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. Could be. I don’t have access to a sin­cer­i­ty scale so can only go by the accu­ra­cy com­po­nent direct­ly.

          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.

Comments are closed.