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Vintage Fuller's dives into history books and gets a taste for French brandy

Added: Tuesday, August 28th 2012

Fuller’s, one of the leading producers of top-quality bottled beers, has launched its 2012 Vintage Ale along with a beer matured in Armagnac casks and a recreation of strong Burton Ale from the early 20th century.

The 16th Vintage Ale, for the second year running, uses organic barley grown on Sir James Fuller’s Neston Park estate in Wiltshire, which has been especially floor-malted by Warminster Maltings for the brewery. The English hops used for both brewing and dry hopping the beer include the choicest Goldings, Target and organic Sovereign from Fuller’s Hereford organic hop grower, John Walker.

Tasting of the 8.5% amber ale reveals an initial aroma of ripe autumn fruits with slight notes of rosehips, leading to a smooth middle palate with a hint of spice. There’s pleasant hop bitterness and orange peel and alcohol on the aftertaste.

Fuller’s head brewer John Keeling is pleased with his latest incarnation of the series. “The early tasting notes for this rich brew are already revealing what we hope will be another genuinely vintage beer,” he says. “Vintage Ale is a distinguished bottle-conditioned ale. Each vintage is a blend of that year’s finest malts and hops and our unique yeast, which creates a special limited-edition brew that will get better with time. I suggest buying a few and trying one now, trying one in five years and trying one in 10 years to see how the flavours have developed and matured.”

There’s only a limited number of each year’s vintage produced and they are on sale exclusively from Fuller’s Brewery Shop in Chiswick or online at for £5.50 per 500ml bottle.

The fourth of Fuller’s acclaimed Brewer’s Reserve series of barrel-aged beers is now available, following its debut at the Great British Beer Festival in London earlier this month. Brewer’s Reserve No 4 (8.5%) has spent more than a year gently maturing in vintage Comte de Lauvia Armagnac casks from the Bas-Armagnac region of France, the oldest region for producing this type of brandy. The black oak casks add a spirit-like edge to the beer, especially on the nose, with a rich spicy flavour of prunes, orange peel and cinnamon.

The beer’s extensive maturation time has infused the beer with delicious raisin, green apple, vanilla and cinnamon flavours from the rare oak casks. These, combined with the rich malt body and pleasant sharp fruitiness derived from the beer, result in a complex and satisfying beer. John Keeling, who has created all of the Brewer’s Reserve range, says: “We used a complex beer to begin with and by ageing in the vintage Armagnac barrels we have added an extra dimension, with a smoothness and texture unlike anything else.”

The beer costs £7.80 per 500ml bottle from the brewery shop or online, as above.

John Keeling has delved in the brewery’s rich history of brewing to produce a third beer in the acclaimed Past Masters range of historic ales. Past Masters Old Burton Extra (7.3%) has been brewed to a recipe that dates from Thursday, 10 September 1931, which was discovered in Fuller’s brew book. Every recipe of every beer ever brewed at the Griffin Brewery in Chiswick has been recorded in meticulous detail in this bible of brewing – and in such detail that even the day’s temperature was noted at 56 degrees F (13 degrees C) at 4am in the morning.

John Keeling says of his latest long-lost beer: “Past Masters Old Burton Extra is a misunderstood style of beer, which disappeared in the early part of the last century. In the 1980s some breweries created something called Burton Ale, but this was far from the original style and recipe in our handwritten brew book.”

Included in the original recipe, and recreated for the new beer, are best pale ale malt, crystal malt, maize and a special brewing syrup. The hops used were English Fuggles and Goldings, both in the copper and for dry hopping.

“We are so lucky to have all of these fantastic recipes written down by my brewing predecessors and we keep the ingredients and processes to follow the recipe as closely as possible – it really is a glimpse into our unique brewing history,” John says. “I’ve really enjoyed looking back at my predecessors’ work to see how we can bring the recipes to life. We’re already thinking about the next brew but as there’s a stack of brew books to search through, who knows which years the next one will be from.”

Old Burton Extra will be on limited release from early September in selected Sainsbury’s outlets as well as from the brewery shop and online: see above.


Fullers Brewers Reserve