beer reviews

Fuller’s Imperial Stout

Fuller's Imperial Stout.

Critics of beer bloggers often say, ‘Free beer tastes better’, the suggestion being that samples from breweries get gushing reviews.

It is certainly true that the price you’ve paid for a beer changes your relationship with it. Having paid (with case discount and delivery) around £6 each for twelve 500ml bottles, we really, really wanted to like Fuller’s Imperial Stout.

Masters of ‘premium’ packaging, Fuller’s have given each bottle its own little box of majestic purple, glinting with inlaid silvery foil — pretty much how we imagine Queen Victoria’s coffin might have looked.

The beer slides into the glass absolutely black, with a fast-collapsing Rich-Tea-biscuit coloured head, announcing itself as Something a Bit Special.

We cannot, however, announce a transcendent experience on tasting it, or that we found any unexpected aromas or flavours — chocolate and espresso both present and correct.

What is striking is the beer’s almost ashy dryness, which brought to mind those completely unsweetened cooking chocolates of which you’re only really supposed to use a few shavings; or a dusting of cocoa powder; or perhaps the grit from the bottom of a cup of Middle Eastern-style coffee.

Once we got over the big black wall, we did spot something which reminded us of Irish cream liqueur, although that might have been suggested by the beer’s rather oily, creamy body.

As lightweights, we rather resent drinking a very strong beer (this one is 10.7% ABV) and being left with the feeling that a weaker one might have given us the same effect. If we had tried to guess the strength of this beer tasting it blind, we’d have said 7.5%, so that’s a mark against it.

On balance, though Fuller’s Imperial Stout is an excellent beer, it is not £6-a-bottle, 10.7% good. But perhaps future iterations will have more depth and complexity.

NOTE: Ed seems to have been less impressed than us.

8 replies on “Fuller’s Imperial Stout”

That the price was specially increased for those that buy direct from the brewery shop may not have put me in the best mood for reviewing it!

“If we had tried to guess the strength of this beer tasting it blind, we’d have said 7.5%, so that’s a mark against it.”

My view is the opposite. It takes a lot of skill to ferment a huge, burly beer and not pop exotic fusel alcohols and other spiky bits as the yeasties struggle with the load. Pure alcohol doesn’t have much of a taste, and if it’s well-concealed in there, I consider that a big plus, not a minus.

(Six pounds a bottle is average-market for a specialty beer in the US, incidentally.)

Jeff — there’s something for us to unpick here around ‘bigness’. We don’t want evident alcohol, necessarily, but do expect more complexity and ‘weight’ when we’re drinking beers up in this ABV range. To put it another way, why drink a beer at 10.7% when we could get more flavour and excitement from one at 7.5%? What’s in it for us?

I argued with Stuart of Magic Rock about this – he said that Cannonball is better kegged because it doesn’t drink its strength that way. From my perspective, tasting like a much weaker beer is a bad sign, not a good one – if I get the same subjective experience out of beer 1 and beer 2, except that if I have a session on beer 2 I end up falling over, I’m going to go for beer 1 every time (particularly if it’s cheaper!).

But, to be fair, the amount of skill that goes into a beer that disappoints for the price is about as much as it takes to make one that soars. It’s the decisions made in developing the beer that leave one wanting when the beer is compared to other drinks values. Six pounds would be the high end in NY for 500 ml of this. Not counting the insane conscious efforts to inflate by, say, Allagash or the Bruery.

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