I hadn't been to the brewery shop since it's been refurbished and it's greatly improved. I'd always been a bit disappointed in the past as it mainly seemed to sell wine and I could get a better range of Fuller's beers in my local supermarkets. Now they've opened up and tarted up the shop and greatly expanded the range of their beers on sale. I'm not sure if everything Fuller's bottle was available but to the lovely Lisa's delight the IPA was.
Look at those beauties
We both have this on our list of desert island beers but I haven't seen it in bottle for many years (I think it's one of those beers that are annoyingly done mainly for export) and it can be hard to track down when it's available on draught. We failed in our quest to find any when it was out in September despite our best efforts. Phoning round Fuller's pubs got a mixed response, some had never heard of it and some had but didn't want it. Well done to the manager of the White House in Guildford though who actually made a point of ordering some after we'd phoned him. Sadly for us we were on holiday when it arrived and he'd sold out by the time we got back a week later. What a disaster.
It would be nice if Fuller's put on their website when their seasonal beers are coming out, or even send out emails to Fine Ale Club members. I've only got one email from them this year and that was some guff about sensible drinking.
Anyway, having found some IPA at last we clearly had to buy some. We only had a small bag with us so I wasn't sure how much we could carry. Probably three I thought. "We'll need to get at least six" said Lisa. You don't want to come between Lisa and her beer so six it was.
We carried on knocking back the honey dew for an hour or so until the event officially started with some speeches. There was a Fuller, a Turner and sadly not a Smith but the marketing man behind the Fine Ale Club whose name escapes me. The speeches were
We trooped into the hock cellar for a tutored beer tasting with the Head Brewer John Keeling. Having looked at the seating plan I'd noticed that a lot of beer writers were present, as well as a fellow beer blogger Ron Pattinson. He seems even more obsessive than me so it was interesting to meet him.
Me and the lovely Lisa had been put on a table right at the front which gave us a good view of John Keeling, and him a good view of us. You might be wondering why he'd want a good view of us, and so am I, but some of the first words he said were: "Is Ed the beer blogger here?" Having an hours worth of free beer inside me I cheered and waved. The lovely Lisa was even more surprised when he turned to her and said "you must be Lisa then". He'd read we were coming. It's a funny thing putting stuff on the internet, you never know who's going to see it. A photographer lept in at this point and Lisa was a bit perturbed having a big camera pointed at her as she's camera shy.
John Keeling awestruck after meeting me and the lovely Lisa
There was a half of pride for each of us on the table to get us started and ESB came round soon after. In the talk we heard that some beers are best served fresh but some are better after having some time to mature. So Chiswick is best drunk ASAP, but ESB is better after four weeks in the cask. We were asked what we thought of the ESB and my immediate thoughts were "it's free so it tastes great to me" but on reflection it wasn't the best I've had, not as rounded as it normally is. One of the professional beer writers piped up that she found it phenolic and tasted pear drops. Now phenolic and pear drops (due to esters) are well know terms used by beer tasters but the chance of spotting them both at the same time sounded like bollocks to me. John Keeling was more diplomatic however and simply said he hadn't noticed any pear drops.
Melissa Cole discussing phenolic esters (sorry Rob, that's the best picture I've got)
If I remember rightly it was London Porter next, one of my favourites from Fuller's. They do cask, keg and bottled keg versions of this which led to some discussion on on the merits of cask or keg, as apparently some people prefer the keg version to the cask.
Beer writer Pete Brown is in the middle pondering the merits of cask vs keg beer. He's shorter in real life than he is on his blog.
The question is a bit of a no-brainer for me. I mean come on guys. Yes, I know it is possible for the keg version of a beer to be better than the cask - Wetherspoons casking De Konnick proved that for me as it was just too sweet on cask. But really, London Porter will always be a great beer but it's only the cask versions that people will seek out.
Next we were on to 1845, the beer which revived amber malt for British brewers, as it was recreated so 1845 could be made. I've just used amber malt recently so I should be grateful but I've never been a huge fan of 1845. Not to say I didn't drink it, but I've always found it tastes a little harsh.
Brewer's Reserve followed, a beer matured in whisky cask, which I must admit I wasn't taken with when I tried some at an IBD do. It's funny how perceptions change your tastes though. When I first tried it I was chatting to the Fuller's lab chief who talked of the micro-flora from the casks and it seemed quite sour to me from the bacterial growth. This time we heard about the amount of whisky still left in the casks and it tasted more like a whiskier version of Innes and Gunn. Either way I'm not fond of whisky cask aged beers so it wasn't really my thing.
May well have been Prize Old Ale next. That would make sense. God, I should have scribbled some more stuff down. Maybe I should check with Lisa. Anyway, we definitely heard about how it was originally matured in unlined wooden vats where all sorts of bugs would grow in it. And how the last Gale's Prize Old Ale now lives at Fuller's in a steel tank where it is blended in with new batches, and topped up with fresh wort to keep it going. All good stuff, and I like the Fuller's versions of the Gale's beers, but I still miss the corked bottle Prize Old Ale used to come in.
The Vintage Ale comparison was definitely last. We had three to compare, one the latest batch, one about five years old and one about ten. Or thereabouts, it was all catching up with me by then. The new one was definitely too sweet, the middle one very good and I was quite taken with the oldest version too. The difference in the flavours and mouth feel were huge, with the oldest one tasting quite thin compared to the others, no mean feat for a beer of 8.5% ABV. Having had a lot of Vintage Ale in my time I've learnt to always leave it at least a year before drinking but after this I really think I should try and be even more patient.
The main event was over then and the buffet arrived. The tutored tasting was meant to have lasted an hour but had over run by 45 minutes. I'd enjoyed every minute of it so it was fine by me. One thing I can remember from early in the talk which I've been pondering since is how the importance of balancing quality and consistency with character and flavour was stressed. This is an excellent philosophy for making beer, and it shows through in the beers Fuller's produce.
I still think there's a place for the occasional unbalanced beer though, but I know I won't come back to them as often.
We then chatted with Ron and another beer blogger Knut Albert briefly. I know parti-gyling was part of the conversation but I can't really remember why. Probably because we were at Fuller's, who famously make their core range through this wort mixing method. I'd had a lot to drink by this point though and my brain was battling valiantly but I could feel the alcohol had nearly managed to wrestle it into submission. It was time to go home, so we made our excuses and left. We got a goodie bag each on the way out, which amongst the key rings, beer glasses and bar towels we'd been expecting had some rather classy coasters, , a natty ESB mug, a T-shirt for very fat people and more Vintage Ale. Free beer and free stuff, what more could you ask for? There was a certificate of attendence too, which will have pride of place in my training folder at work.
Thanks to Fuller's for a great night, we had a fantastic time.