Beer, like so many other subjects has many strands. Although there is a core subject at the base of it for some the pleasure lye beyond pure drinking!

There are collectors of course in many fields, and in the realm of beer this can range from caps to coasters, cans to labels. 

One area that has particular appeal is bottle beer collecting. Here we are not just talking about your everyday brands (although there are some it seems even this brings pleasure too) but beers which are far more specific, either commemorative, obscure, limited or ultimately - rare.

Earlier this year I went to visit Mike Peterson at his home in Stoke-on Trent, who knows more than a thing or two about bottle beer collecting, and is a recognised authority.

I wanted to know how Mike got hooked on the subject, what inspired him, and to take a tour of his beer collection.

For Mike his interest begun back in 1977 when he first started to collect bottled beer (then something very new which few did).

As with many collectors, even with a subject of their choice, there comes a point when it is advisable (or necessary in terms of space) to refine your approach, either by brewery, commemoration, or scarcity of beer.

In Mike's case he concentrated on commemoratives, mentioning such iconic brews as Bass's kings Ale from 1902 and concentrated on collecting Jubilee Ales from 1935 and Coronation Ales from 1937. Here he would would build up as many releases from individual breweries.

He is a founder member of the Association of Bottled Beer Collectors which was set up in 1983, now the Association of British Beer Collectables. He edited What's Bottling, the Newsletter and Journal of the Association, for over 20 years.

Mike then took me for a tour around his beer cellar, and having known him for some time, there is one brewery in particular I associate with him - Barclay Perkins, and one beer in particular -  Russian Imperial Stout.


                                Mike Peterson with one of his earliest Guinness bottles.


He did once have a vast array of nips ( 7 fluid oz.)  and various other sizes of the celebrated stout, which he has since sold off with just a couple of quart  bottles ( 42 fluid oz.) now remaining - but they still hold a certain fascination...

One Barclay Quart commemorates the Silver Jubilee of the late King George V in 1935, and the other the victory at the end of the war in Europe in 1945. Here beer has a status akin to fine wine, with the commemoration giving it extra gravitas - rare beers indeed!

When I asked him what made him so interested in Russian Imperial Stout's initially, his reply was he simply enjoyed the taste! Fair comment...

Other rarities scattered the shelves were beers from some long departed breweries such as, Devenish, Eldringe Pope, Georges, Tamplins and Westerham's. 

Some in particular caught my eye and almost tell an abridged timeline of a breweries existence.  Barclay Perkins again was the case in point, with bottles going from the Russian Imperial Stout's to an ale that celebrated The Festival of Britain in 1951, and the Globe Beta Beer from 1979, commemorating the redevelopment of the Park Street site, the breweries old home.

Although Mike has reduced his collection considerably there is one part that remains in its entirety, and brought a glint to his eye - Guinness. I could see how much this meant to him and he took me through the rarities he had. Guinness Pomona Dock from 1972 for example - one of only 20 made, and the Guinness Park Royal Gift set from 2005 when it closed in London. He had many others which told equally fascinating stories.

You can see how this hobby holds such appeal, with on the one hand the tantalising question as to whether something is still drinkable after such a long period of time (as in the higher gravity strength brews for example)  but also the aesthetic appeal of both label and bottle designs.

There was a simplicity and integrity in many label designs on show that captured the spirit of the eras in which they were produced.

Their message was direct but imaginative, and as many regional breweries only sold their bottles within the locality of where they were made, a wholesomeness of local identity.

This was an age unfettered by marketing gimmickry when even national brands appeared to keep connection with there roots with label designs never deviating too far from the originals.

Mike's collection then is a microcosm of brewing social history and a valuable lesson to those marketeers who feel the need to 're invent  a brand' without taking into account its provenance and heritage. Tampering with this, and not understanding its true worth can prove a big mistake.

Long may it bring him pleasure, and I was very appreciative for the opportunity to view it!



                              One of the two Barclay quart bottles, this one from 1935.                                                                                         A Simonds Coronation Ale from 1911. 


                                    One of the rare Pomona Dock Guinness bottles...                                                                                The row of 1937 Coronation Ales in Mike's collection.



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