1869 Ratcliff Ale Crowned As Oldest Drinkable Beer In The UK

1869 Ratcliff Ale Crowned As Oldest Drinkable Beer In The UKWorthington White Shield’s head brewer, Steve Wellington, has announced that after a three-month search to find the oldest bottle of drinkable beer in the UK, bottles of 1869 Ratcliff Ale are still the oldest known available.

The 1869 Ratcliff Ale formed part of the discovery of a cache of Vintage beers in the Worthington White Shield brewery vaults in Burton-upon-Trent in October 2006.

Together with CAMRA, Worthington White Shield launched a competition to find the oldest bottle of beer in drinkable condition in the UK. The competition, which was publicised on their websites (www.worthingtons-whiteshield.com, www.camra.org.uk) and in various magazines, challenged beer enthusiasts to submit bottles older than the 1869 Ratcliff Ale which was found in Burton.

Despite coverage of the competition as far a field as Melbourne, Australia and Boston, USA as well as many national newspapers, magazines, television and radio in the UK, no bottles older that the Ratcliff Ale have been found.

Beer expert, Roger Protz, was in possession of the closest competitor. A bottle from the Scottish Brewing Archive dating back to the very early 1900s, given to him by the then archivist, Charles McMaster.

After this beer, the oldest seems to be a bottle of Coronation Ale brewed by H and G Simonds Ltd., Reading from 22nd June 1911.

The find, and subsequent tastings of the Vintage beers, has generated a high level of interest from beer and wine lovers alike. Wine experts Oz Clarke and Steven Spurrier both tried the beers and were intrigued to find them in drinkable condition. The find shows that beers, when brewed with a high alcohol and yeast content, have the potential to age as long, or longer than wine. As a result of the tasting, Steven Spurrier has written the first ever beer tasting article in Decanter magazine’s history.

At a tasting of Worthington White Shield’s cache of beers, Beer Historian, Michael Jackson, said, “Prior to this tasting, the oldest, drinkable beer I had tasted was just 25 years old.”

Worthington White Shield’s head brewer, Steve Wellington, and his team have embarked on a re-corking programme of all the historic bottles to maintain their quality for the future. Examples of the different vintages will be displayed in the Coors Visitor Centre.

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