a niche British style of vintage ales that tend to be pretty amazing
due to their complexity. The problem is they’re hard to come by, and
their rarity is what makes them all the more appreciable. Fuller’s
annual Vintage Ale is a perfect example, and the 2014 edition is
probably as good as it’s ever been.
I poured a 500ml bottle into a snifter. There was no specific bottling date.
Appearance: Out of the bottle it’s apparently a dark copper/maize hue,
but in the glass it has a nice burgundy/brown color. Not quite opaque,
but definitely hazy with sediment and carbonation visible. Pours to a
two-finger, white, foamy head which laces and retains very well.
Smell: Quite sweet with notes of berries and dried fruit with slight
piney notes from dry-hopping (with American hops, interestingly
enough!). Has the classic British ale character I enjoy in brews of the
Taste: Strong British ales tend to have many of the same flavors as
strong Belgian ales, but somehow they’re different. Consider that the
palette here consists of nuanced fruit notes of cherry, plum, prune and
even strawberry notes it’d be easy to compare that to a Belgian Quad.
Yet the British yeast gives it a completely different character than the
Belgian yeast. Instead of being spicy it’s more refined, calm, and
confectionery-like. Notes of caramel and treacle can be found, though I
would not describe it as a sickly sweet beer at all. Even the hops are
rather prominent – imparting a slight citrusy flavor with significant
bitterness to match. For such a strong beer, the alcohol is nearly
invisible and does not distract from the base brew.
Drinkability: I was a little hesitant going into Fuller’s Vintage Ale as
it’s 8.5% ABV, which is pretty strong but not mammoth. Though it has
plenty of flavor and is full-bodied, what it isn’t is intimidating. The
mouthfeel is soft and comfortable with a smooth finish going down. There
is only the faintest trace of alcohol warmth, and it finishes
remarkably clean, too. No cloying aftertaste here. A beer like this
should ideally be for seasoned drinkers, but I’d think even acolytes
would enjoy this immensely.