Monday, October 1, 2012

Fullers Vintage Ale 2009-2011

As this month's deadline fast approached for me to decide on what to drink, I found myself in a bit of a pickle. With a full fridge of beer, yet none in enough quantity to suffice for the purposes my experimentation, my only option was to go out and buy something at the store. However, I was determined not to purchase even more beer when I still needed to drink down what I had. Thankfully, the genius-lights popped on in the ol' thinktank and reminded me that in the back of my fridge I had 3 bottles of the same beer. Perfect for my needs. The only catch was that these 3 bottles would be my first foray into drinking a multi-year vertical flight.
The Beer:
For anyone not familiar with vertical tastings, it's essentially just a term for drinking different years productions of the same beer in succession to gauge the differences in each vintage. Certain vertical flights have recipe deviations from the brewers but the same base, while others are meant to examine the effects aging a beer has on its taste. Regardless of why or how the session is being conducted, then end result is almost always the same --- pleasantly drunk.
The oldest of my collection, the 2009 version of Fullers Vintage Ale was by far the most unique. Whether it was the variances or the age, this year had the most punch to it. Overall it tasted a little oakey and very malty. It poured heavily carbonated but faded quick. Slight alcoholic finish with a leathery palate. I also wrote down "dried figs, plums" (yes, I did take actual, physical notes. Why? Because I wanted to make it seem like I'm sophisticated and intelligent. I took these notes on a Crutchfield catalog I had in front of me as I watched a UFC fight between a 7 foot tall Dutch fighter and a Croatian firefighter. I am pure class!)
Next up was the 2010 vintage (see what I mean about intelligent...I know how to count!). This one poured out into my glass with a much larger head of fluffy white foam. The aroma was also a bit more fruity than the 2009. It had a more subdued taste profile yet also more hops on palate. And those random notes I jotted down? "Lemon, citrus tones. Slight alcoholic heat in finish." Huh...those actually seem like legitimate tasting notes. I should have had my monocle out when writing them.
Last was the 2011 naturally. And again, the amount and density of head increased from the previous beer. My only thought was that the bottle conditioning of these ales allowed for the carbonation levels to drop off significantly after 2 years or so. Aside from that difference, this year's version was the most IPA-like. It had distinct grapefruit, lemon, and citrus aromas as well as a more bitter, hop aftertaste. The malty base still retained the same qualities as the previous years, however this one seemed a bit thinner than the others. Also, I did not write down any notes as I was probably becoming too inebriated to care or remember to do so.

The Buzz:
Oh, what can be said about the wonderful side-effects to tasting 3 successive years of a finely crafted brew that boasts a pleasant 8.5% abv? Well, for one thing, in ensuring that I not over-drink my allotted amount, I chose to pour out 3 oz of every bottle into a taster glass leaving me with 14oz per beer for consumption  I figured a beer such as this, that lent it self to the medium - medium-high range of alcoholic content shouldn't be pushed to it's max. Nor should it be minimized however, especially considering these beers are one of a kind and would be very difficult to locate again. That all said, I have to say that the buzz I got from these 3 beers was near perfect. It came on slowly at first, creeping its way into my body with ease, and by the end I found myself to be in that perfect space of light-headed, relaxed enjoyment along with a sense of total clarity and recollection. I was happily full and satisfied with the 3 beers I had enjoyed that night. They lasted me a solid 2 1/2 hours and kept me company throughout a night of enjoying Ultimate Fighting.

The Hangover:
With such a great experience both in taste and imbibement, I was a bit concerned that the trifecta of awesomeness simply wouldn't occur. After all, 3 aged Vintage Ales with a blend of different ingredients and an impressive alcoholic content seemed like a likely candidate for a rough morning after. After passing out promptly, I slept through the night well only to be awoken to Murdoch asking for his breakfast. Although I was quite groggy, I managed to feed him and his brother with our normal morning routine before I could pass back out. Before doing so, I managed to drink a glass of water and pop a few Advil as my skull felt slightly fractured internally. Alas, that Advil couldn't put Humpty back together again. When I woke a couple hours later, the headache remained. Neither coffee nor shower alleviated it, nor did more pills that afternoon. Only time would heal this wound. 

The Verdict:
Ultimately, this first foray into vertical tasting flights was a success. All 3 Vintage Ales had their clear distinctions while remaining fairly universal in how they looked, smelled, and tasted. There was clear care taken in brewing these once-a-year specialties. And I felt that the happy & pleasant buzz they created trumped the moderately painful & annoying hangover. I certainly recommend Fullers Vintage Ales to anyone looking for a good brew or starting point in collecting beers. I only regret that it'll be at least another three years until I drink these again!
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