The 1869 Ratcliff Ale 
Ratcliff Ale was brewed in 1869, to mark the birth of a member of the Ratcliff family. The name of the person it celebrates varies in different sources, between Harry and Robert, but it was more likely Harry. The name is not stated on the label, and the bottle was probably not released as a commemorative beer as we know it, but was intended simply to be drunk as a celebration, perhaps at the son's 21st birthday. The date of bottling is not known, but the label was not produced until 1876 at the earliest, because it bears the Bass Diamond trade mark, which was registered in 1876. The beer was issued in standard, plain bottles, in contrast with the later Bass Corkers which were produced in special embossed bottles. The quantity produced is not known, but as the bottles are comparatively common for their age, there must have been a large number produced. The beer is unlikely to have been specially brewed. The contents were No. 1 Strong Ale, a regular brew which was brewed with that name right up until comparatively recently.
The beer was stored in bottles at the brewery, and saw the light of day occasionally over the years. Most of the dates of issue were not recorded. However, in 1977, to commemorate the brewery's Bicentenary, most of the beer was re-sealed and re-labelled and issued to favoured employees. Labels were reprinted for the occasion, and can be distinguished from originals by the slightly bolder text.
Ratcliff Ale Ratcliff Ale label
Click image to enlarge it
Several different bottle types exist. The most common size is the reputed quart, which is about a pint and a third. These bottles are about 12 inches tall. There are at least two types of bottle used of this capacity, one with a round shoulder, and one as illustrated with a sloping shoulder. There was also a smaller size, which is about 10 inches tall, and may have been a pint. All are old fashioned unembossed corked bottles typical of those commonly used in the 19th century.
In 2006 Worthington's White Shield Brewery carried out a publicity stunt where they released information that a number of old bottles had been found in the brewery, including some Ratcliff Ales. They carried out a tasting and found that the beer had survived and was drinkable. An acquaintance of mine tasted one some years before, and found it to be drinkable, but slightly acetic.
Don't expect all Ratcliff Ales to be drinkable today. The quality of the beer is dependent on a number of factors, especially the conditions under which it has been kept. The Brewery was able to provide the optimum conditions for keeping the beer. A bottle that has been kept on the living room shelf for years is unlikely to be palatable.
Ratcliff Ales are understandably the most valuable of the Bass Corkers. Expect to pay 60.00 upwards for one, depending on size and condition. It is notable that one sold on E-bay for 250.00. This is presumed to be a result of the publicity from the White Shield Brewery, which would have generated additional interest.
 

Detailed prices
Pint size 60.00 upwards
Reputed quart size 75.00 upwards


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