Old ale, strong ale and barley wine for April

Gold Label Barley Wine.

We decided to immerse ourselves in a single beer style for April and asked our Patreon subscribers to choose which one. They, the bastards, went for strong ale, barley wine, or old ale.

What this means in prac­tice is that we’re going to make an effort to go to pubs where we think these styles will be on offer, rather than retreat­ing to the safe­ty of lager and bit­ter at our usu­al haunts, and will order them wher­ev­er avail­able.

We’ve giv­en our­selves plen­ty of room for manoeu­vre: any­thing over 5.5% counts as ‘strong’; and if it’s badged as old ale, strong ale or bar­ley wine, regard­less of spec, it’s in scope.

But IPAs are out – this is all about the malt.

But its spring! you cry. Well, it’s rain­ing right now, and it usu­al­ly snows in April, so we’ll see who has the last laugh.

We’ll also be try­ing to read about these kinds of beers, per­haps putting togeth­er one of our vir­tu­al antholo­gies as we go.

What we’re hop­ing to achieve is:

  • under­stand­ing this style, or these styles, a bit bet­ter
  • try­ing some new beers
  • revis­it­ing some old clas­sics
  • find­ing at least one pub in Bris­tol that still sells Gold Label
  • reset­ting our abil­i­ty to dis­cern hops ready for when May rolls around.

Tips, ideas and sug­ges­tions wel­come, and do feel free to join in.

20 thoughts on “Old ale, strong ale and barley wine for April”

  1. Lees Moon­rak­er is one of the beers fea­tured in the Wether­spoon Spring Real Ale Festival—on now until Sun­day 7th April. You might be able to track it down in one of the Bris­tol ‘spoons. For­mer­ly 7.5%, reduced to 6.5% a few years back, still impres­sive.

    Robin­sons Old Tom (8.5%) is the supreme bar­ley wine—and far and away the best beer Robin­sons brews. Always on the bar at The Black Horse on Fri­ar­gate in Preston—a pub with a spec­tac­u­lar inte­ri­or on the CAMRA Nation­al Inven­to­ry. Two rea­sons why I always break my jour­ney south from Glas­gow at Pre­ston sta­tion…
    https://pubheritage.camra.org.uk/pubs/102

    I don’t know if the Scot­tish ‘wee heavy’ is with­in your remit, but Broughton Old Jock (6.7%) is a stun­ning exam­ple. When in Glas­gow I always make a pil­grim­age to Ten­nents Bar on Byres Road to drink it.

      1. Old Tom is cur­rent­ly mar­ket­ed as an old ale, but back in the late 80s/early 90s it came in foil-topped nip bot­tles and was described as a bar­ley wine.

        1. The bound­ary between bar­ley wine and old ale, like that between bit­ter and IPA, is less clear than some style guides would have you think. See Mar­tyn Cor­nell here.

  2. Sam Smith’s do a tra­di­tion­al York­shire Stin­go (8% to 9%). As far as I am aware its only avail­able in bot­tles. The only stock­ists I know are Keel­ham Farm Shop in Skip­ton or direct­ly from Sam Smith’s. Not very help­ful, but I have also seen it in “Total Wine” in Boyn­ton Beach, Flori­da.

    1. A fan­tas­tic beer that stands a year or two of age­ing. Many of their pubs get a case to sell every year so it can still be found in the fridges now and then but it’s pot luck.

    2. It turns up in bot­tles in Smith’s pubs, and we’ve def­i­nite­ly seen it in Bris­tol. About 12 quid a bot­tle though, if I recall cor­rect­ly.

    3. If you ever go up the M6, I’ve bought Stin­go from Tebay ser­vices at retail rather than pub prices. They have a pret­ty decent selec­tion of beers, most­ly local, but also includ­ing pret­ty much the full Sam range.

      I’ve nev­er been to Glouces­ter ser­vices but they’re part of the same group so might have some?

  3. I’m always sur­prised by the num­ber of super­mar­ket-friend­ly bot­tled ales from (often fair­ly unad­ven­tur­ous) tra­di­tion­al brew­eries that are actu­al­ly slight odd sur­vivors of old­er strong ale tra­di­tions. I keep won­der­ing about doing a sur­vey / group tast­ing for the blog, but the logis­tics and hang­over poten­tial mean that it hasn’t hap­pened yet. Off the top of my head, there’s Broad­side, Bishop’s Fin­ger, Old Tom, Lees Moon­rak­er, Greene King Strong Suf­folk, Rig­g­wel­ter, Old Peculi­er, Fullers 1845…

    1. I assume from your “ide­al bar­ley wine” post that there’s no room in this explo­ration for any of the delight­ful US (or Amer­i­can-style) exam­ples such as Big­foot that dis­play sig­nif­i­cant hop char­ac­ter and bit­ter­ness along­side all the malt? Seems a shame to leave them out.

  4. sounds like an excuse to work through all the edi­tions of Old Fred­die Walk­er. Hope you’ve got deep pock­ets

  5. A men­tion for Lymn Dam and Dun­ham Gold, as one of the very few strong gold­en ales – sort of a cross between Bod­dies and a tripel. They only seem to do one batch a year between the two sis­ter brew­eries, most­ly for fes­ti­vals.

    You’ve prob­a­bly seen, but Gold Label is still hang­ing on in cans in Sains­burys, can’t imag­ine it will sur­vive for much longer. Can’t imag­ine that ABI still do it on draught, sure­ly?

    1. GL turns up in cans in pubs occa­sion­al­ly, which is all we’re hop­ing for. Tra­di­tion­al­ly a bot­tled prod­uct any­way.

      1. It’s an obvi­ous con­tender for a poten­tial ABI British range, rein­vent­ed if they could be both­ered. Stuff like eg doing a her­itage ver­sion of Mack­e­son at the orig­i­nal 4.5%-ish now that milk stouts are kin­da cool again (maybe get a Kent micro like Pig & Porter to do it, in the vein of Tet­ley No 3?). Take some of the crap out of Gold Label and make it an “event” beer at Christ­mas along the lines of Fuller’s Vin­tage, bot­tle-con­di­tioned in a nice box that would sit well in Wait­rose. Brits might be scep­ti­cal at first but it’s the sort of thing that they could eas­i­ly put into their inter­na­tion­al “craft” dis­tri­b­u­tion net­work.

        I dun­no, maybe they’re doing enough vol­ume to make the cur­rent mod­el worth­while, but I assume that apa­thy in Leuven/Brazil has done for GL what it’s done for Bass and Bod­dies.

  6. Thank good­ness you’ll have Mild Month in May to recov­er!

    Not sure of the avail­abil­i­ty of any of these in the UK, but for an Amer­i­can take:
    – North Coast Old Stock Ale
    – Sier­ra Neva­da Big­foot Bar­ley­wine
    – Weyer­bach­er Blither­ing Idiot
    – Vic­to­ry Old Hor­i­zon­tal
    – Third Coast Old Ale

  7. This won’t end well, you mark my words. You’ll hear the tales of Old Peculi­er and Old Tom and Owd Roger, and Moon­rak­er and Con­is­ton No 9 and Dun­ham Gold and McEwan’s Cham­pi­on and Sam’s Stin­go and Young’s Win­ter Warmer, but will you be able to find them? In Bris­tol? In April? Will you heck as like. (Inter­est­ing that, of the nine beers I’ve just list­ed, six hail from Up North and one from Scot­land.) You’ll be forced, inex­orably, to broad­en your para­me­ters – you’ll end up includ­ing beers like, say, Oakham Hawse Buck­ler – and you’ll end up won­der­ing whether bar­ley wine is even a thing.

    That’s what I reck­on will hap­pen.

    1. Lees have been mak­ing a push on Moon­rak­er late­ly; one of their pubs I go to some­times, has had bot­tles on a promi­nent shelf for the last ?six months? and it’s avail­able from (some?) Mor­risons.

      Cham­pi­on is wide­ly avail­able in super­mar­kets, Tesco also had a whisky bar­rel one for a while. Dit­to Old Peculi­er; Old Tom is in Sains­burys and Asda. Then there’s the “south­east­ern olds” – Sheps 1698 and the Greene King ones like Old Crafty Hen (which gets a thim­ble­ful of 5X and isn’t bad at all) and Abbot Reserve, all pret­ty gen­er­al­ly avail­able.

      Fuller’s Gold­en Pride has start­ed show­ing up in some Wait­ros­es but there’s no log­ic to it – the lit­tle one at the north end of Lon­don Bridge has it, but not the big­ger one a few blocks away down Can­non St. I guess Vin­tage would also count if you can still find last year’s any­where.

      But yep, Dun­ham Gold/Lymm Dam is going to be a tough find at the best of times, they did bot­tle it at one point but I’m try­ing to think if I’ve seen it late­ly. Maybe at the Knutsford fes­ti­val next week­end…

      1. Why both­er with the bot­tled ver­sion when Lees Moon­rak­er is one of the beers fea­tured in the Wether­spoon Spring Real Ale Festival—on now until Sun­day 7th April? I’ve had it in The Lord John in Stroud for £1.49 a pint (includ­ing 50p CAMRA dis­count).

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