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Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Theakston's Old Peculier

One of the more recognizeable imports--available in the US for decades--is Theakston's Old Peculier. Anyone who's taken the plunge knows that the beer is itself peculiar, but probably they don't know the half of it. Theakston's is a beer with a lot of stories.

Let's start out with the peculiar spelling of Peculier. If you look very closely at the funny little seal on the bottle (reproduced for you at right), you'll see these words (in 2-point type): "the Seal of the Official of the Peculier of Masham." Curious. It turns out that a "peculier" is an ecclesiastical court established to arbitrate church law in the absence of a bishop on issues like wearing a hat during communion or carrying a dead man's skull out of the churchyard. You know, common offenses. In this case, the peculierate was established in Masham (a town in Yorkshire) by the archbishop of York. The offices were terminated by a series of laws 150 years ago, but it's just like a brewery to keep this odd bit of historical trivia alive (if obscurely so).

But wait!--we're only getting started. Now to the other word in the beer's name, "old," which designates its style of ale. Old ales are ... well, actually, there are two kinds of old ales. There are those like Thomas Hardy's Ale, which is a very strong beer designed to be aged in the bottle. And then there are those like Theakston's which harken back to beers brewed in the olden days. Of this latter variety, there can be great variation, but they should be sweet with unfermented barley, hearty, and dark. Strengths vary.

(There's another story Theakston highlights about its connection to the Crusades, but it is far enough afield that you'll have to go read it on your own.)

Tasting Notes
Theakston's has been around since 1827, and Old Peculier has been brewed since at least 1890--and probably long before that. So it is in fact, not just style, a fairly old ale. You have a sense of traveling back in time when you pour out a bottle. It is thick and viscous, and froths into a nice head in the manner you imagine medieval ales might have. I held it up to the sunlight, which refracted dimly and murkily only through the narrowest part of the glass. It's mostly an opaque brown, but under summer sunlight, it has a cloudy, dark amber-brown color, similar to iced tea. The aroma is bready and hearty, much as the beer looks. Fruity notes waft up with raisin and plum. There is one additional quality that I could only identify after I tasted it--we'll come to that in a moment.

I bet many people don't notice the odd spelling of the beer, or forget it once they take their first sip. It's a strange beer. First of all, it's rather thick in a way most commercial beers aren't. It is sweetish and estery, and again, I picked up a plum note. I suspected--and later confirmed--that sugar was employed, for it had that characteristic estery quality that seems to come mainly from fermented sugar. However, here again the main identifying quality about Old Peculier is a bit of funkiness. It's not like the funkiness you'd find in a Belgian or even an Irish stout, and it took me a long time before I could figure out how to describe it.

Rye is by itself not a sour grain, but when bakers make rye bread, they generally use the sourdough method of adding a little old dough that's gotten a bit of lactic-acid funkiness to it. Thus are most ryes varying degrees of sour.

Eventually, I came to discover that this is what Old Peculier reminds me of--liquid rye bread. It's dark and hearty and slightly sweet, but it's predominant characteristic is that "peculiar" note--a little bit of sourness like old dough.

So, perhaps we need to revise our definition of old ales, or at least tip our hat to the depth of meaning in this curious style, of which Old Peculier remains the world standard.

Malts: Pale, crystal, brewers' caramel, and torrefied wheat.
Hops: Northern Brewer, Fuggles, other unidentified hops. Dry-hopped with Fuggles.
Alcohol by volume: 5.6%
Original Gravity: 1.057.
Bitterness Units: 29
Other: Three sugars are also used.

A world classic.


  1. Oh, and I should have noted in the main text of the body: Iggi provided this ale, and we drank it on his back porch under Saturday sun. As always, I am more than happy to return anyone's offer of beer with a review. The least (and in many cases, you might take that literally) I can do.

  2. Mmm, liquid rye bread sounds pretty good. I think.

  3. one of my favorites for the past 15 years! fun to read about it from such a sage and learned taster.

  4. sage and learned taster

    I just get it all off Wikipedia...

  5. I just tried some this weekend. Excellent!

  6. Have you's no longer licensed to sell in the US. Very sad news.

  7. This is untrue, Theakston's Old Peculier is readily available throughout the US and has been for many years. Just had one last night, it is an old favorite of mine.

  8. Where can you get it in the US? I had some pints of it in London last summer and loved it, but I've not been able to find it here.

  9. I tried the Old Peculiar for the first time recently and was very impressed. I am slightly chuffed because my main note of interest in this beer was its 'peculiar' (sorry, but i just had to do it) sour note which i thought was beautifully balanced with its yeastiness - a touch of class. Suffice to say liquid rye bread is a stretch but a fair call. 4 - Glenn - South Australia

  10. I have tried to find it recently and was told that it isnt currently being distributed in the U.S. If it is please tell me where to find it as it is, by far, my favorite beer.

  11. Well, I know that its sold at my favorite bar in michigan, so. . .

  12. If you ever get the chance, drink a pint of it in a Yorkshire pub: it's astounding.

  13. My favorite distributor stopped carrying Old Peculier several months ago - when questioned he told me that the distribution rights / companies changed and there was a business arrangment that no longer worked - all of it nonsense to a man that wants his 'Old Pic' - looking for a new distributor that carries it

  14. Does anyone know, definitively, whether Old Peculier is still distributed in the States, and if so, where I could mail order it from? I've had no luck at all through local (San Diego) distributors. Any help would be immensely appreciated.

  15. I had my first taste of Old Pecilier in a Yorkshire pub, and since I am of the female gender -I could not order a full pint - I could only have a half pint. After my second half pint I admit I was tottering on the barstool, and have no recollection of leaving the pub!

  16. I have also been trying to track down this beer. We used to buy it in this little gas station beer store in TN but they stopped importing it to the U.S. for a while. According to the brewer, they have a new import partner. This is what I received from the new importer, Latis Imports, on June 6th 2011:
    Thank you for your interest in Theakston’s. We are the new importer and have just worked through the legal, logistical and commercial issues necessary to bring the brand back to the US. Therefore, we will be selling Theakston’s Old Peculier and Extra Bitter in the US by mid-Summer. Unfortunately, we have an issue with the old Theakston’s distributor in Atlanta so we won’t be able to offer it in Atlanta until we settle our issue which we hope to do before the end of the year.

    Appreciate your interest and patience.

    Latis Imports

  17. Anthony, on the off chance you look at this again, any word about Atlanta? I would love to get some OP. Thanks.

  18. Anthony, on the off chance you look at this again, any word about Atlanta? I would love to get some OP. Thanks.

  19. Just FYI -- it wasn't Anthony@Latis that posted that. If you look closely, Anthony's paragraph was quoted by "Anonymous", so Anthony likely has never been to this site.

    That said, I wrote to, and heard back from, Anthony separately -- he indicated that Old Peculier should be back in Texas in July or August, which should be most any time now. I so cannot wait -- this is my absolute favourite ale, above even Samuel Smiths' brews as well as my 'daily drinker' Wychwood Hobgoblin.

  20. So, I need to know where I can purchase this, in one of three places: Online, Brooklyn NY, or Columbus Ohio - your help in this matter is both urgent and much appreciated as I have an old friend who is sad he has not been able to find this beer for years and he may not have long to live. I'd really like to bring him a case when I go to visit him.