A Prince Amongst Beers1
It’s not every day that you get the chance to try a beer that’s older than you are.
Last Saturday night I opened a bottle that was just that; I opened a beer that was older than me, so that’s over twenty five, give or take the odd ten years. In fact it was a lot older than me, more than twice my age.
It was brewed in 1929 in fact, so that’s 83 years old.
A mate of mine dabbles in buying and selling antiques and I got a call from him a while back…
“You like beer don’t you Gav?”
“Well, yes” I laughed.
“How long does beer last?” came the reply.
“Depends what it is” I say in return, “Why do you ask?”
“I’ve got a couple of bottles you might be interested in.”
“It’s a bit old”
“1902 and 1929.”
I was silent for a second or two after that.
The beers my mate had come by were Bass King’s Ale (1902) and Bass Prince of Wales Brew (1929). I took a quick look at the bottles and, as he only wanted £30 for the pair, I snapped them up, for novelty reasons if nothing else.
Then along comes OpenIt! and I think, what about those Bass beers I’ve got, shall I open one of those? I council a few folks on twitter and by the end of the day I’ve decided I’m taking along the bottle of Prince of Wales Brew to OpenIt! at Mr Foley’s in Leeds. There’s plenty of other curious folks keen to try it too, most of them more beer geekish than I am.
And shortly after arriving the bottle is on to the table with a corkscrew, the remainder of the wax seal is removed and I’m plunging the corkscrew in. With a small lever part of the cork comes away – it’s a bit dried out as you’d expect – and I need a different corkscrew to get a little more of the cork out and drill a little hole as its pretty stuck in there.
The empty glasses are thrust my way and everyone is keen to try. We all give it a sniff and look at each other slightly nervously. The aroma a little on the sour side but I’m getting a whiff of raisins and we wonder if the beer will taste as sour as it smells.
I take a sip.
How does it taste?
Well it tastes alright considering its age. A nice fruity character. The next offering to my tongue is a good size and I’m getting an idea of the flavour now. I’m very pleasantly surprised, it’s a bit like like an amontillado sherry. It’s stunning that a beer that’s survived for 83 years untouched has this amount of flavour left in it. It’s not nasty at all and most of us are in agreement about this.
Of course I’ve no idea how it was supposed to taste (I’ve no idea what beer tasted like back in 1929 for that matter). Prince of Wales Brew was the second Bass beer with a royal connection after Bass King’s Ale was produced in 1902 for the coronation of Edward VII. I’m lead to believe that for Prince of Wales Brew the mash was started by Prince Edward, who later become Edward VIII of course, and sold for around £5 a bottle, a fair bit of wedge back in the day!
So was it worth opening? I took the remainder of the bottle home and then to the local the following day. There was a pretty mixed response from folks who where a little less beer geekish, some of disgust and some of surprise and intrigue. I’m with the latter crowd hence my curiosity to open it.
It’s just amazing to think that you’ve actually been drinking history. A beer that, given its royal connection and price, must have been been painstakingly crafted by Bass master brewers to brew a beer befitting a Prince. I feel very privileged to have been able to try and share it with friends. A great beer experience. I just wish, like most beers really, I could open it and enjoy the experience again.
The Prince of Wales feathers, which are also embossed on the bottle, bare the words ‘Ich Dien’, which means ‘I Serve’. This beer ‘Ich Dien’ with pleasure Your Royal Highness!
Tags: #openit, Bass, Kings Ale, royal ale, The Prince of Wales
Big thanks to Rick Furzer for organising the Open It session at Mr Foleys, and to Ghost Drinker for the lovely pics of the crew struggling to open the very old bottle of beer!