The Barman, February 1, 2019
Every time I pass one of the roadside adverts for Fakenham Races, I think that I should go along – but when the time comes, I don’t. I guess that deep down, despite being a sports fan, I am not really interested in horse racing.
I don’t gamble and it seems if you don’t place a bet much of the excitement is lost. Despite quiz questions about the winners coming up on a regular basis I struggle to even remember the Derby and Grand National results.
There are some races that seem to be part of the national culture, the Classics, the Cheltenham Gold Cup and Champion Hurdle amongst them. Recently, I was reminded of another race whose name trips off the tongue, the Mackeson Gold Cup.
First run in 1960 it took place every November at Cheltenham until 1995, when Whitbread, the brewers of Mackeson, withdrew their support. The race is still run, now being known as the BetVictor Gold Cup, but Mackeson has faded into obscurity and disappeared from view. Or so I thought.
In fact, Mackeson still exists as a ‘ghost brand’. It is still available but receives no advertising support. It is an example of a ‘milk stout’ – a beer style that became almost extinct. Despite the picture of a milk churn on the label, there is no milk used in the brewing process, rather a form of sugar called lactose is added.
This is found in milk and unlike other sugars it is not turned into alcohol during the brewing process, meaning that the final product is sweet and contains a fair number of calories.
People of a certain age will remember the slogan ‘It looks good, tastes good and by golly it does you good’, and at one time it was recommended to nursing mothers, though I think the neo-temperance brigade would take a dim view of that advice in the present climate.
First produced at Mackeson’s Brewery in Hythe in Kent in 1909, it was licensed to brewers around the country and the brand was bought by Whitbread in 1929.
By the 1950’s it accounted for about half their production, being produced in London, Stockport, Kirkstall and Hythe.
As the takeovers and brewery closures accelerated the Mackeson production was shunted around the country, Sheffield, Castle Eden and Samlesbury all took their turn before it was contracted out to Youngs of Wandsworth in 1999.
When Whitbread was taken over by what is now Anheuser-Busch InBev, production went to Magor in Wales, Cameron’s in Hartlepool and Hyde’s of Manchester. In addition, the strength has been reduced from 3.0% to 2.8% to take advantage of duty reductions.
Is there any other beer that has been so messed about? And yet it hangs on. Cans and bottles are available in some supermarkets so it is still possible to try this rare style of beer, though goodness knows how it compares to the 1910 original.
The good news is that some of the small independent brewers are experimenting with this style of beer, for example Bristol Beer Factory, so it should be possible to source a bottle or two to sample and, if you are really lucky, you may encounter it on draught.
The example I would like to try is brewed by the Carib brewery in Trinidad, a 4.8% version of Mackeson aimed at young men (I wish!) with the tag line ‘King of the Night’.
Very popular in Hong Kong apparently. So, despite its difficult past and lack of promotion, milk stout hangs on. Maybe its race is not yet run.