Thursday 4 July 2024

Ancient beer

Or, at least, pretty old beer. Though, come to think of it, I've drunk beer that was almost twice as old.

There is now in the possession of Mr. James Scott, of Braintree, a bottle, containing part of a hogshead of beer brewed in the year 1741, by Edmund Sally, Esq. of Market Downham, Norfolk, intended to be drunk at the christening of his first-born, which was a son. A part of this beer was bottled and deposited in a vault — there to remain until the father’s death, which happened about 12 years since, at the good old age of 87 - At that time 20 bottles of the liquor were found, and, notwithstanding the length of time it had been brewed, was in high perfection. — Essex Herald.
Public Ledger and Daily Advertiser - Monday 23 June 1828, page 3.

It sounds like a beer brewed by a member of the minor gentry at his own residence. Such people were known for brewing strong beer and sometimes letting it age for decades. Because, well, they could afford to, not having the same financial pressures as a commercial concern.

And when their heir was born, it was common for such gentry to brew a Majority Ale. That is a beer to be drunk when the heir came of age at 21. This is slightly different as it's a Christening Ale. I wonder why some was hoarded away in a vault? Was it purposefully let until after the father's death?

Incidentally, the numbers don't add up. If the father was 87 in 1816, that would mean he was born in 1729 and just 12 years old when his son was born.


Matt said...

The custom is referred to by Elizabeth Gaskell in her novel Wives and Daughters, set in the early nineteenth century, when the squire taps a cask of strong ale brewed after the birth of his now adult son: "'You must have a glass full. It’s old ale, such as we don’t brew nowadays. It’s as old as Osborne. We brewed it that autumn and we called it the young Squire’s ale. I thought to have tapped it on his marriage but I don’t know when that will come to pass, so we’ve tapped it now in Roger’s honour'. The old Squire had evidently been enjoying the young Squire’s ale to the verge of prudence. It was indeed, as he said, ‘as strong as brandy’, and Mr Gibson had to sip it very carefully as he ate his cold roast beef."

Anonymous said...

Any idea what's the currently oldest known intact bottle of beer Ron?

Russell Gibbon said...

I suspect that there may be some "Majority Ales" being brewed when it clear that the Tories have been trounced. Call me old fashioned, but I like the idea of brewing a beer (not nece celery a strong or old recipe) to be enjoyed after a christening or someone coming of age. Lime anonymous, Ron's post made me think of what olden bottles of beer there might be still hanging around out there somewhere. I am aware of a few that were pulled from ancient shipwrecks. They tasted dreadful but the yeast were still alive, and were cultivated to make a modern day brew! I am all for that too!

Brook Fields said...

Martyn Cornell wrote a little history of this type of ale a few years ago:

The lost art of extreme-aged cask ale