THE last Fuller’s ale I tried was the pretty good London Pride. Only I knew that Fuller’s had more up their sleeves; the names of their other beers are on the sides of the delivery lorries that drive around the city. Except the only bottled beers they sold, on their own doorstep here in London I might add, were London Pride. Until now. The Polish run corner shop that keeps delighting, has done so again. Because here, for the super-premium price of £1.99 pence, is a bottle of Fuller’s ESB Champion Ale. Expectations couldn’t be much higher.
The neck label sticks to the Fuller’s formula.
Simply featuring the Griffin Brewery griffin. Which, incidentally, has a claw atop a barrel of beer. And surrounded by lots of little medals, featuring the words “Voted Britain’s Best”. Exactly like London Pride, apart from the colour scheme. Which for ESB is a fetching gold, red and blue.
The front label sticks mostly to the same formula as London Pride too. No points for originality.
The big Fuller’s logo sits on top of the shield. Proudly displaying their Chiswick origins. With the sad demise of Truman twenty years ago, that makes this West-London brewer my local.
Under that are the reassuring words “Extra Special”. And then the huge ESB name. Which, for some reason, includes and oversized letter “S”. Hopefully the back label will explain that.
Under the “ESB” name, we’re told that this is “Champion Ale”. With that and the “Extra Special”, they really are getting my hopes up that this will be awesome. Under that are some more little pictures of medals. Not only do these have the words “Voted Britain’s Best”, but some also say “Voted World’s Best”.
The expectations go higher still when we see, barely, the alcoholic volume. Which is mysteriously written in very small lettering. 5.9% is great to see. It’s a big reason to want this over those generic Euro-5% beers and lagers and deserves to be much more prominent. But what do I know about marketing.
Over on the back, and we have a tall label stretching from the top to the bottom of the bottle.
Starting from the top, this is a 500 millilitre bottle. I would dearly like to see a bottle as British as this one go for the full-pint. Well’s do it after all. What do you think? Opinions gladly welcomed in the comments section please.
The main block of text opens by informing us of ESB’s awards. ESB has twice been “World Champion Bitter”, thrice “Champion Beer of Britain” and won some other unnamed awards besides. I truly hope their assertion that ESB is “one of the world’s greatest beers” isn’t just marketing-speak.
They then describe ESB as being “smooth” and “full bodied”. And that the taste, with which it is bursting, is none other than marmalade. The same fruity conserve you might spread on your toast at breakfast. Is there nothing you can’t put in beer?
“Malty notes” are in the description. As is a list of the hops that “balance” it out. ESB Champion Ale has Northdown, Target, Challenger and Goldings hope. Now I’ve read a fair few beer bottle label at this point. And most have about two or at most, three types of hops. But four types of hops takes hop blending to the extreme. Maybe there’s something to ESB’s reputation, what with the marmalade and all those hops.
Next, they recommend you serve this beer cool. And they seem keen that you have it with some sort of meal. Beef, lamb and even game and mature cheeses are mentioned. I don’t know what sort of people regularly eat game and cheese with a bottle of beer, but I want to be that sort of person. That would be the life.
After that, they go on to promote their website and ale club. Their web address is www.fullers.co.uk. We also have the full postal address of Fuller Smith & Turner Plc. And a warning to drink responsibly.
The last small-print details on there are the ingredients; which are malted barley. But you knew that. And the UK units of alcohol. Which are a nice and round 3.0. No more beers today for you, girls.
Finally, it’s time to crack open this very expensive bottle. And to answer the simple question, is it any good?
If you pour it into a glass, you’ll notice how dark ESB is in colour. It’s the darkest, reddest shade of amber I’ve seen for a while. It also has almost no head.
The smell is of a rich, complex blend of malt and hops. Traditional, yet delicious for the ale aficionado.
After a few gulps, the first thing that struck me was how balanced it all is. None of the countless flavours in there really jumps out at you. Which can be an advantage or a disadvantage depending on how you look at it.
After a few more sips, I’ve decided that this is one of the most complex tasting ales I’ve tried. And that out of the blend, the things you’ll notice most are the hoppy bitterness and sour aftertaste. It doesn’t linger, and it’s not unpleasant.
A few more sips into it, and I can hardly taste any malt at all. Let alone any marmalade. There is something slightly tangy to it though, which could be the marmalade at work.
Things I like about this ale are that it’s smooth. That it’s so full-bodied and full-flavoured, I’m surprised the bottle manages to contain it all. And that even with the strong flavours, high-strength and bitterness, it is still very drinkable. Plus it has quality in spades.
On the other hand, some people will be put off by the strong taste of hops. The shopping list of hops that went into this ale are amazing, but if you don’t like hoppy bitterness, you won’t find much to enjoy here. It also doesn’t play enough on the marmalade. More citrusy tanginess would add to the character. Apart from it being slightly gassy, my main complaint is that it’s so expensive.
How can I sum up ESB Champion Ale? It’s a hop driven ale taken to the extreme. If you like bold, hoppy bitterness, this is one to try. I love that this ale takes risks with big flavours. But it could make more of the marmalade inspired citrus and it’s an expensive way to offend the taste buds of someone who can’t appreciate bitter flavours. Very good, but not one of the greatest.
Have you tried Fuller’s ESB Champion Ale? What did you think of it?
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