I've been quite a fan of Fuller's for some years, ever since I worked out that my initial lack of enthusiasm was caused not by the beer itself, but by the lacklustre cellarmanship of our local Fuller's pub which had made me think that Pride was this bland and slightly funky tasting pint.
After visiting the brewery and getting to taste my way through pretty much their whole range as it was supposed to be, I realised just how wrong I'd been. Their primary range is fairly 'safe' and mainstream, but they're not afraid to be more adventurous with their special brews and their Vintage Ale series is consistently remarkable (I am *so* close to a full set of these, and one day I'm going to have to bite the bullet and open them all).
So it's with considerable excitement that I've been watching the production of the "Fuller's & Friends" collection of collaborations with some of the leading lights of 'Craft' breweries. Collaborations are always interesting, but there is always the fear that the 'big' half will dominate. As we will see, in this case that fear is misplaced.
My other fear - which has also happily proven to be unfounded - is that it would be a nightmare tracking down these beers. Too often I see mention of interesting collaborations only to find that it was limited to a handful of kegs which have ended up in pubs on the other side of the city, at best.
On this occasion though, Fuller's has managed to get boxed sets on the shelves of Waitrose in time for Christmas - and at a remarkably generous price of £12 for all six beers. At the risk of giving you a spoiler of the reviews to follow, I suggest you stop reading right now and go to your local Waitrose. You won't regret it (unless you share a Waitrose with me, in which case - I'm sorry, I emptied their shelves yesterday).
We're starting with Peat Souper, which has been brewed with Hardknott. I'm rarely disappointed by Hardknott's beers, and this offering - a 7.0% ABV Smoked Porter - sounds like it could have been made specifically for me.
It pours black and syrupy, with a deep and open textured tan head that doesn't really linger.
The aromas are intoxicating; smoke and earthiness, and a little alcohol hits you first, with some black treacle coming through later with sweet hints of black cherries.
It's initially superbly rich in the mouth, sticky sweet dried fruit which is swiftly balanced by a deep bitterness which seems to come from a blend of hops and burnt sugar. The smoke is subtle, but present throughout and contributes to a dry and almost too-bitter finish that lingers and tempts you to another sip. Smoked beer is a tricky thing to get right, and this one gets it spot on.
This isn't a perfect beer - the bitterness at the end is just a touch overdone for me - but it's seriously good, and at £2 a bottle it represents excellent value. 4 stars.
This review was originally published 20th December, 2017. It was last updated 1st June, 2023.