Fuller’s Vintage Ale, old and new (1 of an ongoing series)

IMG_20200403_204019[This post harks back to the halcyon days of April, when we were so young and naïve, and our Prime Minister couldn’t even imagine it would last long enough that saying “it’ll be over by Summer Autumn Christmas Easter” could possibly be to leaving himself hostage to fortune. Anyhow, I’ve now got some of the 2020 calling out to me, so best to get the series up and running.]

I sometimes felt that I was fated not to have any of Fuller’s Vintage Ale. At various points over the last twenty years, bottles have swum into view, only to be cruelly taken from me. The pub quiz prize THAT WE WERE DEFINITELY GOING TO SHARE that slipped down a team-mate’s gullet when I wasn’t looking. The one time I’ve been asked for ID in a supermarket in the last decade. That other time, where I fancied picking one up, but I’d gone in for eggs and flour, so it seemed a touch undisciplined.

You know, soul-scarring episodes that mark you and your future. Not just a few unimportant incidents, oh no.

Fate finally determined to right this world-historical wrong a while back, when I was very kindly given a bottle of the 2015 release by a friend. So, taking events by the scruff of the neck, I built on that foundation and boldly picked up a couple of 2019’s crop from a local supermarket (when they were still about – the 2020 has taken their place on the shelves).

Now, with those immense hurdles leaped, it’s just time for the tasting. Given they’re 500ml bottles of an 8.4% ale, I felt that a vertical tasting was best not conducted over one night, so cracked open the 2019, having let it come up to cellar temp from the fridge that had been cradling it for a few days.

It pours well, with nary a hint of sediment (Fuller’s bottlings do tend to be well behaved on this front) and you’re left with a rich, full-but-not-dark copper and a respectable off-white cap of foam.

The nose is full-on, with lots of dried fruit, and big dark malt notes of biscuit and demerara, with a little honey. For the 2019 release they’ve used some New Zealand malt and hops, but I didn’t detect a huge deviance from what I’d expect from a strong old ale, even if a touch of lemon-lime citrus poked out over the marmalade notes.

To drink, this a big hitter, even for an English old ale. There’s lots of fruit, though less chewy malt than expected,  and a decent bitterness, especially given the body and heft it’s up against. There are some light tobacco/leather elements, but also a noticeable bit of roughness, one that doesn’t wholly seem to be down to strength alone.

That last part, the heft edging into roughness, suggests to me that it’ll improve for keeping, and in that spirit, I have another bottle stowed away for trying a year or two down the line.

I’d be interested to know if anyone else had a similar experience with it, or even if I should have stowed the Belgian glassware and stuck with a nonic or tankard.

Even with that proviso, it’s a notable beer, one that you drink almost like a port – that is, slowly, over time and after food. A comparison to a Karmeliet or similar shows the divergence, as unlike a lot of its Belgian peers, it really feels strong, whereas they can slip down a little more easily than is safe.

Stay tuned for intermittent adventures in drinking strong, old beer.

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