I spent two days in Burton-on-Trent last week, brewing No.1 Barley Wine and P2 Stout in the White Shield Brewery with Steve Wellington. I’m spending today writing up the story – complete with some exciting news about the future of the brewery – for a piece in CAMRA’s Beer magazine. It’ll be running in the Spring 2010 issue, out around February.
Anyway, while I was up there, Mrs PBBB – sorry, The Beer Widow – phoned me to discuss Christmas pudding plans. We’ve never made our own Christmas pudding before, and she’d been rooting around for recipes. This is the week you ‘traditionally’ make your pudding, apparently. Anyway, she’d found a Delia recipe which called for some barley wine and stout. Hey, I was brewing barley wine and stout! There was no barley wine near to hand, but I was sure Steve would let me have a bottle of P2 for the pud.
But Steve went one better than that. Yes, he gave me several bottles of P2. But when I told him what I wanted it for, he also gave me a bottle of Queen’s Ale.
This is a special brew of No.1 Barley Wine brewed in 2002 to commemorate the Queen’s Golden Jubilee. There are not many bottles left lying around the brewery, and we’d just polished one off for elevenses because Steve hadn’t tasted it for a while. It was sublime – dark and rich and sherrylike but not too aggressive. The age on it had done wonderful things, creating a beer that was still a beer but as soft and mellow and deep and satisfying as a vintage Bordeaux.
The thing is, Buckingham Palace use it to marinate the fruit they put in the Royal Christmas pudding. And that’s why Steve very, very kindly gave me a bottle to bring home for TBW.
This was one of those crises of conscience. All I wanted to do was stash it safely in my cellar, or maybe sneak it up to the study to enjoy to myself on a dark and stormy night. But Steve had only given it to me because of the pudding story. It seemed like a waste for such an amazing beer. But I wouldn’t have it in my possession otherwise. With a heavy heart and some anguished mewling noises, I gave it to TBW. On Friday night, after a few tweaks to the Delia recipe, she poured it over some fruit.
Well, at least our Christmas pudding will be as posh as the Queen’s.
Yesterday was the final mixing of the pudding before cooking. Its traditional to gather round and let each family member have a stir, and make a wish as they do so. I wished I could have some more Queen’s Ale.
Later, I went down to tidy the beer cellar and try to make some room – it’s a bit overfull at the moment. And lo, as I tried to make sense of the barley wine and vintage ale shelf, I found not one, but two bottles of Queen’s Ale that the generous-to-a-fault master brewer of Burton must have given me when we were working together brewing Calcutta IPA, my Hops and Glory beer.
The magic of Christmas is at work already.