One of the beers is a bit special: a 1997 Fullers Vintage Ale. Fullers Vintage Ale is brewed in fairly small lots each year, and is recommended for aging. The beer is an "old ale" (malt heavy, brandy-like, dark, and very strong), and the recipe changes a little each year. 1997 was the first year of production for this beer, which makes this quite a rare find. My bottle was numbered #669 of only 85,000 produced — subsequent years have seen bigger batches, but never more than the 165,000 produced in 2010.
Dave — who I invited over for the tasting — and I held out little hope for this one, but we were still excited to have two thirteen-year-old beers to compare.
We decided to taste both beers before Christmas dinner, fearing the palate-deadening effects of turkey, champagne and Christmas pudding. In early afternoon, over a cheese plate, we cracked the 'Neame first after leaving it outside the backdoor for an hour to bring it down to cellar temp.
For the Fullers, we decided to run a 1997 vs 2010 comparison. Even though the recipe has changed, Fullers have kept it reasonably consistent so we thought it was a valid exercise. Again, both beers sat outside for an hour or so to take the edge off. The '97 poured a lot darker and murkier, and it was less carbonated, but like the 'Neames, it still had a fair bit of fizz. The aroma was markedly more powerful from the older beer: a sourish note and a slug of dark fruit, whereas the '10 was more akin to ginger ale in appearance and smell.
This was my first tasting of a seriously old beer. I really enjoyed the anticipation of the experience, especially as the '97 lived up to my giddy hype. It set us up for a pretty solid Christmas dinner, and as you can see, a fair few other beer treats capped off a great day (along with a Southern Tier Iniquity — not pictured here).
First, Dave, for bringing beers and fine company.
Second, my Dad, who is not too well at the moment, for being a good mate, drinking partner, and unwitting steward of one of my happiest beer experiences to date. Cheers Dad.