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Classic Beer of the Month

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Gale’s Prize Old Ale (Update)

I’ve written about Prize Old Ale on these pages before, and in other places this year, but it’s such a remarkable beer that I think I can squeeze in one more feature to update the story.

Gale's Prize Old AlePrize Old Ale began life in the 1950s at Gale’s in Horndean, Hampshire. At 9% ABV, it was a rich, fruity, potent beer, noted for its stubby bottle and the cork that provided the seal. Sales were limited but it remained an iconic part of the brewery’s portfolio right up to the time that Fuller’s acquired the company in 2006 and production ceased.

The most recent batch of Prize Old Ale had already been brewed, however, and was maturing in tanks, so Fuller’s moved it to Chiswick and bottled it there. What emerged was something that was both rather odd and quite sensational.

The beer had become notably acidic during its longer than expected time in tank, with bacteria from the old Gale’s brewing vessels turning it sharp and sour. Fuller’s had also maintained a higher carbonation in the beer by ditching the cork and using a crown cap instead and this added to the spritzy nature of the beer.

In short, it was simply too sour for Fuller’s to sell in great quantity but the brewers did keep faith with this historic ale. They brewed another batch the following year and, recognising that the Gale’s bacteria was intrinsic to the character of the beer, folded in some of the sour beer.

The brew emerged just as challenging as its predecessor but was then blended with fresh young beer to take off the sour edge. Unfortunately, Prize Old Ale still didn’t do the business commercially and the beer was eventually put on hold.

Changing Tastes

Fast forward to 2016 and a conversation between Fuller’s brewing director John Keeling and James Kemp, then of Marble Brewery. Marble was keen to attempt a revival of Prize Old Ale and Fuller’s consented, supplying the original recipe and, crucially, a couple of kegs of the naturally-infected beer to ensure the true Gale’s character was carried through.

A year ago, Marble released its results – not one Prize Old Ale but four variations, each matured in wood that had either held a spirit or a wine. Each was magnificent and the public – at long last – ensured that the labours had not been in vain by snapping them all up.

Times have changed. Ten years ago, most beer drinkers associated sourness with bad beer. Today, sourness is all the rage. Changing public tastes have ridden to the rescue of this true classic beer.

I’m told there is more Marble Prize Old Ale on the way, and possibly a version produced by Wild Beer, too. A fantastic historic beer that not so long ago seemed to be on the brink of oblivion now appears to have a rosy and exciting future.

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