Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Tarnished Shield?

In the early 80s, I was working in the South-East, and my parents came down to visit me one weekend and stayed in a local hotel. This hotel didn’t have any cask beer, but what it did have were bottles of Worthington White Shield, which were probably well out of date. I’m not sure if they even had best before dates back then. They had undergone a vigorous and prolonged secondary fermentation and, if you could actually get the beer in the glass, were some of the finest beers I had ever tasted.

In those days, White Shield was widely available around here in Hydes and Robinsons tied pubs as well as in the Bass estate, and could sometimes offer a welcome contrast to the standard cask beers. But it was noticeable that its regular drinkers tended to be old codgers.

Ed writes here about how White Shield today isn’t the beer it once was, but I’m convinced its decline isn’t a recent phenomenon and can in fact be traced back a long way. Seeing that it was lauded by CAMRA as one of the very few surviving bottle-conditioned beers, Bass decided to relaunch it by putting it in a old-fashioned round-shouldered bottle with an informative booklet on a string around the neck, and at the same time increased the price by at least a third. But they badly misjudged the market, as in reality, while CAMRA may have trumpeted its qualities, it was the codgers who actually drank it.

One old boy in a pub I went in (probably now long since dead) was affronted by this price rise and decided to switch to pints of mild. There must have been plenty of others who reached the same conclusion, with the result that sales fell off a cliff. The rest is history.

And I continue to believe that if a beer is to be produced and sold in bottle-conditioned form, it needs to show evidence of having actually enjoyed a secondary fermentation in the bottle. It should have a dense head and obvious natural carbonation, whereas all too many supposedly bottle-conditioned British ales nowadays just seem to be a bottle of rather flat beer with some gunk in the bottom. Duvel is an excellent example of how it should be done.

10 comments:

  1. I bought a bottle of Worthington's White Shield last weekend from Waitrose (Formby):

    http://theormskirkbaron.blogspot.com/2010/03/worthingtons-white-shield-on-offer-in.html

    I've not opened it yet, going to leave it a month or two to ensure the yeast has had a chance to do it's thing but I'll let you know how I get on.

    Just finished a bottle-conditioned Fuller's Bengal Lancer but I'll be damned if I can see more than a speck of yeast in the bottle...

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  2. I think White Shield and the like are "Ersatz" BCA's. They have had the yeast used to perform the primary fermentation removed (either by filtration or by centrifuging). They are then re-seeded with a different strain of yeast that sticks to the bottom of the bottle. This yeast is present in insufficient quantities to produce much of a secondary fermentation, and indeed how can it when it is stuck to the bottom of the bottle rather than being suspended in the beer - and then slowly settling out?

    These fake BCA's are designed to stand up to rough handling by supermarkets etc., and to allow the consumer to pour them straight away without having to wait for them to drop bright naturally.

    Those old codgers you mention Curmudgeon, would surely turn their noses up at such gimmickry. The Belgians do not resort to such tricks; why should brewers in the UK?

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  3. I know some bloggers do sing the praise of White Shield as a surving example of 19th century IPAs but I don't get it myself. It's certainly not the beer it was, and that's for sure.

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  4. Count me in as agreeing on this one.

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  5. I did try a bottle of White Shield recently and was suprised how good it was. Nothing like the old stuff though. Do have a bottle from 1992 so may open that sometime to taste it.

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  6. "I continue to believe that if a beer is to be produced and sold in bottle-conditioned form ... It should have a dense head and obvious natural carbonation."

    Have you opened a White Shield recently?! You're right about Duvel - but WWS gives it a run for its money on that score.

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  7. I haven't, actually, since distribution was withdrawn from Sainsbury's. It's certainly a beer I'll continue to give a try if I see it, but I wouldn't at present go out of my way to find it.

    I have within the past, say, three years had examples that were sweetish and very lacklustre.

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  8. Sweetish and lacklustre sounds a good description for the bottle I had recently! I've still got another bottle in the cupboard so I'll pay attention to the carbonation when I drink that one but I don't hold out much hope for the taste.

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  9. Now that Morrisons have started selling White Shield I tried a bottle (£1.89 for 500ml, 67.5p/unit) the other day. It was better than some examples I'd had, but still a bit lacklustre and lacking in "bite".

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  10. Now tonight I've just opened one that does have a vigorous carbonation and a somewhat sharp taste, so much improved on other recent examples :-)

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