There are certain breweries that seem like they can do no wrong. While I know that is impossible – breweries are run by humans, so mistakes get made. Yet, for me there are a handful of breweries with whom I have come to trust their beer will meet a certain quality every time.
One such case is Fuller’s. England’s oldest remaining independent brewery, many of its beer have long been regarded as style exemplars, including ESB and London Porter. Further, for me, every beer I taste from them – whether it be the newest offering in their stable or a regular pint of the mainstays – consistently meets a standard of quality and flavour. It is always well made and almost always gets me pondering the delicate balance they can inject in their creations. I really do appreciate this brewery.
Maybe their unapologetic British approach to brewing isn’t your cup of tea (sorry!). Fair enough. I am not saying Fuller’s makes the best beer in the world – I am always careful to avoid that superlative. I am not even saying they are better than any other world-renowned brewery. I appreciate their fruity, balanced, understated approach to styles may not be for everyone. You mileage may differ, etc.
However, I argue there is no denying they both have an excellent quality control regime – every batch is clean and close to the desired flavour profile – and they only release products that they believe meet certain standards. Whether it be the bold and completely cellarable Vintage Ale, the light, summery Honeydew or the enigmatic 1845, Fuller’s finds a way to make interesting, enjoyable beer. Their approach is not provocative, controversial or particularly boundary-pushing, which is why many may find them uninspiring. But I have come to believe they are one brewery whose beer I can always safely order/buy without fear of disappointment.
This rather-too-long intro is to lead me into the latest Fuller’s product I had a chance to sample. Their Imperial Stout hit Alberta shelves a few weeks ago and, of course, I picked up a bottle. I sampled it during the holiday festivities. All I can say is it was good enough to pull me from the latest family game of Settlers of Catan to write up a few notes.
It pours inky deep black. Black as night, quite frankly; one of the deepest looking beer I have ever seen. It has a tight, full, voluminous dark tan head. This is a gorgeous looking beer. The aroma gives off dark chocolate, touches of toffee as well as burnt caramel, raisin, some light coffee, licorice and nuts. While there is a lot going on in the smell, it remains subtle. No one character overtakes the collective.
I take a sip and am met with black licorice and sweet coffee upfront, accented by deep caramel and chocolate. In the middle some dark fruit and warming alcohol start to rise. I pick out some cherry in particular. The finish has molasses and creamy toffee. Alcohol warming finishes everything up.
My main descriptors of this beer are complex and subtle. I realize those evoke opposite connotations, but they are accurate. I am taken at the cascade of flavours and aromas this beer offers, but no one quality dominates. They all fit into place like an intricately designed jigsaw puzzle. Even the alcohol is not over-powering – despite the beer being an imperial-worthy 10.7%.
I taste it and feel immediately it ranks among the best British interpretations of an Imperial Stout I have had. There are lots of great ones out there, and I have made no attempt to rank them (nor will I), but my instinct tells me this one deserves to be in the long list, at the very least. For me, it is an instant classic.
But should I really be surprised? It is Fuller’s after all.