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.

According To Me: Forget Units, Embrace Millilitres

drunkmdRemember last July when I explained how I actually tasted beer? This is another one of those posts. Not looking to convince you of anything but just to set out what I actually do.

First, let me get this out of the way. One of the oddest things about beer is how it triggers a particular sort of outrage. We see it often in relation to the libertarian response to public safety advocates lobbying for lowering the levels of acceptable blood alcohol for drivers. My rights! The stats are wrong! The lawyers are lining their pockets! We see the same sort of thing when public health officers bring out advice about lowering your alcohol intake. My rights! The stats are wrong! The doctors are lining their pockets! I find these complaints boring and odd. Amateur LLBs meeting amateur MDs. They come across a bit addled or at least conflicted in ways that I don’t get. And a bit like a 1950’s TV ad for smoking. Certainly, killing yourself off early is preferable to killing off others but still… who really is driven to strongly react to folk seeing to reduce, you know, death. I bet these days even aging 1970s rock stars might be more inclined to wonder what a few fewer trips to the cookie jar might have meant to one’s latter years. If booze means that much to you, find something else to care about. Get a hobby. Or a fish. Find happiness in a snowflake FFS.

But… I am not here to point fingers and certainly not name names. Folk live their own lives and can react to these things as they see fit as long as they don’t harm others. Yet there is one thing I think would help immensely with the dialogue generally. Get rid of the idea of the “unit” that the public health advocacy is based upon. It just fogs up the whole discussion. You see it in Canada. You see it in the UK. Here, we still live in the 15 drink universe. In the UK, the outrage is the announcement of the 14 unit week. Yet what is a unit to you? Nothing. You require an online calculator to understand the implications. And no one is looking at one of those mid-session. By creating an arbitrary standard, you do not describe the experience as the people you are advocating to experience it. It muddles and befuddles.

There is a better way. Milliliters of pure alcohol. Let’s stick with Canada as I never could figure out the UK model.* There are 17.05 ml of pure alcohol in a standard 12 ounce standard 5% bottle of Canadian beer. We like standards. Canadians are obsessed with 5% beer. If a beer has only 4.8%, it’s is dishwater. Another at 5.2% is Satan’s route to your soul. We are very regular in these matters. So the prime unit is really 17 milliliters. Which means 15 of them for a Canadian man in a week is 255 ml. A 750 ml bottle of what most call hard liquor (aka spirits) also comes in as another Canadian standard: 40% alcohol. Which means a bottle of hard liquor has 300 ml of pure alcohol. Are you with me? Good. Wine is trickier as wine has a range of strengths. Light whites can be 9% or under while reds commonly top 14%. But they come in 750 ml bottles. So the quick mental calculation is based around three-quarters. Meaning a 750 ml bottle of mid-weight 12% wine has 90 ml of pure alcohol. 17 goes into 90 around five times. Five servings in a bottle of wine. Simple. You see where I am going?

Which means the average standard week recommended drinking per adult is a bit less than a 750 ml bottles of hard liquor or three bottles of wine or 15 bottles of beer. I don’t know about you but not only does that not seem like a small amount – it also does not seem to be equal. I would likely think myself a bit of a loser if I gunned a large bottle of, say, Gordons or Dewars a week. Three bottles of wine each seems a bit much, too, especially as I would be sharing that over the dinner table with another but I suppose I would feel a bit better about splitting a bottle of wine a night than I would being that gin bomber draining alky even if it might cost me twice as much. And, you know, the beer doesn’t seem like all that little at all. I wouldn’t want to have two or three beers a day most days of the week – but, again, I also would not feel like a gin dipso if I had fifteen in a seven day span. I certainly would not be sitting down to go on about the nanny state… in public… on the internet.

If the numbers were put in those simpler terms, stated as normal purchasing sizes over a week it seems to be folk would more easily get the message – pace yourself over time and keep it sensible. Yes, there is the jerk who drains the Gordon’s quart in one sitting as part of his healthy lifestyle but that person is, in fact, the jerk. These guidelines – all guidelines – should in fact come with a jerk disclaimer: “Warning: you are a jerk, you will not do this anyway so don’t bother complaining on your blog about it.” For most other sensible people it might get the point across better. Works for me. Which is all I was wanting to mention.

*Which, yes, I do see that the “unit” in the UK is only 10 ml and you now only should have 14 of them which is quite funny as it means the recommended amount is 140 ml a week as opposed to 255 ml here in Canada or 55% of the Canadian levels. Is that right? I’d be outraged! Unless… well, I bet Stonch is about 55% of one of me. He’s only wee. Maybe that’s it.

How I Actually Taste Beer According To Me


Once I used the phrase “the theatre of the mouth” and Stan liked the idea. Or maybe just the sound of the phrase. I was thinking about it today for some reason and realized that I had never described what I meant when I thought about this to myself. Well, the phrase itself places one in the seat, the only place that ultimately matters. No one can taste for you anymore than someone can attend a play for you. I was a playhouse usher for years so the analogy works for me.

Having now drawn the graph at dusk by the window, I wonder if it really works sitting there in 2-D. Nine squares through which the sensations move. Tic-tac-toe. I’ll have to think about this more, flavours and textures flitting in and out in order as the grid is traversed from left to right. Spaces between indicating selectivity and articulation. Do I fill it in with coloured pencils? Emoticons? My Little Pony stickers? Or by using it would it become less useful as a concept, a conceit?