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Something for the Weekend – Fullers Vintage Ale

Right, before I get any letters from “outraged from Onslow”, I know that Fullers Vintage Ale is in a bottle and yes, I know you’re never going to see it on a handpull at your local. But consider this article a bit of investment advice from your friendly beer trader.

Back in the summer, one of the national newspapers printed a small paragraph about a beer which had gone on sale for £250 a bottle. It was quickly picked up by the rest of the media and created a massive amount of interest because (and I quote) “Who in their right mind would pay £250 for a bottle of beer?”

I was a bit miffed at this question because we don’t bat an eyelid when we hear stories about wine going for £20k a bottle at auction. But of course, beer’s the poor relation of wine, it’s the ‘doff cap, yes sir, no sir’ drink compared to wine. Or is it?

The beer in question was one of the original bottles of Fullers Vintage Ale, produced in 1997. It had become a collector’s item, in the same way that bottles of Thomas Hardy’s Ale became the stuff of legend (my other half has a dust-covered bottle of Thomas Hardy’s in his office, which he regularly has to fish out of my handbag when I try to nick it).

Now I’m sure you know that, unlike wine, most beers don’t age very well. They are brewed and designed to be imbibed as fresh as possible. But Vintage Ale is carefully crafted to age well, and the flavour will change, mature, and gain more depth until it’s like a fine bottle of Cognac. A small batch of Vintage Ale is produced annually by Fullers, and every bottle is individually numbered and boxed. Each year there is a slight variation in the flavour profile due to different varieties of hops being used. It comes in at a hefty 8.5% ABV.

The beer can be drunk fresh, but my recommendation is to buy two bottles. One to taste now, and one to save for a special anniversary or occasion in the future. The beer is best stored upright, in a cool dark place.

Fathers buy this beer on the birth of their children, so they can give it as a wedding present when the little ones flee the nest. Beer aficionados buy a few bottles every year so they can compare the latest version to previous releases.

So, if Father Christmas brought you some of this beer (or if he put some money in an envelope to treat yourself to a bottle or two), pour it with ceremony into a goblet glass, savour the strong rich flavour and drink it with a slice of heavy, moist, brandy laced fruit cake. It makes an ideal companion, and those bottles you put in your shed (sorry, cellar) might just be a worthy investment in years to come.