Beer fans worldwide get on the road to Morocco

Ed Young, Production Manager at Daleside Brewery, Starbeck, with Morocco Ale. Picture by Simon Hulme
Ed Young, Production Manager at Daleside Brewery, Starbeck, with Morocco Ale. Picture by Simon Hulme
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IT’S a famous English beer whose recipe has been a closely-guarded secret for more than four centuries.

Now a Harrogate-based brewery has gained national recognition for its Morocco Ale, thought to be the oldest English beer still in production

The spiced real ale dates back to Tudor times and has been celebrated as part of the national Let There Be Beer campaign for its surprising taste and remarkable history.

Eric Lucas, managing director at Daleside Brewery, said: “We are delighted that Morocco Ale, a classic dinner beer has been chosen as one of the beers to be showcased by the Let There Be Beer campaign.

“Thanks to Daleside’s commitment to maintaining the heritage and distinctive flavour of this fine old beer, Morocco Ale, now has admirers around the world.”

The beverage was originally believed to have been brewed in the 16th century, with the recipe updated to include spices which were just becoming available in Britain at the time.

Morocco Ale’s recipe was safely guarded for hundreds of years by the Bagot family at Levens Hall in the Lake District, Cumbria.

Colonel James Grahame of Levens, a courtier to King Charles II, then added the final exotic touch, naming the dark brew Morocco Ale, in honour of his monarch’s ‘Moorish’ wife, Catherine of Braganza.

The secret of the recipe has been guardedly furiously, at one point the recipe was even buried to hide it from parliamentarians during the English Civil War.

Like many of the beers at the time the ale was used at festivals, for drinking games and used to pay workers, when water was considered unsafe. The beer was well known in the region and even now it uses the Bagot goat as its logo, which is part of the Bagot family’s coat of arms.

Since 1877 the recipe was hidden away in the library at Levens Hall until the gardener found it sandwiched inside a book.

The recipe was brought to Yorkshire when the Daleside Brewery was asked to brew it for the first time since its discovery in 1995, and have been continuing to do so ever since.

Mr Lucas who has been working at the brewery for over a decade, said: “It was a very exciting challenge for us, to brew a beer that hadn’t been tasted in years.”

“What I love is the fact that the taste and the ingredients used in the beer have changed very little in centuries of British history.

“The beer was even used during the Levens Hall Radish Feast in which gentlemen would bring their best radishes and the winner would be treated to a quart of Morocco Ale.”

Its ancient pedigree has not stood in the way of contemporary popularity. In 2003, Morocco Ale, which is now available in bottles as well as casks, won a Silver Medal CAMRA award – one of many accolades the beer has garnered over the years. The beer has also featured on the BBC Good Food programme.

Mr Lucas said: “I think everyone is looking for something different now, ales are becoming more popular and the spices that were used then are seen as a new trend in beer.

“The thing that makes Morocco Ale different is it is a dinner beer which surprises you with its spices then by the end it warms you.”

The Let There Be Beer campaign has attracted global interest and is run in partnership with the British Beer & Pub Association and Channel 4. It aims to raise awareness of the great choice of beers available in the UK.

After being selected as one of the stars of the 24-week campaign, Morocco Ale will feature on the LTBB website, with presenter Tim Lovejoy showing how the strong dark beer is the perfect complement to a classic Beef Wellington dish.

The beer has grown in popularity since its revival and can now be found distributed across Britain and Europe as a premium ale for beer lovers.

Mr Lucas said: “It is a part of English heritage and Yorkshire has some absolutely brilliant beers that are brewed in the region. It is really a place for beer lovers.”