Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Royal Wedding Beer - King & Barnes, Celebration Royale 1981

This morning I had a plan to open more bottles from my 1981 collection of Royal Wedding beers. Given the experience of those opened thus far, I was expecting to open, pour, sniff, sip and throw away the stale oxidised beers.

However, I was to get a pleasant surprise courtesy of King & Barnes Brewery fermerly of Horsham in Sussex.

As I opened the bottle there was the unsurprising plop of the cap and no discernible condition but upon pouring I knew this was going to be different from the other beers.

The aroma of figs, molasses and sugar candy instantly filling my nose. The first taste was fantastic, a revelation, an epiphany. I was expecting cardboard, I got the the sweetness of an oloroso sherry. An overpowering sweetness maybe but not a stale flavour, a sweet flavour of a very weak oversugared coffee, the sweetest beer you will ever taste but with a lingering bitterness of a high cocoa chocolate.

This is a special beer, the aroma continues to fill the room as I write this and I continue to sip the "extra strong ale"; I'm guessing about 10%. The freshness is disappearing quickly and I know this moment will not last.

As I enjoy the beer, I reminisce about King and Barnes and know that I am the only person on the planet to be enjoying this beer today.

An experiment in beer ageing that in one mouthful changes my honestly held belief that beer is for drinking not storing and an expectation or an ambitious hope that I will find something else as special as this in my box of old beer.

The beer was presented in a 180ml, 6.34 fl oz brown bottle with crown cap and was described as Extra Strong Ale. No abv disclosed on the label.

In 1981 King & Barnes owned 59 pubs in the south east. In 2000 the brewery and pubs were sold to Hall & Woodhouse and the brewery was redeveloped for housing.

Hall & Woodhouse promised to preserve some of the King & Barnes brands and were seen as a preferable buyer to Shepherd Neame or Greene King who were both interested once the family had decided to sell.

Crucially though, it was really the pubs that were seen to have most value and Hall & Woodhouse continue to own and operate many of the old King & Barnes pubs though there remains some sadness at a very local level that King & Barnes is no more.

The closure of King & Barnes Brewery spawned three offspring in Horsham; WJ King run by Bill King (MD of K&B), Welton's and Hepworth's both set up by brewers at K&B.

All three are still operating though Bill King has just retired to take up his hobby of flying aircraft more seriously and sold his brewery in 2010 to Ian Burgess who has spent the last nineteen years at Harvey's in Lewes

And so the brewing family continues to grow and expand at a micro level.


Kieran Haslett-Moore said...

Awesome, it really does take a successful cellered beer experiance to convince people about bottle aging sometimes.

My partner is originally from Horsham, the loss of the brewery is very sad.

Dangerous Dave said...

Now where did I put that bottle of K&B Festive...

John Paul Adams said...

"This morning I had a plan to open more bottles ....."

Can you describe a 10% beer as a breakfast beer?

Or as a perk of retirement? :)

Anonymous said...

Just stumbled by your blog while looking for some info on the Royal Wedding, thanks for sharing I really appreciate it, I can nearly taste that beer lol.

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The Beer Justice said...

JPA - the experience previously was that thirty year old beers are generally undrinkable. I was expecting more of the same, a photo, a quick sip and a write up about how the brewery has fared in the last thirty years. This one proved to be a truly great breakfast beer. SW

Anonymous said...

Am planning to open mine in two weeks time. I'll let you know if it's still going.

Geoff Rousell said...

Sampled a bottle of this today. Absolutely stunning. Reminiscent of Pedro Ximenez sherry. Can we get more?