Bass Ratcliff Ale 1869

Continuing on from the Bass King’s Ale in my last post, we stepped back even further and tried what may end up being the oldest drink I ever get to taste – Bass Ratcliff Ale, brewed on 16 December 1869.

This was brewed on 16 December 1869 – almost 150 years ago. The beer itself is just the standard Bass No.1 Strong Ale, rather than a special recipe, and it was done to celebrate a birth in the Ratcliff family (probably a Harry or Robert, according to Mike Peterson’s page).

The Ratcliffs were brewers in Burton who merged with Bass in 1799, forming Bass & Ratcliff. Peterson reckons that it was simply a batch that was put aside to drink at a future celebration – maybe the 21st birthday of Harry/Robert – and not actually a commemorative release.

Bass Ratcliff Ale seal
The black wax of a resealed bottle, stamped with Bass’s triangle rather than the earlier diamond trademark

The beer itself wasn’t bottled until at least 1876, as that’s when the diamond trade mark that appears on the label was registered. It was stored at the brewery and was released for sale on a number occasions, and was part of the bicentenary releases in 1977. Like the King’s Ale it was recorked, and some bottles were relabelled, with, according to Peterson, a bolder appearance to the printing.

At 150 years old, this is a beer that is very variable in condition. It seems to go from drinkable to downright vile, and it’s not possible to tell until opened…

Bass Ratcliff Ale label

Nose: Sour raisins and very old dry sherry. Layers of herbs and sticky fruit, with a hint of cheese rind mustiness and blue cheese mouldiness. Marmite umami underneath everything.

Palate: ‘Sour Bovril’: Meaty notes with a touch of sour red fruit. Woody touches and more dry old sherry.

Finish: Oxo meatiness and burnt bits on a beef roast, gravel and bitter chocolate. Brackeny touches – green leaves, twigs and earthiness.

Much more palatable than the King’s Ale, but still very much an antique rather than a go-to drinking experience.

Thanks again to Angus for sharing these pieces of history. He remains, as I am contractually obliged to say at this juncture, best.

2 Replies to “Bass Ratcliff Ale 1869”

  1. Billy…i have an IMPERFECT bottle of the Ratcliff Ale.
    The label print is clearly marked….BASS&Co…STRONG ALE plus RATCLIFF ALE….plus the signature….plus BREWED 16th DECr1869 exactly as the label you show. There is minor label damage at the top. The cork,s black seal is still fixed in place BUT appears to have melted slightly at the top to expose a small part of the cork…otherwise the cork appears to be intact. The bottle is still full and there is no leakage when it lies flat. It has not been stored with love since we returned to australia in 2010.
    It was gifted to me in the 1970,s (IN Florence,Italy where I lived for 35 Years)by afriend(now dead) who met a LORD’s son at college and they shared a dozen they had found in the family cellar….so he was then left with only 1# bottle when he gifted me.
    I have kept this for sentimental reasons and regret i did not respect it more.
    If it has value I will probably gift it to my son,,,if not,it will be opened with my family on my soon 86th birthday.
    Your advice please….Robert (Bob) Sharp……………and my thanks, Bob

    1. There’ll be some monetary value to it – they don’t pop up at auction very often and are very variable, so you might get £50-100 depending on how good it looks – and if it’s not been that well looked after, it might have gone a bit weird. That said, it’s probably gone a bit weird anyway – these beers have been in the bottle for a very long time 🙂 Unless you’re really interested in what it tastes like, it’s probably best sat on a shelf as a talking point. But still, keep it out of the sun and vaguely cool, so that someday it can be opened and ‘enjoyed’.

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