Tag Archives: The Mad Hatter

63. Fuller’s Vintage Ale

To complete the set of three Fuller’s beers in The Book, we turn to something a little bit special. Late each year Fuller’s produce a limited number of bottles of their Vintage Ale. Each year’s brew will be subtly different, with head brewer John Keeling varying the choice of hops and malts to take advantage of the best available that particular year.

The beer’s style is always broadly consistent though, typically being an 8.5% ABV, bottle-conditioned barleywine-style ale based on Fuller’s own Golden Pride. The presentation of the beer is immaculate, with each bottle being individually numbered, labelled using the highest quality label stock and finally presented for sale in a handsome claret-coloured box.

There are quite a few beer lovers who make an annual tradition of snapping up at least a case of each vintage and squirreling it away, only to be broken out for very special occasions many years into the future.

And this certainly is a beer that benefits from some judicious aging. I tried a couple of bottles of the 2012 vintage pretty much as it rolled out of the brewery, and while it was a fine beer, it was clear that it was by no means the finished article.

I’ve a 2006 tucked away, though since I can’t bring myself to open it, I was rather pleased to stumble across bottle No. 014468 of the 2010 vintage innocently minding its own business behind the bar of the same pub in which I tried Fuller’s London Pride recently.


Fuller’s Vintage Ale pours a deep burnished amber colour, with a tight off-white head. On pouring there’s a huge waft of orange peel and booze escaping, no doubt pleased to be liberated after several years of gently fermenting in a confined space.

The barley used in 2010 was the endearingly-named Tipple, while the hops are the very traditional Fuggles and Goldings, and the beer is dry-hopped using Target and yet more Goldings. Three years on, though, there’s very little by way of hop bitterness remaining, and instead that barleywine sweetness is front and centre, once again complemented by the distinctive orange notes provided by Fuller’s signature yeast.

The mouthfeel is strikingly thick and unctuous, while the flavour is like orange marmalade and butter spread on fruitcake soaked in rum.

Indeed, there’s an indulgent booziness that reminds you that secondary bottle fermentation means this beer may actually be stronger than the nominal 8.5% on the label. It certainly gets to work pretty promptly, providing a warming glow that, while very welcome even in August, would make this beer especially well-suited for drinking in the winter. In fact, this may be the ultimate Christmas beer.

All in all, this is a very special beer, and certainly not an everyday tipple for many reasons. While numbers are finite, Vintage Ale from the last two or three years is far from impossible to get hold of, at least here in London. I recommend finding one of the smarter Fuller’s pubs and making friends with the staff. You never know what they may have lurking in the cellar.

Facts and Figures

Brewery: Fuller, Smith & Turner, Chiswick Lane South, London W4
Style: Old Ales, Barley Wines and Vintage Ales
Strength: 8.5% ABV
Found at: The Mad Hatter Hotel, Stamford Street, London SE1
Serving: 500ml Bottle

62. Fuller’s London Pride

This is the second beer to be featured here from London’s oldest existing brewery, after the excellent pint of Fuller’s ESB I enjoyed a couple of months ago.

Given the relentless ubiquity of both Fuller’s and their flagship London Pride around these parts—practically any London supermarket or corner shop will stock it, not to mention Fuller’s own network of 367 pubs, or London Pride’s countless appearances as a guest ale—it may seem remiss that it has taken me so long to get around to covering it here.

Clearly this isn’t the first time I’ve tried London Pride, and so I’m well aware that it’s a beer that, unless kept and served to absolute perfection, can make for a fairly underwhelming pint. For this reason, as with the ESB, it’s well worth seeking out one of the better Fuller’s pubs where they really know how to condition a cask ale.

And so it happened that a rainy bank holiday weekend saw me make my way back to the Mad Hatter Hotel in London’s Stamford Street, the very same pub in which I sampled the ESB.


Fuller’s London Pride is a lovely deep amber or perhaps burnished bronze colour, with a thinnish off-white head. It smells of good old-fashioned beer, in such an honest manner that it defies you to write anything pretentious about its “nose”.

London Pride is somewhat lighter than the ESB, but the rich, underlying caramel and toffee sweetness is there, as befits a well-kept cask Best Bitter. That’s complemented by Fuller’s signature orangey notes, provided by their in-house yeast, and balanced by a dry, bitter finish full of peppery hops, making London Pride satisfying yet refreshing, and a cut above the average session bitter. It’s really quite moreish. So I had another.

At a sensible 4.1% ABV, you can afford to do so. It’s to Fuller’s eternal credit that they’ve created a beer of such complexity and depth at such a sessionable ABV, and so it’s no wonder that they shift well over 100,000 barrels of the stuff each year. To some extent London Pride is a victim of its own success in that its ubiquity means it tends to be taken for granted by Londoners, myself included.

Facts and Figures

Brewery: Fuller, Smith & Turner, Chiswick Lane South, London W4
Style: Best Bitters
Strength: 4.1% ABV
Found at: The Mad Hatter Hotel, Stamford Street, London SE1
Serving: Cask, pint

37. Fuller’s ESB

There are several Fuller’s beers in The Book, and given their ubiquity here in London, I’m a little surprised it’s taken so long to get around to covering one.

Fuller’s ESB is something of a classic: there aren’t many beers that have inspired and indeed given their name to a entire style of beer, but ESB has.

Fuller's ESB at The Mad Hatter, SE1

ESB is very easy to get hold of in London, especially in bottles, but to be enjoyed at its very best, it really needs to be tracked down on cask, ideally in one of the better Fuller’s pubs, where it should be served to perfection.

This one certainly was, and compared to the bottled stuff, it’s a revelation. There’s a whole new depth to it, with rich treacle toffee notes, bittersweet marmalade fruit and a vinous, lightly bitter finish.

It’s a weighty pint in many ways, but Fuller’s ESB slips down a treat and is incredibly moreish. At 5.5% ABV it isn’t exactly what one would call sessionable, but two or three won’t do too much damage.

Great stuff, and I’ll be back for more.

Facts and Figures

Brewery: Fuller, Smith & Turner, Chiswick Lane South, London W4
Style: Extra Strong Beers and Bitters
Strength: 5.5% ABV
Found at: The Mad Hatter Hotel, Stamford Street, London SE1
Serving: Cask, pint