Public Service Announcement: Barley Wine for Stir-Up Sunday

Victorian christmas pudding illustration.

Every year, a week or so before Stir-Up Sunday, we start getting visits to the website from people searching for barley wine to put in their Christmas pudding.

It is a main part of Delia Smith’s recipe which, let’s face it, is there­fore the offi­cial nation­al recipe. I’d guess from this line…

If you can’t get bar­ley wine (pubs usu­al­ly have it), use extra stout instead.

…that the recipe was writ­ten in the 1970s when Gold Label was a nation­al brand. You prob­a­bly won’t find bar­ley wine in most ‘nor­mal’ pubs these days, though most super­mar­kets do car­ry Gold Label.

There are also plen­ty of oth­er options.

Bar­ley wine is a term used to describe strong British ales – some­time they’re dark, oth­er times not, but they’re usu­al­ly at least (these days, for tax rea­sons) 7.4% ABV.

Fuller’s Vin­tage Ale is one and this year’s ver­sion has just hit super­mar­kets. Most larg­er region­al brew­eries (Adnams, Lees, Robin­son’s, etc.) make a strong old ale which will do the job. Not many have ‘bar­ley wine’ actu­al­ly writ­ten on the label so just look for any­thing called ‘Old This’ or ‘Vin­tage That’.

Most trendy new brew­eries also make strong ales of one sort or anoth­er, although often very hop­py and bit­ter rather than sweet. If you have a spe­cial­ist shop near you, and want to use a spe­cial beer for some par­tic­u­lar rea­son, ask them for advice.

How­ev­er, back to the pud­dings. With sev­er­al years’ expe­ri­ence in mak­ing a fam­i­ly recipe, which just calls for ‘half a pint of strong beer’, I would make the fol­low­ing points:

  • You’re going to be adding spices, sher­ry and steam­ing the hell out of it for many hours so you’re not going to taste any beer at all in the final prod­uct.
  • The cheap­est beer I’ve ever used was a bot­tle of left­over home brew, and the most expen­sive was some of the afore­men­tioned Vin­tage ale – there was no dif­fer­ence in the end taste.
  • If you’re going to fol­low Deli­a’s recipe pre­cise­ly you will end up with two half bot­tles of dif­fer­ent beers. This might be a good oppor­tu­ni­ty to drink some­thing nice on the side so pick beers that are good in their own right, e.g. Fuller’s Vin­tage and some­thing like Brook­lyn Black Choco­late Stout.
  • How­ev­er, if you don’t par­tic­u­lar­ly like beer, just chuck in the required vol­ume of what­ev­er beer you have to hand – it does­n’t real­ly mat­ter all that much.

4 thoughts on “Public Service Announcement: Barley Wine for Stir-Up Sunday”

  1. well Delia Smiths books are barred in this house­hold so Ive nev­er had the mis­for­tune to try any of her recipes.

    but maybe her East Anglian influ­ences are show­ing through there still as like milds and olds, there are plen­ty of bar­ley wines still pro­duced in East Anglia to choose from, it would be quick­er to list the ones that dont, than pro­vide a list of those that do.

    and Adnams do make a bar­ley wine, called Tal­ly Ho, and its even labelled as a bar­ley wine on the bot­tle, so Id pick that rather than any­thing labelled as just Old or Strong.

    though their christ­mas puds are made with Broad­side instead, the 6.3% bot­tled ver­sion not the reg­u­lar cask ver­sion, so take your pick

  2. Stono­jnr – I used Tal­ly Ho last year as we had lots in.

    Ron – I used to make one for the fol­low­ing year at the same time, which worked quite well, but have found out the hard way that they can­not sur­vive Cor­nish damp.

    Gen­er­al fol­low up com­ment – think I might go real­ly crazy this year and sub­sti­tute tea instead.

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