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Royal beer that never saw the light of day

Added: Tuesday, February 14th 2012

A special beer brewed in 1936 for the coronation of Edward VIII has been discovered at the Greene King brewery in Bury St Edmunds. The beer was never released as the coronation was cancelled following the king's decision to abdicate in order to marry Wallis Simpson, an American divorcee. Builders replacing a floor in the Greene King brewery found 2,000 bottles of Coronation Ale. The discovery was made in 2004 and the brewery has only now announced the finding as it fits in with the launch of Madonna's film about the life of Wallis Simpson.

Greene King's head brewer John Bexon (pictured) says no recipe exists for the beer. His analysis suggests it was between 10 and 12% alcohol and its deep ruby red colour indicates that either crystal malt or roasted grain were added to pale malt. The main malting barley at the time was Spratt Archer, which developed from an earlier barley called Plumage Archer. The grain was grown on the Crown Estates and it's likely that means the Sandringham Estate in Norfolk where substantial amounts of barley are still grown.

The hops used are unknown but Dr Peter Darby, hop historian of Wye College in Kent, says that Parker's The Hop Industry, published in 1934, lists the following main hop varieties as Fuggles, Goldings, Meophams, Prolifics, Tolhurst, Tutshams and Whitebines. Whitbread Goldings Variety (WGV) were first grown at White's Farm in Belting, Kent -- later the Whitbread Farm -- but were not in general use until the 1950s. New varieties were developed at Wye Coillege in the 1930s but only one, Brewer's Gold, was released by 1936 and the acreage was small.

The 330ml bottles have driven corks. The cork in the bottle sent to me disintegrated when I drew it but the beer had not noticeably suffered from oxidation. Carbonation was low: a faint head almost immediately disappeared, leaving behind a beer the colour of red wine or oloroso sherry. The aroma had a massive burst of burnt fruit -- raisins and sultanas -- with strong notes of caramel, leather, roasted grain and a faint hint of peppery hops. Sweet, rich malt, dark fruit and burnt sugar filled the mouth with sherry-like fruit in the finish along with caramel, leather, roasted grain and gentle hop resins. The hop character is so muted that in a blind tasting the beer could easily pass as a slightly bitter type of dark sherry.

The beer threw no sediment. John Bexon says this suggests the beer was filtered and not bottle conditioned, though it seems odd that a presentation beer in a corked bottle should have been filtered. If yeast was removed, the high level of alcohol would have kept it in drinkable condition.

*By a twist of fate, some Spratt Acher seeds were found at a seed merchants near Cambridge a few years ago and a batch of the grain has been grown at Prince Charles's estate at Highgrove. The grain is blended with other malting barleys in the prince's Duchy Originals beer.