Beers salvaged from the junk shop shelf

On our last trip out, in February, we visited Stroud for the day. That’s where, in a jumbled-up junk shop, we found a collection of grubby old beer bottles, still full, and for sale at £2 each.

We bought a selection based on (a) ignoring royal wedding and jubilee beers and (b) aiming for breweries that seemed more interesting to us.

  • Greene King Audit Barley Wine
  • Charles Wells Old Bedford Ale
  • Banks Old Ale

Then we got home and drank them.

Ever since our experience with Adnams Tally Ho, and having discussed the issue with Patrick Dawson, we’ve been committed to drinking these ancient beers when we come across them.

They rarely improve with age, or ever gain any particular cash value, but every now and then, one is a wonder.

In this set, all of which we reckon date from around 1980, give or take, there were two good ‘uns and, sadly, one total dud – not a bad strike rate.

Greene King Audit Barley Wine was the winner. It reminded us of Harvey’s Prince of Denmark – a mellower, milder take on imperial stout. On opening, there was a very slight hiss. It produced loose bubbles and barely held a head. There was berry, sherry, leather and… cheese? That makes it sound more complex than it was. Overall, it was pleasant, boosted by the sheer timebending thrill of consuming something bottled when we were babies.

Charles Wells Old Bedford Ale was, unfortunately, flat. From its tiny bottle, it produced what looked like two glasses of cheap brown cooking sherry. The first taste confirmed it: this beer didn’t survive the battle. The overwhelming flavour was, well, water, with a background whisper of burnt sugar and cloves.

Finally, the one we were most excited about: Banks Old Ale, with an OG of c.1092. It hissed, gave us brief bubbles, and then left us with two egg-cup’s-worth of flat black oil. It was salty, rich, full of prune syrup and plum. We wanted just a little more.

In conclusion, £6 for the pleasure of drinking two decent old beers that haven’t been produced in decades seems worthwhile. It’s certainly cheaper than a session at Kulminator, with a similar hit rate.

And you know what? The nip bottle needs to make a comeback.