaving yeast and said they would really like to scrap it and start again, but obviously can’t. Is that right, Fergus?

  3. Not quite, our yeast gives us a house flavour, and whether people like that flavour or not it is part of Adnams so we wouldnt want to loose that….however it does take a lot more work to manage a mixed strain of yeast as opposed to a pure culture, especially when the strains flocculate very differently from each other. This means that when we crop yeast over successive generations we loose one of the strains and if we left that continue we would end up with quite different beer. So we manage that mix of yeast by frequently growing up a batch of the yeast strain that is diminishing in the mix. This does take a lot of work and the proportion of yeast is sensistive to small changes in the process and identifying the cause is more complicated because we have to identify the reactions of two strains rather than one. When our yeast was looked at back in the late 70’s they identified the two main strains and concluded that neither of them were suitable as a brewing yeast, at least not by themselves, however when they are in the right proportions they work together. So the key for us is to maintain that proportion. I am sure during some of our conversations with the guides we may have articulated a certain frustration with our yeast from time to time! We do talk a bit about having a ‘house character’ and the yeast is the main driving force behind that so no, we wouldn’t change it.

  4. That old beer sounds awful! (But it was still a useful exercise to try it).

    Adnams is one of Britain’s greatest brewers. Its bitter when on is just about perfect. I remember reading in an early Michael Jackson book an “eloge” to Adnams that referred to something Roger Protz had written, that the bitter (at least on that occasion) had a “seaweed character”. In Michael’s mind anyway I’m sure this aroused an image of seaside coastal character, apposite when one considers the locus of the brewery. Well IMO, that was an example of an off beer plain and simple. When I finally got to Britain and tried Adnams, it didn’t taste like that at all but sweet clean and bitter. I had a number of other beers though that had a degraded vegetal taste, and it was (surely) a funky something or a case of mishandling. Those were the early days of beer tasting and beer notes and I’ve always wondered if Roger Protz would say the same thing today of a fresh sample of Adnams. Maybe he would, and if so fine – “de gustibus” and so forth – but I think he had a wonky pint!

    Long live Adnams and Tally-Ho if still made, it is breweries like this which kept the real traditions going through the tough days and they deserve the support of all beer fans.

    Gary

    1. no it does have a seaweed character, or at least I know exactly what Michael Jackson/Roger Protz are talking about on that, even if I dont understand why 🙂 it tastes I dont know there has to be something about it that infuses with it to give it its unique taste, its like Peter Grimes the sound of the north sea hitting the beach at Aldeburgh, this tastes of the north sea hitting Southwold, and its not some hazy tourist view of Southwold, you get it from where ever they serve a decent pint of Adnams bitter, and its not something you get from any other brewers in Suffolk so its not just the locally harder water, that yeast gives a very distinct unique taste, which I havent had from Harveys in the same way,

      thats the only way I can describe it it tastes like beer from the east coast, which to me is home, but I sure notice when they use the neutral tasting yeast…at least I have a TallyHo from last year, maybe Ill keep it for another 29years see how it turns out. just wish theyd make Regatta again 😉

      1. Well, fair enough – I need to get back to England to try it again. That wasn’t my impression when I had it in London a few years ago, but I will retry.

        Gary

  5. First of all, you missed an enormous opportunity to sell that beer in the US and turn your pound into a hundred of them. But I admire your remarkable commitment to the study of beer irrespective of profit and loss.

    As to that beer and Fergus’s comments, one thing sprang quickly to my American mind: remind me again what qualifies as “craft brewery” in the English imagination. Because trying to maintain the balance of a mixed strain of yeast over the decades seems pretty damned artisanal to me.

    1. 49.999% of English beer drinkers think ‘craft’ means bearded idiots trying to persuade them to drink kegged double IPAs served in thirds.

      49.999% of English beer drinkers think ‘craft’ means kegged double IPAs served in thirds, and they think it’s great.

      That just leaves Boak and Bailey, who would like to redefine ‘craft beer’ as ‘beer made with craft’. Crazy, I know.

    2. ‘First of all, you missed an enormous opportunity to sell that beer in the US and turn your pound into a hundred of them.’

      Sorry — what now?

      [Refills bottle with Harvey’s Prince of Denmark, topped off with cabbage water; crown caps; heads to Ebay.]

  6. You were asking about the origins of Harvey’s yeast, well I remember years ago reading an article by Anthony Jenner (Miles’s late father, and at the time Harvey’s chairman and Head Brewer). Believe it or not, Harvey’s yeast actually came from John Smiths of Tadcaster, andwas sent down by train.

    I am not sure as to why Harvey’s needed to replace their yeast, or why they sourced some from John Smiths, and I am racking my brain as to where I saw the article (probably a very early Sussex CAMRA Guide). If I manage to come across it, I will post it in full.

    Btw. very brave of you both to try the 30 year old beer!

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