Beer Review: Belhaven 80 Shilling Classic Choice Export Ale

AFTER taking a day off to recover from several arduous days of beer reviewing, I’m back. And this time, I’m looking at a bottle of Belhaven 80 Shilling Classic choice. Again, this is from the Scottish ale batch being sold by my local Bethnal Green branch of Tesco.
Belhaven 80 Shilling bottle

This front label keeps things relatively simple. Inside the roundel, there’s a picture of a lion. One that looks like a take on the lion from the Royal Standard of Scotland.
Belhaven 80 Shilling Classic Choice Export Ale front label

There’s a discreet “estd.” of “1719” which is very early indeed. Also a hint that this Belhaven is part of a range that they call “Classic Beer”.

On the other side of he bottle, there’s a surprisingly small back label. Surprising when you compare it to the encyclopaedia’s on the back of some of the bottles I’ve looked at recently.

The rear label is headed with “Belhaven 80/- Export Ale”. This baffled me at first, until I realised that “/-” means shilling in old money. Nice quirky touch. This they followed with the reason why. According to the label, shillings were used to categorise beer strength in nineteenth-century Scotland. This beer just happens to be 80, rather than 27 or 7 guineas. Interesting history trivia for a beer label.

Also on there is a little description of what to expect from it. And it’s good news if you’re a fan of fruity beers. This one was one described as “gooseberry pie and cream”. “Kiwi”, “apple”. “walnuts” and “creamy toffee” are mentioned along with more typical “grain” and “hops”. And when they say “take time to savour the flavour”, you know that they think this will be good. We’ll be the judge of that…

On the more factual half of the rear label, we get all the basics. One of which is an unusually low 3.9% volume. Compared to the 5% and above of most other ales I’ve tried recently, this is low. What it means is that this 500 millilitre bottle has just 1.95 units of your alcohol.

With that out of the way, it’s time to see what this ale from The Belhaven Brewery Co. from Dunbar, Scotland, can do. I’m looking forward to this.

Once in a glass, it looks a little darker than I was expecting. Although it’s more transparent than some of the darker and stronger ales I’ve recently reviewed. It also comes topped with a thick and consistent head of foam.

Its smell I would rate as ale-like. Not surprising as that’s exactly what it is. Hops and grain are what comes across in the smell. And as that’s what ale should smell like, in my humble opinion, that gets 80 shilling off to a good start.

Trying to drink it will give you a milk-like moustache. So ready yourself for that. Or don’t care about it. It’s your choice.

As I had almost no idea what to expect from the taste, I was, unsurprisingly, surprised. It wasn’t bitter. It wasn’t fruity. Nor flowery. The apple and kiwi, if they truly are in there, weren’t strong enough for me to notice. As for the promised walnuts and toffee, they don’t jump out at you either. What then, does 80 shilling taste of?

If pushed, I’d say hops and malted barley. Yet neither are much in evidence either. Maybe I’ve been spoiled by the ultra-flavourful ales that I’ve been reviewing recently. Or maybe 80 shilling simply isn’t a strong beer. The character reminded me most of lagers where you notice the watery-ness. And that might be down to the low 3.9% alcohol volume.

What is 80 shilling all about? It’s an ale that’s light and easy to drink. Unfortunately, it comes at the cost of true flavour, body and character that makes ales so much fun. If you want something that looks, smells and tastes somewhat like an ale, you’ll like Bellhaven 80 shilling. I however, am looking for something that doesn’t comprise so much. That said, I like drinks that achieve something different. By being light, low-alcohol and drinkable, 80 shilling does just that.

Rating: 3.25

Have you tried this or any other Belhaven beers? What did you think?
Have you got any tips for beers to try?
Or want me to review anything else?
Comments below please…

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2 Responses to “Beer Review: Belhaven 80 Shilling Classic Choice Export Ale”

  1. sharingbeer Says:

    I have definitely had Belhaven but not anything this special. I wouldn’t mind if you could review some of the French Blanche wheat beers I see at my local Liquor superstore. I am too timid to purchase them because they are so much more expensive.

  2. Richard Says:

    Belhaven’s 80 Shilling is a classic example of this style. The Scottish ales outside of the “wee heavy” Scotch Strong Ale are all about the malt character — toastiness, caramel (imagine a caramel candy without all of the sugar) and, as you noted, are lower alcohol, not sweet, and very ale-like. The BJCP style guide at is a great source for what different beers should taste like. Thanks for a great review…

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