How does 12 year old beer taste?

A pyramid of tasty Vintage Ales
I've been collecting Fullers Vintage Ales since my house-mates bought me the 2006 edition. The one I have now isn't that original however as some bastards broke into my house and stole that (alongside other things). Interestingly they left the 2005 which is unboxed...perhaps a handy tip to those that live in dodgy areas...

Anyway, this Saturday (10/12/11) myself, Reuben (Tale of Ale) and Alan (no blog yet but I'm working on him) assembled in my Cookstown home to do a vertical tasting of Fuller's Vintage Ales from 1999-2011  
Unfortunately I haven't been able to source the 2001 and 2003 editions so if anyone has any spares... ;)

There are plenty of reviews already out there and I know there was recently a tasting at the brewery. Here are some other blog posts that may interest you: Des De Moor, Adrian Tierney-JonesSid Boggle and Mark Dredge.

Going with conventional wisdom I decided we should drink them in reverse chronological order; so read on for our take on the beers! (The notes in italics are Fullers own tasting notes gleaned from a card in the 2011 box).

2011: "The malt grist includes a proportion produced by Warminster maltings, from  organic barley grown by Sir James Fuller on the Neston Park Estate. This will be married with choicest Goldings, Organic First Gold and award winning Sovereign hops, to produce a beer with a firm malt base, marmalade notes and a satisfying bitter finish."

Steve: Honey nose with subtle malts and sweet peach

Reuben: I can see that this beer would age pretty well

2010: "125,000 bottles were produced of this year's Vintage Ale, once again brewed using Tipple malt and boasting fruity hop character, first from a blend of Goldings and Fuggles hops in the boil, then from dry-hopped Goldings and Target varieties."

Steve: Quite rich fruit nose with good level of condition, fairly boozy with a malted milk biscuit finish.

We had tasty baked camembert with walnut loaf to accompany the first few bottles.

2009: "The 2009 Vintage featuring Kent Grown Golding hops and East Anglian tipple malted barley has an initial aroma of rich muscavado sugar followed by a brandied caramelised orange palate and finishes with a creamy vanilla warmth"
Steve: Darker amber with caramel and a briefer, marzipan finish than previous 2.

Alan: Similar to 2010 but better with dessert wine and grape skin character.

2008: "Our 12th Vintage features two of our favourite English hop varieties Northdown and Challenger. These, combined with floor malted Maris Otter malt, produce a rich fruit aroma laced with dark orange hop notes. A full luxurious mouth feel is finished off with a satisfying alcohol warmth."
We think there was something wrong with this beer, though rate beer doesn't seem to have noted any similar problems.
Reuben: Overwhelming pear juice, this doesn't smell right.

Steve: Pear skin and prickly carbonation and sharp with solvent notes.

Reuben: Its like a poor quality pear cider.

2007: "To celebrate the 10th anniversary of Vintage Ale, this classic edition was produced with the finest Fuggles, Target, Super Styrian hops for rich, spicy hop notes leading to a full sweet palate."

Steve: Lighter amber with a fluffy white head. Sherry aromas with slight cherry and a chalky peppermint, dry finish

Reuben: This is the best so far

Alan: More grapeskins but more subtle than 2009.

At this point it seems I got a little more sporadic with my photo taking...

2006: "100,000 bottles of Vintage Ale were produced thus year marking the 10th in the series. Super Styrian hops and floor malted barley were used to give this beer a rich, fruity character and long mellow after-taste."

Reuben: I'm getting prune juice from this one.

Steve: Dark ruby red with dry fruit nose. Bitter finish with orange pith and a hint of acridity and toffee.

Alan: Its not as balanced as the others.

2005: "The combination of floor malted Optic malt along with Fuggles hops makes this Vintage a wonderfully well-balanced beer, full of biscuity malt flavours that soften the spicy, citrus notes."

Steve: Sultanas, fairly dry bodied and well balanced but consequently seems one-dimensioanl.

Alan: Agreed, this one needs a few more years.

Feeling peckish but not wanting to ruin our palates with the burritos which were to come later we had some mature cheddar and rustic oatcakes. These worked perfectly with the beer.

2004: "This Vintage was brewed to a traditional recipe using Goldings hops and Maris Otter Malt. The result is a distinctive beer with cherry notes and a warming finish that mellows with age"
Steve: Cherry red with sherry nose and a hint of pineapple esters. Balanced and warming alcohol with a hint of cocoa in the finish. My favourite so far.

2002: "As year of the Queens Golden Jubilee, the golden theme was applied to this special commemorative vintage Ale. Goldings hops and Golden Promise malt were used to produce this copper coloured ale with a  fruity, orange peel aroma and a spicy taste."

Steve. Sherry and muscavado sugar nose though over-boozy and some melon-rind.

Alan: Its a bit herbal too.

2000:"85,000 bottles of vintage Ale were produced with an organic theme, using champion optic malt and Organic Target hops. A fresh hop aroma, with notes of honey and toffee, leads to a slightly sweeter taste and burnt, bitter after-taste."

Steve: Very dark with plenty of carbonation and rich dried fruits...i think this is how 2011 could end up

Reuben: Its held up surprisingly well in 11 years

Alan: The beers have been different to how I anticipated

Sensing the final furlong we moved onto the final one...

1999: "The Champion theme was used once again for this classic Vintage Ale with Champion Fuggles and Champion optic malt. Slightly redder in appearance, this ale is full of body with a sherry-like flavour."

Steve: Slightly murky with yeast esters, vanilla and plenty of carbonation again and really thick bodied.

Reuben: Its between this and the 2007 for me.

Bonus Review!

Would have liked a whole bottle!
With the night still young we decided to also try the Fullers Brewers Reserve #3. I missed out on a chance to try this at GBBF this year as I didn't have my glass with me when I wandered past the Fullers bar. 

It was unexpectedly the star of the show due to some brett character presumably picked up in the barrel. Ginger and dusty cobwebs on the nose. The flavours are a complex interplay of brett and whisky with a long boozy finish. Should have kept this all for myself!
After the Fuller's onslaught we decided to move onto some sour beers, but that's for another day!

The Aftermath!


  1. lol! Nice tower ;)

    Juts 3 of you for all those bottles?!? - Skillz.

  2. I love these vertical tastings - so interesting! Fuller's Vintage is a great beer - I buy half a case each year.

  3. Really interesting. I've done vertical wine tastings before but not beer - interested to find out the theories as to how and why certain beers age (rather than going off.) Any pointers?

  4. @Ghost Drinker yes, planned to build the pyramid ages ago, so good to finally do it! Yes there were just three of us had a quarter each and i'm finishing them up now.

    @Mark...my first time doing a vertical, great fun

    @Gareth. Its generally accepted that hoppy beers should be drunk young to appreciate them at their best. Anything below about 6% ABV doesn't have enough alcohol to stave off infection and pasteurised beers aren't really going to change over time so it needs to be bottle conditioned!
    As for changes, one bottle is different to the next even at the same age as you can see from Mark's notes (see link above). Various constituents break down and other parts are changed. Alcohol content can sometimes increase (if there's residual sugars) but also decrease (as it evaporates). There's cleverer people than I that have written about it!

  5. Just saw that the guy at Fullers wasn't too sure what was going on with it either, all a bit of wizardry. The science behind wine ageing is still kind of vague and I'm guessing a lot more research (and money) has gone into that.

    This was a good one:


  6. Ah yes, ATJ has such elegant prose too. I knew there would have been links I missed...rectified!

  7. A great idea and looks like you had some fun with it. Can't understand why you didn't go for it on your own? :)
    What else are you collecting? Ola Dubh?

  8. Nope, not anymore...see here: http://beersiveknown.blogspot.com/2011/11/stoutday-reviews-harviestoun-ola-dubh.html

    Have a look at the "what's in your fridge Stephanos" tab to see what I have.

  9. Hello there
    Please excuse the impertinence but due to some googling I noticed this blog post as I'm currently selling a Fullers Vintage Ale 2003. If you were interested at all it's here

  10. Hello peeps, if anyone intrested, I've got couple of rare 2005 however they are unboxed. Also couple of 2004 boxed ones. Based in London. DM me on s.madajka@gmail.com