Modern Brewery Age - Beer of the Month

As we look back at the beers of winter, we have to single out the 2005 Fuller's Vintage Ale. This strong ale was truly superb, despite the fact that we probably drank it much too young. Since it is bottle conditioned, the shelf life of Vintage Ale can be measured in years rather than weeks, and the brewery's "best before" date isn't until 2008. Unfortunately, it's a bit hard to find in the US, since the company only shipped 1600 cases and a handful of kegs. The kegs are long dry, of course, but a bottle might still be found.

Fuller's makes a range of very nice ales, but the Vintage Ale reaches an even higher plane of flavor and complexity. It is a potent brew (full disclosure is in order: Fuller's export manager Stamford Galsworthy got me beastly drunk on the stuff at a pub in New York City. We were drinking the draught, and I can't recall him mentioning it was 8.5% a.b.v.).

This year, Fuller's brewmaster John Keeling chose Fuggles hops, and this comes through in the spicy, floral aroma. It is a deep orange color in the glass, with a fluffy white head. It is very smooth on first sip, creamy fruit and sweet caramel melding together on the tongue. Even at this early stage in its life, the ale's flavor is mature and perfectly balanced, with a bit of hop spice, and a measured dose of toffee and biscuit from the malt.

It would be a treat to be able to have this beer more accessible, as a year-round product. As my friend and fellow taster Nic Venditti said, "Why is it limited edition? This is so f----ing good!"

Capacity issues probably prevent a wider release, but Fuller's 2005 Vintage is a well-rounded, appealing ale, well worth laying down in the cellar--if you can stand to wait.

Fullers Vintage Ale 2005
Fuller, Smith & Turner
London, UK

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