Courtesy of Aldi, I recently took delivery of one of these (the one on the left, unfortunately). Apparently Bateman’s discontinued their ‘BBB’ barleywine in 1977, but not before George Bateman, the then MD, had put aside four cases for his son Stuart’s 21st. For whatever reason the cases got lost, and they were only rediscovered in 2011. The beer was still drinkable, and the current MD – Stuart Bateman – decided to recreate it. “Over the course of six months, Stuart and the master brewer matched the flavours perfectly using old brew records and multiple tastings.” The result is Bateman’s Vintage Ale, a 7.5% barley wine, now on sale at a pretty reasonable price (and in a rather fetching presentation box) at an Aldi near you.
So what’s the beer like? It’s good; it’s got a heavy body lifted by fairly lively carbonation (although it’s not bottle-conditioned), and a smooth, rounded flavour, malty but not over-sweet. It’s quite a big, assertive flavour, with notes of apple, tannin and cough-mixture blending into a very drinkable whole. As barley wines go, it’s a good, enjoyable example of the style. Alternatively, if you think of Wobbly Bob but with more malt and more alcohol, or imagine a lighter, less sweet version of McEwan’s Champion, you won’t be far off.
The only slight disappointment is that it doesn’t quite live up to its back-story. It’s a fine beer, but it’s not a world-beater – it stands comparison with Wobbly Bob, but not with Coniston No. 9 Barley Wine, say. From that point of view it may be a victim of its advance publicity – a story like that is going to raise expectations which the beer won’t necessarily fulfil. Best to take it for what it is: a rich, satisfying and well-balanced barley wine, well worth what you’ll pay for it at Aldi. It’s also, ironically, an interesting new departure for Bateman’s; I wonder if they found anything else interesting when they were looking at those old brew records? Forward to the past!