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.


    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.


  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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