BeerCast #61 – Beer of Yesteryear

Beer is one of the oldest creations of mankind, stretching back thousands of years to when the properties (if not the exact science) of fermentation were discovered. Whether a happy accident or not, crude recipes were devised to create drinks that made people feel bolder, more relaxed, or just forget about themselves for a few hours (or days). Fast forward to current times and some of these ancient styles are enjoying a renaissance at the hands of creative modern brewers. In our latest BeerCast, we sample four of these Beers of Yesteryear (title inspired by this article written by Mark Dredge on the subject).

We begin this podcast with Daleside Morocco Ale (5.5%), which dates back to Elizabethan times. We then move back 2,700 years to a tomb in Turkey, where the recipe for Dogfish Head Midas Touch (9.0%) was discovered. The Vikings are up next, as we sample the pine and spruce ale Alba (7.5%), resurrected by Heather Ales – the traditional arm of Alloa’s Williams Brothers. We finish on the mighty Thornbridge Bracia, a 10% old ale loosely based on an indigenous British beer from Celtic times. Buckling up on this Bill and Ted style adventure are Richard, Shovels and BeerCast debutant Blair…

1. Daleside Morocco Ale
Daleside Brewery, Harrogate, North Yorkshire.
500ml glass bottle

Back in the mid-19th Century feasts were all the rage amongst British landowners and the wealthy elite. Levens Hall in Cumbria hosted a shindig in May of every year – at which they served a beer that had been brewed and left to mature for 21 years. At the time, Charles II had married Catherine of Breganza – who brought with her as part of her dowry the city state of Tangiers. Things Moorish became popular, so this dark, spicy ale was named Morocco Ale. When originally served at Leven’s Hall guests were required to stand on one leg, drain a large glass and then recite “Luck to Levens whilst t’Kent flows”. With this version, recreated by Harrogate’s Daleside Brewery, our panellists merely have to score it out of ten…

What They Say
“This is a very dark, rich and mysterious ale brewed to an ancient recipe dating back to Elizabethan times. Full bodied, malty with spicy overtones this complex beer is only brewed occasionally.” [Official Website]

What We Say
Shovels – Slightly spicy, like a milder Old Peculier 7
Richard – Fruity but missing alcohol oomph
Blair – Watery and sessionable, I’m looking for more 6

2. Midas Touch Golden Elixir
Dogfish Head, Milton, Delaware.
355ml glass bottle

One of the kings of the American Craft Beer movement, Dogfish Head pride themselves on their pioneering spirit. With that (and ignoring the oxymoron) they have turned to the past for inspiration. With the collaboration of molecular archaeologist Dr Patrick McGovern (a world expert on ancient beverages) they established a line of historical beers. One of these is Midas Touch, based on an ancient Turkish recipe developed from the residue found on drinking vessels recovered from the tomb of King Midas. Will it turn to gold in the hands of our panel?

What They Say
“Our recipe highlights the known ingredients of barley, white Muscat grapes, honey and saffron. Somewhere between a beer, wine and mead, this smooth, dry ale will please Chardonnay or I.P.A. drinker alike.” [Official Website]

What We Say
Blair – To hit as many home runs as them you take a couple misses
Richard – Tastes like Battenberg cake, sweet and flat 5
Shovels – Well-balanced but I’d not want a lot of it 4

3. Heather Ales Alba
Williams Brothers, Alloa, Scotland.
330ml glass bottle

Our third ancient ale predates the arrival of the mighty hop on British shores. Back in the day, people who wanted to make beer flavoured it with the natural ingredients they could find around them – herbs, spices, plant extracts. The Vikings (who liked to work up a thirst) added spruce and pine to their alcohol, and as these ingredients are endemic to Scotland that type of beer was soon copied here. Shetland spruce ale was said to “stimulate animal instincts”, and if women drank it they would give birth to twins. With the podcasters on board today, anything could happen…

What They Say
“Alba is a triple style ale brewed to a traditional Highland recipe from Scots pine and spruce shoots pickled during early spring. A tawny brown strong ale with spruce aroma, it has a rich malt texture, complex wood flavour and lingering finish.” [Official Website]

What We Say
Richard – Resinous sappy flavour, I quite like it 7
Blair – I get a lot of raspberry jam from this 7
Shovels – Sweet, caramelly, quite interesting, bit too sweet 5

4. Bracia
Thornbridge Brewery, Bakewell, Derbyshire.
750ml glass bottle

The first Thornbridge beer to make it onto one of our BeerCasts (although we have featured them on the website before), Bracia is a powerhouse of flavour containing six malts, four hops, roasted barley and Italian Chestnut honey. The original recipe vanished into the mists of time with the ancient Iron Age Celts (reference to Bracia was found in name only, inscribed by Romans at a Derbyshire fort). A honey beer high in alcohol, Thornbridge have recreated it pretty much from scratch, head brewer Stefano Cossi sourcing the honey from the Alps himself (possibly using elephants, we aren’t sure)

What They Say
“Aromas are of chestnut, honey, cappuccino, white chocolate, dark fruits, vibrant fresh peel. The mouthfeel is velvety and rich, with notes of coffee, chocolate, liquorice and hazelnuts with warming alcohol, cocoa and a little peat in the finish Bracia can be cellared for up to one year, maybe longer.” [Official Website]

What We Say
Blair – Big bodied, the alcohol comes out well, really good 8
Richard – Every sip gives something different, just lovely 8
Shovels – Quite medicinal, really complex aftertaste

– (clockwise from top left) Shovels, Blair, Richard

BeerCast panel verdict
Thornbridge Bracia 23½/30
Daleside Morocco Ale 19½/30
Heather Ales Alba 19/30
Dogfish Head Midas Touch Golden Elixir 15½/30

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  • Please keep those comments and emails coming in, and check back in a couple of weeks for our next podcast. We have two brewery showcases lined up – our Northern panel sample four beers produced by the Hardknott microbrewery in Cumbria, and our London crew tackle the beers of Robert Knops…

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