That Musty Box Of Fuller’s Vintage Ales

First conclusion of the experiment: the boxes are far less mould caked
when not left in a corner of a cold room for a decade.

OK, it wasn’t so bad. I was worried there for a bit but its gonna be OK. Turns out I have doubles. I have leeway. But, come to think of it, this box holds ten years of Fuller’s Vintage Ales, 2007 to 2016 and it’s high time I tucked into them. First, I bought them and tucked in right away. Later, I would do some comparing and contrasting, like the .05 v .10 and the ’06 v ’11 but I didn’t keep it up. I just stock piled.

I used to stockpile. Like those Stone Vertical Epic Ale annual releases. Like the Thomas Hardy ales. I ended up giving away Stone’s 05-05-05 to 12-12-12 more out of a sense of boredom than anything. By the end of the project it was a parody of itself. Reports were that a third were great, a third were fine and a few plain sucked. Such is the path of big US craft. Yet, they gave more joy to those gifted than my THA’s are given me now. Yik. Malt reduced to soy sauce. Hops now only offering the residue left after I boiled down my childhood ’45s. So glad I saved them. So, tonight I begin my attack the box at the back of the cellar.

First up and this Fuller’s Vintage Ale 2015 is not giving me the joy. There’s an astringent green vegetable taste in the middle of my pint where, you know, rosy cheeked English youth gathering in autumn’s harvest should be gamboling… cavorting even. But it’s clear and the colour of a love match between a lump of amber and a chestnut – which I will grant you is a bit of a range. And it raises a good head. As ale it is not fouled. BAer review speak of a wooden bitterness. I get that.  Don’t want it. But I get it. Yet… as it sits it moves from astringent green vegetable to astringent exotic orange-like citrus fruit you couldn’t pronounce but thought you would buy anyway because “hey, it’s Christmas!” and then you find it dried out a bit at the back of the shelf weeks later, closer to February than December. Which is better. I now get some husky grain. I can even see Seville marmalade from here. Even if made by my cray cray great-aunt well past her marmalade glory days. Household helpful hint: open this and let it breath for an hour.

I had to wash both bottles of the 2014. The first one I pulled out was stored upside down and it’s showing a need to sit for a bit. Cloudy. And both have stage one designate substance issues on the box and label. In the mouth, again with the musty staleness. Gonna let it sit a bit but at least its not paying homage to a green pepper. Later. Better. Still maybe infanticide as the flavours have not resolved. There is a hay loft grainy dry as well as a a rich earthiness. If my garden compost tasted like this I’d be ecstatic. Thinking about it, Gouda and mushrooms on toast. That would work well with this. Later still, the narrative is adds a dry stone aspect. I am now walking on a path on a hot day through rocky fields like those in our nearby fine wine region.  The hops after an hour have a rich sweet field herb and mint aspect. I once owned a scythe and an acre garden needing tending. This is taking me back there.

[More later. An on-going project… until it’s all gone.]

A few days later, the 2013. Bottle washed and cap popped. Cold. Canadian cellar in February cold. Gotta let it sit but the first sniff and sip are promising. Cream, grain and rich sweetness.  Unlike its two juniors, nothing off yet. Receding beef brothiness shifting towards sweet stewed apple. But mainly a mouthful of husky graininess. And cream. Brie cream, though. The cream made by the Brie cows. There’s something going on there. A Brie thing. Brie-like. Maybe. Thick viscous stuff. But no earthy brooding and nothing like Seville marmalade. Fresh and open an hour later. A lovely beer.

One more week has passed. The 2012 just opened had a far less challenging bottle. Cold from the final few boxes in the beer cellar it is stunning, exemplifying what I absolutely love about great beers. Masses of cream cut orange marmalade.  I curse 49 year old me for not buying cases and cases of this. Kumquat even. I say that as a man who just this very afternoon roasted two chickens stuffed with kumquats. Just saying. Go eat kumquats if you don’t understand. Tangy, fresh, intense, bright citrus. I am pouring half an inch at a time into a dimpled pint mug and ramming my nose in, sucking the aroma in deeply.  [That, by the way, is how to drink fine beer according to me.] As it warms, the graininess starts to assert itself. So now it is like wholewheat bread with a double cream and marmalade spread. I should be graphing this, with different brightly colour lines tracing the taste every fifteen minutes. I am going to leave it there. I am having a moment. OK… ten minutes later weedy herbal notes as well as a nod to beef broth come out. Stunning.

12 thoughts on “That Musty Box Of Fuller’s Vintage Ales”

  1. I decided over the course of my dry January that this would be the year that I empty out my cellar of beers I have been ‘aging’. I have a range of Fuller’s Vintages from 2008-2015 to get through, several annual versions of North Coast Old Stock Ale, and various other heavy hitters floating around. Wouldn’t be too surprised if they get ‘paired’ (ugh I am starting to hate that word) with whatever single malt Scotch I have in the house at the time. If the world is to go to hell in a hand basket this year, then I am going down blootered.

  2. I’d be interested in your notes on the same vintages to see if I am unkind or suffer from a bad bottle… or have lucked upon a particularly good one.

  3. Twitter on 23 December 2017: “Fullers 2007 Vintage. Minty, twiggy hops with a nod to papaya back there. Husky grainy goodness and a rich cream heart resolves in a long finish with a bit of white pepper added. Lovely.”

    Fullers is selling this beer for $187 CND. Nutty.

  4. Twitter on 31 December 2017: “Fuller’s Vintage Ale 2008. I let it warm and open for a half hour. Plenty of pith, orange zest and minty bitter hops over toffee malt. Lingering bitter finish with a hint of licorice. Less of a cream heart than the 2007 opened a few weeks ago.”

    Not as lovely as the 2007. Bitter orange too forward and not enough malt. Fullers is selling one for $170 CND. Glad I spend less than a twentieth of that. An hour and a half in, more softness and pale malt, without the grain. Very nice but not worth anywhere near that money.

  5. More tweet: 2008 worth it? “No. I have the end of it in a tulip glass now an hour and a half in. It could easily be a very well-made well-designed fresh strong ale that I might buy for a regular price. In no way a disappointment like that sad Stone vertical.”

    Odd that the remaining 2009-2016 bottles are allegedly worth $725.00.

  6. 13 Jan 2018: “Lovely Seville orange marmalade and eucalyptus hops over a rich cream pale malt base. Very attractive, better composition than the 2008. #FullerVA09”

  7. Also: “I am convinced that one of the great successes of Fullers Vintage ale is the strike – or how it feels going in. There is both the rich texture as well as a menthol cool aspect that is fundamentally wholesome and deeply satisfying. #FullersVA09”

  8. 19 Jan 2018: Opened the 2010 bottled and poured into a nonic. Creamy head over clouded chestnut ale. Pungent classic Fuller’s yeast aroma. Cold, black tea and toffee. Rich cream. Letting it warm. Later: prune… and black tea and apple butter. Leather. Later: an hour later, cream heat, sweet bread crust. Lovely.

  9. 27 January 2018: Opened the 2011. Feels like this is in its normal lifespan. Nothing to weird, stale or funky needing airing out. Loads of sweet malt goodness, a warm toffee note distinct from the grain as well as lots of orange marmalade. No black tea. If anything a little licorice with apple and pear notes. Really a lovely beer. Livelier. A nice sharp snap from the carbonation, not something I noticed in the earlier vintages over the last few weeks. These bottles are each numbered. I will always think of Bottle 003307 fondly.

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