I was at Fuller's earlier last month, and the ever erudite John Keeling gave me a great tour. He's a passionate, knowledgeable and garrulous chap, with an interesting take on the nature of brewing, the history of Fuller's, and how one goes about making great beer. If time allows, I'll write a post about him and his take on brewing, but that's for another time. This post is about Fuller's Brewer's Reserve.
I wrote about the current release of Brewer's Reserve here, and the observant among you will notice that this beer is referred to as Number 1. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Fuller's have a series of them lined up for release, although they are very much still works in progress. They are works in progress not in the sense that Fuller's are going to release anything that they aren't 100% happy with, but in the sense that they are still being aged in cask - they're not quite ready yet, but the release schedule is more or less mapped out.
Walking round the brewery, it's impossible not to notice all the wooden barrels littering the place. John Keeling said that they'd filled every nook and cranny with barrels; nook and cranny my earhole, they've filled the damn brewery with them. Every corridor, every spare bit of space, has a spirit barrel filled with Golden Pride shoved into it, or more often than not, a pile or a line of them. They're moving towards creating a special room for the barrel ageing, but until then, it's all endearingly makeshift.
The next releases, Brewer's Reserves 2, 3 and 4, will be Golden Pride that has been aged in Courvoisier, Auchentoshan and armagnac barrels respectively (I didn't get the name of the armagnac producer). Having tried barrel samples, which will be indicative (but not totally predictive) of the finished beers, I can say that No. 2 is softly rounded, with a fairly dry finish. No. 3 has a big spirit character, with a lot of smooth sherry notes, and a lot of the underlying beer hidden under the influence of the sherried character of Auchentoshan (which has a heavy sherry-cask finish itself). No. 4 has only had a few weeks in barrel, so it's hard to tell what will emerge - rum and vanilla is quite prevalent at this stage.
As if that wasn't enough, John and colleague Derek Prentice also wheeled out some experimental samples. Some of these I wrote about here - for example, the Golden Pride in bourbon barrel, which was incredibly smooth and rich, really rounded, but starting to show a bit of brettanomyces stinkiness. Perhaps it was at it's peak, but alas, we'll never know - this was the last bottle of that particular beta test of the concept. The example aged in a Glenmorangie cask was much wilder, a little tarter, but with a lot of depth and complexity. A sample aged in a Bowmore cask had a characteristic Islay note of ozone and beach at low tide - complex and enjoyable, but in a slightly threatening, elemental way.
It's hard to summarise what Fuller's are doing with these beers. On one hand, they are so complex, so interesting and so different that all I can do is urge you to seek them out and try them. Conversely, these beers are produced in such limited numbers, and are only available from the brewery shop, that they are only ever going to be the preserve of the curious and the dedicated. What I will say is that these beers really are worth seeking out, and if that means making the journey to the Chiswick brewery, then so be it. It will be good practice for when they release their next project - that really is going to raise a few eyebrows.....