As I have oft mentioned before, Fullers Brewery is one which I have a soft spot for. They have a great number of beers in their portfolio, the majority of which are bang on the money in my opinion. Better still are their one-off special releases such as historical recreations "Past Masters" and annual vintage ales.
So I was excited to hear that John Keeling had opened the history books again to brew the recreation of a Burton Ale. This is one of the great styles that has fallen by the wayside in recent years or absorbed into the ubiquitous "barley wine" category that anything that is above 7% and isn't obviously an IPA or stout tends to be sucked in to. Martyn Cornell speaks much more eloquently on beer styles and history and in a lot more detail than I could hope to achieve; so I'll defer to him on this occasion. Boak & Bailey also did good work identifying extant-examples of Burtons in the UK. I'm here to comment on the actual beer.
I had the forethought to keep a bottle of each of the preceding Past Masters releases to do a side-by-side comparison. Not that there should be anything in similar other than the Fuller's yeast strain but I find a single bottle tasting to be more than a bit dull. I had Reuben @taleofale, Daisy and my CAMRA friend Julie to provide further thoughts and drinking comradeship.
Old Burton Extra 7.3% 10/9/1931
It pours a deep chestnut brown with with slight cream head with dark fruit, burnt sugar and a medium body. Its very easy drinking but could perhaps become cloying after more than half a bottle (hence the sharing). I actually prefer the Fullers 1845 (First brewed 1995!) though, its got more lighter fruit marmalade notes to lift up the heavier malt sugars and at about half the price for a bottle and bottle conditioned to boot its a better bet.
XX Strong Ale 7.5% 2/9/1891
Pouring chestnut-orange its reminiscent of some West Coast IPAs with esters and higher alcohols on the nose of a strong Belgian effort. Its sweet with pineapples and honey. Medium carbonation and more than a bit of alcohol burn. There's something to it that minds me of what I'm not keen on in a dubbel and for that reason I struggled to finish my 1/3 bottle. Others rhapsodised over it.
Double Stout 7.4% 4/8/1893
Darkest brown with fluffy cola head. Tobacco, dates and sultanas on the nose. Thick, rich, toffee, redcurrant, toast, chocolate, gentle carbonation, long roast coffee finish. This one is fantastic and vindicates the whole endeavour. I'd love to see this in regular production and reminds me a lot of some of The Kernel's recreations.
I'm pleased to have been able to try these beers of yesteryear and hope that John finds many more recipes lurking in the archives. He's by no means the only brewer doing it but as the quantities involved are much bigger its certainly the most accessible. Whether or not I enjoyed them is somewhat irrelevant!