I was early for the event at Fuller’s, so I went straight to the Brewery Shop, which was splendidly refurbished since my last visit. Lots of souvenirs and gifts. Beers in bottles and mini-kegs, a fine range of wines, and, as a highlight, most of the versions of Fuller’s Vintage Ale, going back to 2000. I bought a few of those to drink at my leisure.
As it turned out, the brewery shop was also where the night’s event was going to start. I was happy to see that there were a few familiar names on the list of participants, including Ron Pattison, Melissa Cole and Pete Brown, and I soon introduced myself to Ron.
After a few rounds of Honey Dew beer, the stage was given to the managing director of Fuller’s, John Roberts, who talked about the brewery and the Fine Ale club. The brewery is the last remaining traditional brewery in London, it is still in family control and at present has 365 pubs.
We were led to the newly refurbished Hock Cellar, where the tasting was going to take place. For anyone interested in the history of beer and brewing, this is like Aladdin’s Cave, with lots of items from Fuller’s history. I managed to take some nice photos to use on the blog in the time to come.
John Keeling, the head brewer, was leading the tasting – but it was much more of a tasting, it was also a passionate speech on the philosophy behind the brewery today. It was very interesting that one of his main themes was directly relevant to the discussions we have had in the blog sphere lately about innovation and tradition.
Keeling started out with pointing out that aging beers is nothing new. The aged beers Fuller’s now have in their range are the result of rediscovering aging, going back to the lost art of mixing stock ale with fresh ale. And seeking the best raw materials from around the globe is nothing new, either, the records from 1906 show that they were using Chilean malt and hops from Oregon at the time.
Fuller’s was also viewed in relation to the rest of the industry. Keeling meant that the micro breweries have played an important role, driving the market and making the world a more interesting place.
On the other hand, there are some brewers that place quality and consistency above everything else. Some of them are great brewers, and they make Carlsberg and Budweiser. The problem is that they forget to other important aspects – flavour and character.
Keeling peppered the rest of his presentation with anecdotes and jokes too numerous to quote. If you want an articulate spokesman for the British beer industry, this is certainly your man, I hope he is widely used.
On to the beers:
Starting out with the London Pride, with its familiar malty nows and flowery hoppy aroma. Lots of malty flavour, bitter finish.
The ESB has more character. It has even more malt, but this is balanced by more hops. It used to be the strongest cask beer in Britain.
On to the London Porter, a splendid beer in its bottled version, superb on cask. Havana cigars, campfire. Coffee and dark fruit. Keeling had a word of advice: London Porter is delivered to the pubs that order it. If you want it on cask, pester your pub about it!
1845 was presented as as close to a traditional Burton ale as we come in this country, so if you want a reference beer for the style, here it is.
On to the more advanced stuff: First the Gales Prize Old Ale 2007. This is similar to lambic, it is an uncontrolled process. Lots of fruit combined with a pleasant sourness. Prunes and grapefruit, according to my note-book.
35% of the beer is aged for 18 months, the rest is fresh beer.
Brewer’s Reserve #1 is sold out. 40 casks were made after experimenting with Golden Pride, ESB and 1845 as the beer to age. The beer was matured for 500 days in 30-year-old whisky barrels.
Strong and sharp oaky aroma in this one – #2 is maturing right now.
This beer is also, as far as I understood, a blend of aged and fresh beers, particularly because of the Grogging Law of 1745.
So, to the highlight of the evening. The 1999, 2005 and 2009 versions of Fuller’s Vintage.
2009: Hazy amber beer, fine head. Fruit, pepper and sweet malt, Smooth. A great beer for drinking as it is.
2005: More syrupy, very complex. Vinous, a little sour. Lovely, a beer on top form.
1999: Dusty hops, sweet malt, all the edges have been rounded off. Liquor-like. Over the top? Probably, but still a highly drinkable brew.
The evening finished with a buffet and an open bar, and I chatted a bit with my beer blogging colleagues before venturing out into the dark December night again.
What a lovely evening. And it was still only midweek!