You don’t have to read this blog in chronological order, but it helps to read my Sober October rules for context.
The beer cellar at The Rhino boast bottles of beer I don’t see very often. When Emily first gave me the tour, I was overwhelmed. Most of the cellar had beers on several standing shelves. Shelves upon shelves. In a separate, smaller room in the cellar stands shelves of Fuller’s Vintage beer. Some of these bottles have been aging on these shelves for almost ten years.
This time around we got a more educated expert in the room. Emily invited Drew, he works for a local brewery.* Drew is currently working on his Level 4 Prud’homme Beer Certification. For those who are not familiar, Prud’homme is a beer sommelier certification program based in Canada. It’s a great program for those looking to get hands-on beer knowledge, as they hold their classes in person.
The Fuller’s Vintage series is a limited edition ale that Fuller’s Brewery releases every year. The brewery has been making this Vintage Series since 1997. It’s based on the same style, each one is bottle conditioned, and of course there’s only limited number of bottles in each release. Every year the recipe for the vintage ale is a little different. The brewer makes the recipe their own in a number of ways with different malts,and different hop varieties. The brew is crafted by Fuller’s head brewer. The 2017 Vintage felt extra special with the first female head brewer taking on the project. Fuller’s Brewery lists all of its vintages, specific tasting notes included, in their website.
Drew did a great job picking out some of the more subtle tasting notes in these vintages. Since the beer is bottle conditioned, that will help it keep for longer, as the extra yeast helps eat up any oxygen that was left in the bottle. Over time there might be a little less carbonation in the beer, but it still retains its flavours and nuances. The group of us kept talking about long-term aging. At the end of the tasting we formed an opinion that 10 years was the optimal number.
Here’s a cool thing about bottle conditioned beers; because of the additional yeast and sugar added to each bottle, over time the beer will actually go through a second fermentation. This means bottle conditioned beers will continue to to develop more flavour and nuances. If you get a Vintage like this, or any other bottle conditioned beer buy two bottles. One to drink now, and one to drink a year from now. All beer like this should be stored in a cool, dry place. If you want to age a bottle conditioned beer and you don’t have a cellar, the back of a closet will do just fine.
By the way, I saw the Fuller’s 2018 Vintage Ale on the shelf of the LCBO. Get yours now. Get two: one for right now, one for six months from now.
Now let’s get down to the details of the these Vintages. The Rhino has a great stock of five specific vintages: the 2008-2012. To compare these side by side is a great experience for those serious beer aficionados. The older vintages definitely has sweeter qualities to them, and this is due to the continued fermentation in the bottle. This process brings out more of the sugars. These older vintages make remind me of a well-aged barleywine concept, but here the beer stands firm at 8.5%.
One of my personal favourites in this tasting was the 2010 vintage. This ale tastes heavier on the alcohol right off the bat. This boozy warmth gives way to anise spice, black cherry, dark orange and vanilla. This is one of the vintages that stood out among its comrades. It’s partly because of the warmth, and also the subtle spice that help wake up the taste buds.
The other Vintage that stood out to me was the 2012. This vintage has a brightness the other vintages didn’t have. This is partly due to the fact it’s the youngest out of the five bottles. The 2012 is also more fruit forward with vanilla sweetness. Stone fruits really dominated the palate with a candied fruit quality, think of cherry or apricot jam.
The interesting thing about these tastings is that the notes we all got deviate from the notes I find on the Fuller’s website. This is what makes tasting bottle conditioned vintages so special, as more flavours develop over time.
The Rhino is going to have a vintage beer event where the Fuller’s Vintage series get featured. No details yet, but I’ll update here accordingly.
*I’m not gonna name which brewery Drew works for, as I didn’t get his permission. Lots of companies/employers have specific social media policies (mine included.)