Oldest beer bottle winner announced

04 August 2010

An almost half-century old unopened bottle of beer has won the Royal Society of Chemistry's oldest beer in Britain competition.

Dr Derek Cornish, Fellow of the RSC, is the proud owner of a mint condition 1962 bottle of Whitbread's "Queen's Ale". The drink, which Dr Cornish said he "never felt like opening", was brewed to commemorate the arrival of Queen Elizabeth II at the brewery to start the new brew batch.

The RSC put out the call for old beer a month ago in the run up to Professor Paul Hughes' public lecture on 10,000 years of beer evolution at the RSC's Chemistry Centre in Burlington House, Piccadilly, tomorrow (Thursday) night.

Dr Cornish said he was delighted at scooping the 300 cash prize. "The bottle of Queen's Ale was given to me by my stepfather, Percival Hillman, who was a foreman maltster in Whitbread's Chiswell Street brewery at the time. I understand that all employees were given a pack of six bottles.  

"He had also given me other celebratory brews: I have two bottles commemorating the wedding of the Prince of Wales and lady Diana Spencer on 29 July 1981. One was brewed by Whitbread's and the second by Courage. I also have two bottles of unopened Whitbread's Pale Ale with the original six-pack carton stating that it was specifically produced to commemorate the last beer brewed at Chiswell Street on 13 April 1976.  I had drunk the other four bottles!"

Several entries included bottles of beer to commemorate the marriage of Prince Charles to Diana Spencer in on July 29, 1981.

Dr Ian Bratt, now living in South Africa, said: "In summer 1981, my brother and I collected bottles of Royal Wedding beers, brewed to celebrate the wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana. I also had a bottle of Fullers Silver Jubilee beer (dated 1977). On emigrating to South Africa, my brother kept this collection but as he moved around the UK a lot in subsequent years, the bottles suffered and, as far as I am aware, he no longer has any of them today.  However, when I visited him a few years ago, I reclaimed a bottle of Thomas Hardy's ale which is now in my possession.

Thomas Hardy's ale was a bottle conditioned beer brewed by Eldridge Pope and was one of, if not the strongest, beers to be brewed in the UK and was classed more as a 'barley wine'.  I seem to remember that it was not supposed to be drunk for 25 years as it had to mature in the bottle.  My brother and I shared another a few years ago (around the 25 year mark as suggested) and we were not impressed as it has an acquired taste.  I much prefer a pint of Robinsons Best Bitter."

Dave Cooper entered the competition with a pre-war era looking bottle of Hobson's Black Beer, but was unable to pin an exact date for the drink. "I researched the brewery and found they began making this drink in Leeds in 1938," he said. "However, they carried on making it until the 1970s and there's no date on the label so I couldn't say for sure how old it is. I certainly remember being told in my youth some 50 years ago it was old then, but it's not fair to say exactly without being 100 per cent."

The award for Dr Cornish will be presented at the public lecture taking place in the Chemistry Centre.

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