Tag Archives: Old Ales Barley Wines and Vintage Ales

167. Marble Gale’s Prize Old Ale

Threehundredbeers is still up here in The North, but after a brief stay in Bamford, Derbyshire, we’ve moved on to Leeds. These days, Leeds is a great beer city crammed with excellent specialist venues such as North Bar, Friends of Ham and the venerable Whitelock’s Ale House, all of which Threehundredbeers visited.

If you are in Leeds though, it’s well worth a gentle stroll out of the city centre and down to Northern Monk Brewery and their spiffy Refectory, where you’ll find countless taps full of rare and powerful beers from Northern Monk and from many other breweries besides.

The Northern Monk Refectory, Leeds

Including this one. This is a slight substitution for the actual beer listed in The Book: Gale’s Brewery was based in Horndean, Hampshire from 1847 until 2006, shortly after it was purchased by London’s Fuller’s. The Prize Old Ale was a limited-numbers, bottle-conditioned Old Ale weighing in at 9% ABV, which was sadly discontinued by Fuller’s in 2011, making it nigh impossible to come by these days.

In a pleasing turn of events, Manchester’s well-regarded Marble Brewery, in a collaboration with Fuller’s director of brewing John Keeling, revived the recipe in 2017 and created four slightly different barrel-aged versions, including Pinot Noir, Madeira and Barbera wine barrels, and this one: the bourbon barrel-aged version.

All four varieties were available in bottles, but this is the first and only time I’ve ever seen one on tap. I don’t think there’s any doubt that we’re about to order a half.

Marble Gale's Prize Old Ale

Marble’s brew pours brown and cloudy, and it’s immediately evident from the aroma that the barrel-aging has done its work: the nose is all bourbon, front and centre. It’s a shade too cold straight from a keg, but at 10.6% ABV this is one to drink slowly anyway, which should give it a chance to warm gently as we sip away at it.

I’d never tried the original Prize Old Ale, so it was hard to know what to expect. An obvious point of reference is Fuller’s own Vintage Ale, though this is a little different, being lighter in body and less rich. It’s vinous and full of toffee, raisins and lingering peppery spice. There is a sweetness to it, and a stickiness on the lips.

Given the ABV and the boozy spirit notes, this is a deeply warming beer, well-suited to a winter evening in Leeds. Yet it’s hugely drinkable for the strength and style. I do wonder if the bourbon perhaps overpowers the subtleties of the base beer, rendering it a little more one-dimensional that it deserves to be, but without a “straight” version to compare it to, it’s impossible to say.

What is undeniable is that Marble have brewed a cracking beer here, regardless of how it compares to the original. I’m extremely pleased to have had the chance to try it, particularly in the pleasant surroundings of the Northern Monk brewery.

Facts and Figures

Brewery: Marble Brewery, Manchester, England
Style: Old Ales, Barley Wines and Vintage Ales
Strength: 10.6% ABV
Found at: The Northern Monk Refectory, Marshall’s Mill, Leeds
Serving: Keg, half pint

144. Anker Gouden Carolus Classic

As this particular Brussels adventure draws to a close, what better way to bookend the trip than with a return visit to Poechenellekelder, back where we started with De Dolle Arabier a couple of days ago.

It’ll be a good opportunity to fortify ourself for the trek home with one last croque monsieur, and to pick off a final beer from the list, Anker Gouden Carolus Classic.

Anker Gouden Carolus Classic at Poechenellekelder, Brussels

Brouwerij Het Anker are based in Mechelen, Belgium and the Classic is one of several beers in their Gouden Carolus range, named after the golden coins of Belgian-born Roman emperor Charles V.

It’s certainly a change from the usual Belgian blonde beers. Dark and sinister with a small tan froth, it’s more reminiscent of a porter. It smells that way too, with smoky tobacco aromas alongside generous helpings of dates and other rich dried fruits.

The counter at Poechenellekelder, Brussels

Gouden Carolus Classic is remarkably easy drinking, and certainly doesn’t taste its full 8.5% strength. Instead it’s smooth and creamy with a tiny bit of sweetness that’s almost reminiscent of a milk stout. That smokiness is evident in the flavour, as are lashings of singed bonfire toffee and liquorice notes.

I like this one. It’s the perfect beer to soothe your system after a hard couple of days of Belgian research, but it would also go very well with rich stews or game.

And with that, we bid farewell to Poechenellekelder and to Brussels for the time being. I don’t think there’s any doubt that we shall return.

Facts and Figures

Brewery: Brouwerij Het Anker, Mechelen, Belgium
Style: Old Ales, Barley Wines and Vintage Ales
Strength: 8.5% ABV
Found at: Poechenellekelder, Rue du Chêne, Brussels, Belgium
Serving: 330ml bottle

127. Traquair House Ale

I was pleased to find this one. You don’t see a great deal of Traquair House Ale here in London, and by all accounts it’s far from ubiquitous in its native Scotland.

Traquair House is found in Innerleithen, which appears to be a thoroughly remote corner of the Scottish Borders. It claims to be Scotland’s oldest inhabited house and functions as a hotel and wedding or conference venue. More to the point it has been brewing beer, on and off, since the early 1700s.

Whilst Threehundredbeers is not averse to a spot of travel to find a beer, it was still a relief to find Traquair House Ale on the impressive beer menu at the rather pleasant Exmouth Arms in Clerkenwell, a little closer to home.

Traquair House Ale at The Exmouth Arms

The Book lists Traquair House Ale under Old Ales, Barley Wines and Vintage Ales, but intriguingly the Exmouth Arms menu classifies it as “Belgian & Belgian Style”, so this could be interesting.

It’s a rich, dark Greek honey sort of colour with the faintest lacing of tan foam, rather than any kind of head to speak of. At a thoroughly respectable 7.2% ABV that isn’t particularly unexpected.

That strength is evident at the first sniff, where a good boozy hit is joined by distinct caramel and treacle toffee notes. This is a winter beer for sure, so we’ve chosen well for early January.

All of those notes carry through to the flavour, where they’re joined by big, dark, fruity malts which bring a sweetness so characteristic of Scottish ales. Hops are subdued, and again this is typical of the Scottish style, the harsher climate of the north being less than ideal for growing hops, at least for the time being.

I can see where the Exmouth Arms get the “Belgian” idea from too. There are those yeasty esters and dark fruit notes that are typical of a Trappist-style Dubbel, such as the La Trappe Dubbel. Either way, this is your classic winter warmer, and I’m sure it would accompany a hearty stew or even Christmas pudding very well.

Good stuff, so thanks to Traquair House for brewing it, and to the Exmouth Arms for stocking it. I’ll be back to work my way through that menu.

Facts and Figures

Brewery: Traquair House, Innerleithen, Scotland
Style: Old Ales, Barley Wines and Vintage Ales
Strength: 7.2% ABV
Found at: The Exmouth Arms, Exmouth Market, London EC1
Serving: 330ml bottle

118. Ballards Wassail

As I mentioned when we met Burton Bridge Empire Pale Ale recently, there might be a little more travel involved in tracking down some of the next few beers. And so it happens that this month’s Official Threehundredbeers Day Out takes us to the south coast for a slightly beery tour of Brighton.

We’re on the hunt for Ballards Wassail, a beer I’ve never even seen in my life. Fortunately the wonders of social media alerted me to the fact that the well-regarded new restaurant Coggings & Co carry an impressive list of local beers, including this one. Apparently they do a fine burger too, so this shouldn’t be too much of a hardship.

In fact, I think this will be the first beer here to be found in an actual restaurant. Clearly, we’re going up in the world.

Ballards Wassail at Coggings & Co

It turns out Brighton is quite the beer city these days. Apart from Coggings & Co, I managed to visit the Craft Beer Co, Brighton Beer Dispensary and the terrific Evening Star (twice) all in one day.

Anyway, to the matter at hand. Ballards Wassail is a deep, honeyed golden colour with very little in the way of froth. It was originally brewed as a christmas special, and it shows: this is a rich, warming beer full of festive fruit and spice flavours along with, at 6% ABV, a prominent but not unpleasant booziness to it.

In terms of style, I’d say this is about halfway between an Old Ale and a Barleywine, with the caramel sweetness of the latter very much present, but without the double figures alcohol payload. There’s a big, bready maltiness and even some herbal notes that remind me a little of the Fraoch Heather Ale.

This may not be a typical beer to choose in the height of summer to accompany a sturdy lunch, but we don’t stand on convention here at Threehundredbeers. I enjoyed it enough that I had a second while I was digesting.

A very nice beer then, combined with a cracking feed including some of the best chips I’ve ever had, and a warm welcome from the lovely staff. I was a very happy camper indeed. I look forward to trying more beers from this brewery, and I can certainly recommend Coggings & Co if you’re in the area.

Facts and Figures

Brewery: Ballards Brewery, Nyewood, Hampshire
Style: Old Ales, Barley Wines and Vintage Ales
Strength: 6.0% ABV
Found at: Coggings & Co, Dyke Rd, Brighton, East Sussex
Serving: 500ml bottle

109. Sierra Nevada Bigfoot

It’s been quite some time since we last covered a Barleywine, which seems remiss, as it’s fast becoming one of your correspondent’s favourite styles.

Barleywine originates in the country houses of England, where it was originally brewed as a potential alternative to non-native wines as an accompaniment for food. The style fell from favour fairly promptly, and was all but forgotten until Fritz Maytag of San Francisco’s Anchor Brewery introduced Old Foghorn.

These days Barleywines are all the rage among the better US-based brewers. They all seem to make at least one, and one of the most famous is Sierra Nevada Bigfoot. It’s not terribly easy to find, and only produced in once-yearly vintages, but Putney’s rather wonderful Beer Boutique came up with the goods recently.

Sierra Nevada Bigfoot

Sierra Nevada Bigfoot looks and smells every inch the classic Barleywine. It’s a rich, deep caramel and Greek honey colour, with a good dose of tan foam on the top. There’s caramel in the aroma too, along with sinister black treacle and a hefty dose of peppery hops.

As Barleywines go, the Bigfoot is remarkably bitter. Some examples of the style can be excessively, cloyingly sweet, but that certainly isn’t the case here. There is a dense, malty underlying sweetness all the same, but it’s more than balanced out by the bitterness.

There are plenty of big, fruity flavours, along with some medicinal, cough syrup notes and huge pine resins. It’s a giant of a beer in many ways, and all that flavour is backed up with a big, warming 9.6% alcohol hit.

This bottle was from the 2014 vintage, and so very fresh indeed, but Bigfoot is considered to be one of the best beers around for ageing. I’ll be putting at least one or two away then, and hopefully tracking down some from other vintages past and future too.

Facts and Figures

Brewery: Sierra Nevada Brewing Co., Chico, CA
Style: Old Ales, Barley Wines and Vintage Ales
Strength: 9.6% ABV
Found at: The Beer Boutique, Upper Richmond Road, London SW15
Serving: 355ml bottle

84. Bush Ambrée

Let’s continue on our mission to sample our way through the impressive Poechenellekelder beer menu, this time with a daunting 12.0% ABV Belgian amber beer, Bush Ambrée.

Bush Ambrée at Poechenellekelde, Brussels

The deep, rich golden beer certainly looks the part, and as with every single beer I tried at Poechenellekelder—and indeed anywhere in Brussels—it’s served in the correct glassware, in this case a rather nice looking Bush-branded chalice with a pleasing cracked glass effect.

The bottle claims this to be “The Strongest Belgian Beer”, which is a bit of a stretch since the same brewery makes at least two stronger ones, but still, as only the second beer of the evening, I’m already wondering if I’ve peaked too early.

One sip is enough to reassure me that this was a good choice. Sure, it’s boozy, but the warming alcohols are balanced out with a rich, spiced-honey sort of sweetness and a smooth, full body full of delicious sappy malts.

Bush Ambrée is reminiscent of a Barleywine, and while similar in style to Pauwel Kwak, it’s a little lighter and less sticky, making it even more easy-drinking. Which could get dangerous.

But having said that, I really enjoy the culture and civility around beer drinking in Begium. While many of the beers are hopelessly strong, the emphasis is always on quality over quantity. Table service and slow, measured enjoyment of the product are the norm, rather than a fight to the bar and necking as many pints of lager as you can before the bell rings, which is more the British approach.

I rounded off the visit to Poechenellekelder with a delicious, dark St. Bernardus Abt 12. That one isn’t The Book, but it’s probably a good job, since my notes start to become a little less legible at this point.

Facts and Figures

Brewery: Brasserie Dubuisson, Chaussée de Mons, Pipaix, Belgium
Style: Old Ales, Barley Wines and Vintage Ales
Strength: 12.0% ABV
Found at: Poechenellekelder, Rue du Chêne, Brussels, Belgium
Serving: 330ml Bottle

63. Fuller’s Vintage Ale

To complete the set of three Fuller’s beers in The Book, we turn to something a little bit special. Late each year Fuller’s produce a limited number of bottles of their Vintage Ale. Each year’s brew will be subtly different, with head brewer John Keeling varying the choice of hops and malts to take advantage of the best available that particular year.

The beer’s style is always broadly consistent though, typically being an 8.5% ABV, bottle-conditioned barleywine-style ale based on Fuller’s own Golden Pride. The presentation of the beer is immaculate, with each bottle being individually numbered, labelled using the highest quality label stock and finally presented for sale in a handsome claret-coloured box.

There are quite a few beer lovers who make an annual tradition of snapping up at least a case of each vintage and squirreling it away, only to be broken out for very special occasions many years into the future.

And this certainly is a beer that benefits from some judicious aging. I tried a couple of bottles of the 2012 vintage pretty much as it rolled out of the brewery, and while it was a fine beer, it was clear that it was by no means the finished article.

I’ve a 2006 tucked away, though since I can’t bring myself to open it, I was rather pleased to stumble across bottle No. 014468 of the 2010 vintage innocently minding its own business behind the bar of the same pub in which I tried Fuller’s London Pride recently.


Fuller’s Vintage Ale pours a deep burnished amber colour, with a tight off-white head. On pouring there’s a huge waft of orange peel and booze escaping, no doubt pleased to be liberated after several years of gently fermenting in a confined space.

The barley used in 2010 was the endearingly-named Tipple, while the hops are the very traditional Fuggles and Goldings, and the beer is dry-hopped using Target and yet more Goldings. Three years on, though, there’s very little by way of hop bitterness remaining, and instead that barleywine sweetness is front and centre, once again complemented by the distinctive orange notes provided by Fuller’s signature yeast.

The mouthfeel is strikingly thick and unctuous, while the flavour is like orange marmalade and butter spread on fruitcake soaked in rum.

Indeed, there’s an indulgent booziness that reminds you that secondary bottle fermentation means this beer may actually be stronger than the nominal 8.5% on the label. It certainly gets to work pretty promptly, providing a warming glow that, while very welcome even in August, would make this beer especially well-suited for drinking in the winter. In fact, this may be the ultimate Christmas beer.

All in all, this is a very special beer, and certainly not an everyday tipple for many reasons. While numbers are finite, Vintage Ale from the last two or three years is far from impossible to get hold of, at least here in London. I recommend finding one of the smarter Fuller’s pubs and making friends with the staff. You never know what they may have lurking in the cellar.

Facts and Figures

Brewery: Fuller, Smith & Turner, Chiswick Lane South, London W4
Style: Old Ales, Barley Wines and Vintage Ales
Strength: 8.5% ABV
Found at: The Mad Hatter Hotel, Stamford Street, London SE1
Serving: 500ml Bottle

48. Coopers Extra Strong Vintage Ale

This is the third and final one of the three beers in The Book to hail from the Adelaide-based Coopers Brewery, following on from their Sparkling Ale, and their Best Extra Stout. I happen to suspect that this one is a little bit special.

This is Coopers Extra Strong Vintage Ale. A few breweries put out a Vintage Ale, which will typically be a limited edition, once-yearly bottling of a strong, high quality ale. Each year’s vintage will tend to take on its own unique characteristics, and once in the bottle, will improve greatly for years to come.

This is one beer that I thought would be a challenge to get hold of—not least since these things typically become collectors’ items within weeks—until it silently and without fanfare appeared on the shelves of my favourite local boozeteria.

And knock me down with a feather if this isn’t the 2007 vintage, which was the first that was made available in the UK. The internet tells me there were only about 5,000 of these ever made. The bottle carries an oddly-specific “best after” date of 3:17pm on the 8th of June, 2007. No problem there then. It’s probably about time to drink the stuff.


Once again we see Coopers stock 375ml bottle, with a hefty dose of yeast at the bottom to allow the beer to continue to ferment and improve in the bottle. As with Coopers previous beers, there’s so much yeast in there that it’s impossible to pour the beer clear, even if you wanted to. Instead it pours a dark, cloudy ruby colour with absolutely no head at all.

I’ve very little idea what to expect from the flavour: my only point of reference for a Vintage Ale so far has been a couple of bottles of too-young Fuller’s Vintage Ale. That one is essentially a bottle-conditioned Barleywine, and there’s certainly a hint of Barleywine in the aroma of the Coopers brew.

There’s a lovely, spicy bonfire toffee note on top of that though, and I’m reminded strongly of Texels Bock, which is rich, sweet and thick, and tastes just like liquid Werther’s Original candy.

To taste, that sweetness is there in spades but it’s balanced with just enough bitterness to prevent it becoming cloying. The beer is still full of caramel and butterscotch, though, and the body is thick, rich and treacly.

At a nominal 7.5% ABV, the alcohol is warming without being overpowering, and I wonder if six years of bottle-conditioning hasn’t made it a little stronger than the label states. Either way, this is not an everyday beer by any means: it’s one to take time over and savour.

And it’s good. I’m not convinced that it’s six-year-wait good, but then I only bought it last week, so can’t have any complaints. Even so, I’ve a couple of bottles put aside in the Official 300 Beers Cellar—my kitchen cupboard—and I look forward to seeing how it performs with another couple of years behind it.

All in all, I have to admit that Coopers have single-handledly changed my perception of Australian beer over the last few weeks, a little like Brooklyn Brewery destroyed my prejudices about American beer.

Facts and Figures

Brewery: Coopers Brewery, Adelaide, South Australia
Style: Old Ales, Barley Wines and Vintage Ales
Strength: 7.5% ABV
Found at: Bossman Wines, Lordship Lane, London SE22
Serving: 375ml Bottle

40. Anchor Old Foghorn

This is the third and final one of the 300 Beers to be produced by the Anchor Brewery, following on from the Steam Beer and the Liberty Ale. While the latter didn’t blow me away, the Steam Beer was a revelation, and I must admit to taking a bit of a shine to this plucky San Francisco brewery with their stout little brown bottles and handsome label artwork.

Even more excitingly, this is the first chance I’ve had to try a beer labelled as a Barleywine. Barleywine is essentially just very, very strong beer, fermented for significant periods of time. It’s apparently a centuries-old English style of beer, originally brewed for the aristocracy, but it’s one we really don’t see a lot of in this country these days, to the extent that I’d always assumed it was an American style.

In fact it was Anchor themselves and their Old Foghorn which introduced the style to the States, where it quickly caught the imagination of brewers and drinkers alike. I think we’d better get more intimately acquainted. I’m looking forward to this.


Like the previous Anchor beers, this one is impeccably presented, though its label diverges from the usual sailor tattoo artwork for something a little more pastoral, featuring barley and hops. The beer itself is a dark, glossy Greek honey sort of colour with little to no head, just a light off-white lacing.

There isn’t a great deal of aroma to Old Foghorn, which lulls you into a false sense of security, as it completely belies the massive amounts of flavour within.

Old Foghorn is thick and rich, and almost the same texture as Greek honey too. It’s full of plump dried fruit and treacle. There’s a faintly medicinal note to it, which is less unpleasant than it sounds, along with a real sweetness, albeit a pleasing, tart, bitter sweetness which lingers in the mouth.

That bitterness comes from Old Foghorn being matured on a bed of Cascade hops for no less than 10 months, before being dry hopped, meaning that yet more hops are added to the finished beer. I suspect a lot of the depth also comes from the fact that only the first pressing of the mash is used, a technique we previously saw applied to a quite different beer, Japan’s Kirin Ichiban.

All in all, I’m reminded strongly of one of my favourite guilty pleasures, Fuller’s Golden Pride, though this is a little richer and darker. I’m starting to like it a lot.

This is a strong old beverage at 9.4% ABV, and there are naturally huge boozy notes, enough to remind you to take it slowly and savour Old Foghorn respectfully. The alcohol isn’t overbearing though: it just provides a lovely warming hit that gets to work pretty promptly.


This is a terrific beer, and one that reminds me why I started this blog. It’s thanks to breweries like Anchor and Brooklyn (particularly their Vienna-style Lager and Black Chocolate Stout) that my preconceptions about American beers have been shot to pieces, with Anchor Old Foghorn being the final, delicious bullet.

Facts and Figures

Brewery: Anchor Brewing Co, San Francisco, CA
Style: Old Ales, Barley Wines and Vintage Ales
Strength: 9.4% ABV
Found at: Utobeer, Borough Market, London SE1
Dispense: 355ml Bottle

7. Brakspear Triple

Now, this one I really have been looking forward to, not least because I already know it’s a cracker. This is not my first encounter with Brakspear Triple.

Brakspear are based in Oxfordshire and are known for some fairly well-regarded bitters, none of which I’ve tried, but this is their extra special premium beer. It’s painstakingly crafted: double dropped, triple hopped then thrice fermented and nicely presented in individually numbered bottles.

Let’s see if it was worth the effort.

Brakspear Triple

Triple pours a lovely golden ruby colour, with more of a lacing than an actual head. It smells rich, toasty and promisingly boozy.

It tastes of, well, more booze, but it’s a lovely Christmas cakey, sherryish, mince pie sort of booze. There’s a long-lasting and pleasingly bitter finish, offset by just the right amount of butterscotch sweetness.

Brakspear Triple is a complex and decadent yet smooth beer which slips down a lot more easily than its potent 6.7% alcohol payload would suggest, making it dangerously moreish.

An absolute treat.

Incidentally, readers who enjoyed Brakspear Triple may also like to check out the quite similar, and equally lovely Little Brew Ruby. Little Brew is essentially one bloke named Stu, currently making some of the very best beer in London.

Which is seriously high praise.

Facts and Figures

Brewery: Brakspear Brewing Co., Witney, Oxfordshire, England
Style: Old Ales, Barley Wines and Vintage Ales
Strength: 6.7% ABV
Found at: Waitrose Food Court at John Lewis, Oxford Street, London W1
Serving: 330ml bottle