Like the aftermath of a good party, all that was left were the empty glasses, the hollowed-out shells of spent party poppers, misshapen glittery hats and a lingering sense that something great had happened, but was now gone. Over. Finished.
The Year in Beer is complete. And it went out on a high.
Mrs Running Buffet (my fellow beer taster) and I sat down one evening this week, donned our celebratory hats, pulled a couple of party poppers and marked the end of the Year in Beer with one of the best beers from the list: Fuller’s Vintage Ale.
I bought this bottle at least six months ago and it had been sat on a shelf, maturing, mellowing and ageing nicely. It felt like the right way to mark the completion of the list; all 50 beers located, obtained and drunk. Packaged in a protective box, individually numbered and part of a limited run, it has the appropriate sense of occasion.
As regular readers of the Year in Beer posts will know, one of the things I have learnt over this year is a bit more about combining beer with food, to the benefit of both, and this beer deserved a good match. Luckily, there seemed to be an obvious choice to go with a vintage ale: a nice piece of cheese. We cut some bread, unwrapped the stilton and removed the bottle from its box with due reverance.
We opened bottle number 70,177 (from a run of 125,000 bottles) and poured the beer carefully into our glasses. This is the 16th iteration of the Vintage Ale and it is stunning. Made from “three of this year’s finest hop varieties including Goldings, award winning Sovereign and Target hops” (according to the description on the box), they are combined with their “unique yeast and organic barley grown by Sir James Fuller on the Neston Park Estate”. It is a deep orange in colour and has an aroma that was hard to pin down; we settled on somewhere near treacle after several long sniffs of the glass.
The beer is complex and interesting and incredibly smooth. There is a mellow sweetness but it doesn’t overpower the beer, dying away but without leaving a heavy taste of alcohol. Instead, you just get a spreading warming sensation from the alcohol that is really appealing. It works a treat with the stilton, with the strong flavours complementing each other, rather than fighting it out for supremacy.
This is a delicious beer. One to be savoured slowly and deliberately.
Although this marks the end of the challenge, I will not be indulging the urge to list, categorise and rank the beers and experiences from the past 12 months. I would not be able to tell you which of the 50 beers was my favourite; I think I would struggle with a top five, if I’m honest. This beer was delicious, however it is 8.5% ABV and you couldn’t drink too many of these without falling over. If you wanted a couple of pints of an evening, yet still needed to retain your ability to think in straight lines, then this isn’t the beer for you. But the pint you chose in its place may well be different depending on whether it is summer or winter. Whether you are sitting down to a fish supper or a roast dinner. Whether you need refreshment or a warm cuddle from your beer.
The good news is that nobody has to stick to just one beer. There are beers to match most occasions and, if I have learnt anything over this last year, it is that there is a wealth of options out there to explore.
And this is a good opportunity to offer my thanks to those who have helped me to explore beer through the Year in Beer:
- David at Bierhuis for sorting out my order when it looked like I might be short a bottle of Terrier;
- The nice people at the Cairngorm Brewery for sending me a bottle of Black Gold;
- Ramsgate Brewery for pointing me in the direction of a bottle of Black Pearl;
- Paul at Blood, Stout and Tears for the Otley O9;
- Emma and Matthew for letting me hijack a stroll in London to dive into a bottle shop in search of beer (not that I remember you complaining too much);
- All of you who have read and commented on the blog or who have contacted me on twitter with suggestions and encouragement;
- And, of course, Mrs Running Buffet, who has provided encouragement, second opinions and who has displayed a remarkable amount of patience (whether that be taking side trips to obscure parts of the country in search of beer or just when waiting for me to finish taking photos when she would rather I just got on with opening the bottle).
After all that beer, I should probably put my running shoes on and get a spot of exercise under my belt. Before my belt gets a bit too tight. It’s all about balance, and I will get back to blogging about my running and swimming soon. For now though, it is time to hang up my bottle opener, put away my list and close the chapter on A Year in Beer.