Love them or loathe them, the eponymous Fuller’s brewery of Chiswick is a bona-fide London institution. Established in 1845, the brewery has consistently churned out droves of traditional tasting English ales that has secured its reputation as the capital’s flagship brewery. Indeed, it can be argued that the criticism that the brewery receives is primarily a result of this consistent familiarity within the population of London and subsequently, the rest of the country. Either way, Fuller’s have been kind enough to send London Cocktail Scholars a selection of their range to, in some cases try, and in other cases, re-try.
Firstly, London Pride 4.7% which as we all know is by far and away the most familiar of the familiar and a beer whose name is synonymous with the name of the brewery. A nutty brown in colour, there is precious little that I can tell you about ‘Pride’ that has not been remarked upon before. On the nose, there are vague berry notes particular to the English hop varieties that the brewery use and the taste follows suite with biscuit malt notes, bitty tastes of butterscotch and concluded with a very light bitterness. Essentially, the occasional derision bestowed upon London Pride can be seen as a result of its most frequent consumption in the form of a bottle; a conditioning process that appears to negatively affect the body and taste of traditional English ales. Having said this, on the occasions that Pride is available on draft or cask, it is perfectly fine. In short, London Pride is what I would describe as a good default beer when there’s not the desired range of other beers on offer.
Next, we move on to the Bengal Lancer 5.3%, a ballsier offering that possesses palpable notes of berries, citrus, apples and pears on the nose, that are then counter-balanced with a mild maltiness that settles the fruit flavours down. Conversely to Pride and as more of an IPA, there is a greater emphasis on the hops within Bengal Lancer that possesses the zesty notes of pink grapefruit, still remarkably underpinned like in the smell of the beer with a slightly earthy character that offers the drinker equal levels of sweetness and bitterness. Another one of Fullers’ immediately available beers, Bengal Lancer too translates really well on draft when it is available.
To switch things up a little bit, I decided to move away from the paler beers and on to the London Porter 5.4%, a very dark brown in colour that filters in to a burgundy red at the base with a rocky head on top. On the nose, there are the appropriate notes of chocolate and coffee, albeit with a soillike muddiness that is ultimately very pleasant. In the taste, there are flavours of prune, dates and nuts with a slight sourness that gives way to notes of dark treacle, molasses and coffee again. Tied together with a lenient bitterness and consistency that sticks lightly to the gums, this is a wonderful Sunday afternoon beer. In fact, that is precisely when I tried it, an afternoon that trundled smoothly along with the wafting smell of my friends bacon sandwich and the wittering sounds of the tennis on T.V.
So, back to the paler but by no means lighter side with the 1845 6.3% that is most probably my pick of the bunch. Possessing the balmy, bready whiffs of granary bread and really strong malt, the 100 days in which the beer is matured pays dividends. In the taste, that bready, malty, cress-like quality is mixed wonderfully well with the rich flavours of prunes, plums and predominantly fig (a fruit that could almost be seen as a microcosm of the beer itself, earthy and sweet at the same time). So, we’re basically looking here at a very good best bitter that has been given a massive pair of bollocks and all of its flavours accentuated. I had this beer with some harmless little fish fingers but there is not a Ploughman’s lunch that couldn’t be improved by this beer; quite simply, it’s very, very good.
Finally, I moved on to what could be described as the luxury item of the quintet, the Fuller’s 2011 Vintage Ale 8.5%. As can be established by its name, this beer has been matured since last year, the flavours and scents developing day by day in to something that would constitute an excellent father’s day gift (oh, wait, that was Sunday!…Shit!). A damned pretty beer, the colour is perhaps worth the money alone; a dark, golden amber like treacle, mixed with diluted raspberry and copper. A safe assumption based on the description of the beer would suggest a strong, boozy smell and in this respect, the Vintage Ale holds know surprises as it delivers precisely this with fragrances of Southern French Armagnac, caramel and dried fruits. And then the taste, whilst maintaining the alcoholic notes from the nose becomes a kind of who’s who of what kind of things that you’d expect from an IPA with a gravity such as this. Whilst it displays the typical flavours of peach, marmalade and candied fruits, there are the interesting flavours of marzipan, syrup and sugar plums that are evened out with the more savoury essences of light coffee and smokiness all of which leaves a chewy consistency that leaves a fine film over the gums and a candied after taste that still retains a short, sharp bitterness.
People will naturally think of the stalwarts of London Pride and ESB when the Fuller’s name is mentioned. Scratch the surface though and there is a veritable treasure trove of a back catalogue if one is willing to look in to it, an endeavour that I can guarantee will be worth your while.