A long time ago--well, nine years--I gave a friend a bottle of Fuller's Vintage Ale. That friend is taking his leave of Portland to go work in a brewery in either Texas or California and last night we toasted his journey with that old Fuller's. (It was a night of vintage sampling. We also tried 2008 Jubelales, Dissident, and Raven Mad and a 2006 Old Crustacean. The pick of the litter, clearly, was the old Fuller's.)
Vintage Ale was first brewed back in 1997, which makes it a newbie in the venerable brewery's line. A bottle-conditioned ale of 8.5% strength, it is designed to be laid down. The brewery tweaks the recipe each year, perfect for vertical tastings. Although Fuller's recommends 3-4 years aging, I can confirm that, stored properly, it will make it to nine years in superb condition. Apparently the 2000 vintage used organic malt and hops--I wonder if that helps a beer last?
It was great to find a description of what the beer tasted like nine years ago, because it was very clearly in possession of many of these same characteristics: "A fresh hop aroma with notes of honey and toffee, leads to a slightly sweeter taste and burnt, bitter aftertaste." It was a tad oxidized, but minimally so. The stronger flavor was the burned toffee--burned in the sense that toffee involves browned sugar. As we were discussing it, another friend even pulled out the honey note, which was still intact. Luscious and creamy, it managed a nice, sustained head.
BeerAdvocate describes it as an old ale, and I think that's right. Old ale is a comforting balm to cold weather, sporting burnished mellow notes. They aren't aggressive or flashy, but rather evoke that sense of agreeable mustiness. This stormy weather has been putting me in a wintry mood, and the old Vintage Ale was the perfect beer to address it.