A few weeks ago our inboxes simultaneously alerted us to a press release from the Rebel Brewing Company promoting their 80 Shilling beer. At the end of the copy was an invitation to get in touch for more information, or a sample of beer. It’s not often we’re offered samples of beer and, when we are, they tend to be from less reliable breweries trying to give their bland booze a lift through blogging and social media. But Rebel Brewing Co is a quality outfit and neither of us had previously tried this beer. Emails were swiftly exchanged.
For some reason, the brewery chose to send the goods to me: a gift pack with two bottles of beer and a smartly branded, sturdy sleeve pint glass. Just the kind I like. One bottle was exchanged with Rich for some dodgy London cider. I didn’t mention the pint glass.
The Rebels, based in Penryn on Cornwall’s south coast, have defied naming convention with this beer. To see a brew labelled with ‘shilling’ would normally signify that it has been crafted in Scotland, with the numbers relating to the amount of tax paid on a barrel in the 19th century: higher quantities of alcohol required more tax. These figures were chalked onto the barrels and the names stuck. After those tax calculations became redundant a large number of Scottish breweries switched to simple beer names such as ‘light’, ‘heavy’ and ‘export’ to distinguish strength, but the old convention stuck with a few breweries and, even today, some new breweries like to give their beer the shilling nomenclature as a nod towards brewing traditions. The Cornish scamps have appropriated this label from the Scots, not only to help describe the beer, but also to reinforce their own Celtic heritage.
So, how does this Cornish take on a Scottish ale rate? Poured into my gleaming new glass it certainly looks like a traditional beer towards the stronger end of the tax barrier: it’s a very dark, murky brown with a thin, frothy, off-white head. The aroma is fruity and toasty. Jam on toast. Beery jam on yeasty toast. So far, so very welcoming.
Rich, supping his pint from a dull glass that has had too many chemical washes in an unforgiving dishwasher, reckons it’s pretty good with a taste he describes as ‘cold and nutty’. Proving, at least, his fridge works.
And I reckon it’s pretty good too. The fruity, toastiness expands in the mouth with some sticky, malty sweetness. My wheel-of-fruit-flavours is pointing at fig and I’m running with nutty too. Fig jam and peanut butter on toast. With a decent earthy bitterness to finish.
We’re no experts on exactly what constitutes a proper 80 shilling beer and, as the name started out as an identifier of strength, rather than style, perhaps there’s no need to be too precise with such definitions – other than it should probably be somewhere in line with the Scottish brewing style of the day. As far as I can tell, this is a pretty good recreation of a traditional Scottish beer, despite coming from the other end of Britain. But, regardless of authenticity, it’s a mighty fine pint – and all the better for being served in a decent pint glass.
Brewery: Rebel Brewing Company, Penryn, Cornwall
Beer name: 80 Shilling