Speaking of English beers, the people at Fuller’s were on the line the other day. The No. 2 specialty beer in the United Kingdom (behind Bass) is pushing a three-pack of Vintage Ale, with a bottle each from ’99, ’00 and ’01.
They’re bottle-conditioned, which means they’re unfiltered with a remainder of yeast. The ale continues to ferment after bottling, producing all kinds of subtle tastes.
I couldn’t wait, so I downed a bottle of the ’01 the other day while chatting with Stamford Galsworthy, the brewery’s export manager. The conversation went something like this:
Me: How do you convince people that warm, flat beer is good?
Him: The American consumer today is infinitely more educated than ever before. When Britain beers were first introduced to America, we had more competition from the micros, which were imitating the British. They taught consumers about beer. But the consumer demands a much better standard of quality, and I think they’ve come to think of Fuller’s as a benchmark of British brewers.
Me: You mean Americans like Brits better than their American knockoffs?
Him: The micros that tailed off, I think, were the ones that were over-hopped. I’ve got a feeling that they were not as balanced as British beer. You’re always going to get consistency from Fuller’s.
Me: Well, America loves its hops.
Him: The thing is, we started sending our beer to America 25 years ago. Our first market was Seattle, with ESB [Extra Special Bitter]. It has won more awards than any other brand in the U.K. It started doing very well, we’d send a container a year. Then, if you move five years on, suddenly you’ve got Red Hook in Seattle, with its ESB. It got such a following that other brewers started brewing ESB. We were too late to trademark the name. But we’re the original ESB, and these breweries copied us.
Me: Brits drink beer for lunch, don’t they?
Him: Absolutely, that’s a surprising chunk of British beer consumed. Fuller’s owns 250 pubs, 90 percent of them in London. You see a big white-collar-guy-at-lunch trade. Our flagship, London Pride, you can have one or two and still work that afternoon.
The Vintage Ale? The ’01 was terrific. Smooth, with a caramel flavor and only a slight bitterness on the afterbite. I’m sticking the older ones in the cellar. Check back with me in a year or two.
Today – Homebrewed Beer & Wine Tasting, courtesty of Barry’s Homebrew Outlet, 7 p.m., at 312 Market St. No cover.
Tomorrow – Santafest, craft show and beer fest featuring a half-dozen holiday beers at Sugar Mom’s Church Street Lounge, 225 Church St., 12-6 p.m. No cover. Info: 215-925-8219.