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Vintage Fuller’s, No Doubt

I think I have mentioned in the past that I am quite good at identifying beer appropriate for aging and setting them aside in my cellar. However, I am lousy at pulling them back out again to actually consume. Meaning that I have a bursting cellar space which I must force myself occasionally to rummage through to pick out some gems to try.

My most recent sifting surfaced a 2008 bottle of Fuller’s Vintage Ale, which I picked up in the year of the release. I have a few vintages of Vintage and had at one point dreamed of a vertical tasting. However, that never transpired, so I decided to just pull out the bottle and give it a try.

I should say before reporting on what I found, I find Fuller’s to be one of the most consistently high quality brewers around. It is a rare thing to find a beer of theirs that disappoints. I mean they have been at it for 172 years, so probably have figured out a thing or two about brewing good beer.

That said, I am not certain that their Vintage Ale, an traditional Old Ale style, is designed to be cellared for almost a decade. At 8.5% it does have the alcohol to keep it, but there can be a big difference between aging for three or four years and having it sit for 10 years. That is one of the reasons I decided to pull it out when I did. Just to see.

It pours dark copper verging on a mahogany red. It has a thin off-white head with a loose bead and an archipelago design across the top of the beer. It has great clarity. It is deep and rich looking. The aroma gives off rich toffee, caramel, some soft dark fruit – I detect cherry and plum –  and hints of sherry. It has a rich and surprisingly fresh smell.

The taste experience is multi-layered. The front has brown sugar, toffee, malt candy with a light treacle accent. The middle brings out dark fruit of cherry and plum and raisin. Some nuttiness also hangs around. The beer has a complex malt character, offering layers of flavour starting with sugar, moving to fruit, then to earthier light molasses-like flavours. The finish is where some age shows. I pick up a bit of sherry and wine along with an earthy floral character. The linger draws out some soft alcohol and more sherry with hints of bourbon. As I sip further, I note a bit of vanilla emerges. The mouthfeel is full with a light creaminess to soften the edges.

This is a complex, soft and rounded beer. It seems like an old ale in the truest sense of the style. I am struck by how some of the subtle malts and fruitiness hung in during cellaring. If anything it has gotten more complex with time. The subtle oxidation notes improve the overall impression of the beer. Amazing, just amazing.

Clearly I had my head on backward. Here I was worried 10 years was too long for this beer. Not even remotely. Now I am wondering if opening it after 10 years was too early. Even if so, I have no regrets. Tasting it reminds me I should pick up the newest version so I can have this experience again a decade from now.


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