Thursday, 28 April 2011
Whitbread Pompey Royal
It appears that Pompey Royal as a brand had been out of production for about a decade until Oakleaf resurrected it in 2008. From its first mention as an Oakleaf beer in the CAMRA Good Beer Guide of 2008, we have to go back to the 1997 edition to find it listed again - under Gale’s Brewery, Horndean, Hampshire, for throughout much of the 1990s Pompey Royal was brewed at OG 1043°/ABV 4.5% for Whitbread by George Gale & Co Ltd. We find he initial notification that Gale’s were brewing Pompey Royal in the 1991 GBG under the Whitbread entry. Tasting notes first appear the following year under Gale’s: “Now tastes more like it did when originally brewed in Portsmouth. A strong bitter finish follows a pear flavoured, slightly sweet middle period. Pears also come though in the aroma of this mid-brown beer.” An interesting addition to the 1993 edition reads “becoming harder to find. Perhaps a return to the stronger, original Brickwoods Best recipe would help.” So there we are. Pompey Royal was previously a stronger beer called Brickwoods Best. I never to my knowledge had the Gale’s version so let’s conclude the Gale’s period with the tasting notes provided from 1994-7: “A brown beer with a hint of red. Low in aroma, with the flavour dominated by sweetness and pear fruit. The finish can be a little cloying.”
The 1990 GBG is significant in two ways. First, for telling us that Pompey Royal, still at OG 1043°, is being brewed outside Hampshire, at Fremlins, Court Street, Faversham, Kent, to be precise, an outpost of the Whitbread Empire. Second, this edition of the guide was the first to discuss the development of a “beer taste vocabulary”. So savour this tasting note from that year for the Fremlins version – “Deep russet-brown with a fruity aroma and a well-balanced flavour with fruit and malt prominent, a lingering vineous finish” – for pithy one-liners are the best we get from now on. The 1989 GBG, for examples, states only that the Fremlins version is a “Strong bitter with loyal Portsmouth following”. We have still some time to go before we find it brewed there because the 1984-1988 editions of the GBG place the production of Pompey Royal at Monson Aveune, Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, this then being “Whitbread’s only remaining traditional brewery serving the S. West, Wales and the W. Midlands.” So the beer called Pompey Royal that I first tasted at the Windsor Tavern, Brighton in the autumn of 1985 was actually brewed in Gloucestershire! And it had been so since 1984 when the Cheltenham operation went under the heading of Whitbread Flowers.
So what kind of beer was it? The 1986 edition records the Cheltenham version of Pompey Royal as simply a “stronger bitter”, while the previous year’s entry puts it as a “full-bodied bitter”. For both these years the beer remains at OG 1043° but the 1984 GBG gives OG 1046.9° for the first year of production at Cheltenham. Possibly this version used “the stronger, original Brickwoods Best recipe” recalled in the 1993 GBG. But how could it have been what I drank at Brighton, despite the OG coinciding exactly with my retrospective estimate? For given the compilation and production period for the GBG surely the 1986 edition would be the relevant one for the autumn of 1985. It is therefore hard to escape the conclusion that my memory is playing tricks on me. Evidence suggests that my first Pompey Royal was a less potent brew than I recall.