Review: Fullers & Friends

The Fullers & Friends project paired brewers from the London brewery, with some of the finest breweries around the country for a very special project. Here, Adrian Tierney-Jones tries the beers and gives his verdict

Adrian Tierney-Jones

Bad people collaborate with the enemy and eventually bring their world crashing down in a Gotterdammerung of the soul. Good people collaborate with friends and help to make the world a happier place. Here at Original Gravity, we were overjoyed to hear it was the latter form of collaboration that the Fuller’s brewing team undertook with its Fuller’s and Friends project. Six breweries, at the top of their game (and other such clichés that sports’ commentators like to use), undoubtedly craft, thoroughly deft in the way they make their peerless beers, joined with a Fuller’s brewer and once in the zone of zen proceeded to work out what kind of beer they would like to collaborate on. The results are these six super-dupers, a range through the home of styles and then some more. Or as Fuller’s former head brewer (and now roving ambassador for the company) John Keeling put it to me, ‘it’s an exciting project and what pleased me is the way our brewers have taken to this, it all talks about friendship in the brewing world, collaboration in the truest sense of the word’.

Flora & the Griffin — Fuller’s and Thornbridge, 7.1%

A red rye beer apparently, whatever that means beyond the fact that there’s a reddish glow to its colour (though copper-amber beneath a generous snow-white head of foam would be more accurate) and the inclusion of rye malt. This results in a tease of bready, spicy, cake-like, alcoholic notes on the nose, contrasted with an undertone of floral hop character; it’s a shy nose though, not the sort of nose that lifts itself out of the glass like a kaiju and frightens all and sundry. It’s rich and mellifluous on the palate, potent in its punchiness as it delivers rye-influenced spice, rich citrus, a mid-palate sweetness, a charge of alcohol and a dry and bitter finish that also has spice in it. It’s a generous beer, a beer that throws its arm across your shoulder and says, ‘come along my friend let’s drink some beer’. 

Peat Souper — Fuller’s and Hardknott, 7%

There’s a fascinating combination of the jingle-jangle of fruit alongside brooding smoke and peat on the nose of this black-brown smoked porter; I thought first of a wooden box that once held smoked kippers before switching to a light fruity sweetness that swung into view like a galleon emerging from behind a headland, its banners and sails in full dreadful view. It’s smoky, phenolic, creamy and fruity when tasted, speaking of a real skill in the integration of the two main characters on the flavour stage, the smokiness and fruitiness. One minute you’re on the dockside at Lowestoft in its prime, the next you’re in a kitchen with the sun streaming in and ripening a bowl of citrus and tropical fruit. 

Galleon Dry Hopped Lager — Fuller’s and Fourpure, 4.8%
As pale as a wraith, as clear as a peal of bells on a sunny Sunday morning, an ideal of the floral attributes of noble hops, treading the boards with the aplomb of a supermodel. There’s a thin mouthfeel and a quick finish, though the dryness comes back after a moment; it’s lustrous, floral and citrusy but very familiar. A refreshing hoppy pils that does what it’s supposed to do, refresh and renew, a social beer in other words.

Matariki New Zealand Saison — Fuller’s and Marble, 5.8%
Dark gold in colour, this has the classic jazzy saison character, with its aromatics of bruised ripe fruit and a yeast orthodoxy. Unsurprisingly it reminds me of 8-Wired’s saison. There’s off-the-wall fruitiness, white pepper showing up mid-palate and an all embracing dry finish. Further sips reveal more from behind the veil —a hint of Riesling’s petrol-like character, a lightness and a delicate fragrance, spindrift floating on the air. Just when you think you understand where the beer is going, it springs another surprise and cause delight to break out as if Victory in Europe was announced all over again.

Rebirth — Fuller’s and Moor Beer, 6%

This collaboration between the ebullient Mancunian John Keeling and the calm and considered Californian Justin Hawke is based on the brewing records for Fuller’s ESB when it made its debut in 1971. Light amber in colour, on the nose there is ripe citrus and a trace of banana; a sweep along the grocer’s fruit stand perhaps. A graininess makes its appearance as well; Shreddies anyone? There’s a Cointreau-like orange character (orange rather than mandarins, clementines or satsumas), plus an expressive dryness and bitterness in the finish. It seems leaner than the current ESB and those who wish to will want to drink both versions side by side.

New England IPA — Fuller’s and Cloudwater, 7%

For starters, not as hazy as you’d expect a beer of this style to be; amber-orange in colour it’s almost on the horizon of glinting but there is an opaqueness that fans of NEIPAs will be calmed by. Phew. The nose is a well-filled fruit bowl of mango, papaya and pineapple sitting on the table in a warm, sunlit kitchen. More of the same fruitiness on the palate leads to a clean finish with some dryness coming through; the fruity juiciness is judicious and delicious, with a light bitterness emerging half way through the tasting. Further exploration reveals that the fruitiness is restrained, has a looseness in the mouth like fruit juice but not the accompanying sweetness and acidity. Everyone is happy, including me.

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Worth buying? Of course. Some are more expressive than others, but then that’s personal preference; however, all of the beers give me different degrees of happiness, which is what this act of collaboration is all about.

Boring stuff: you can buy the six pack at Waitrose alongside your artisanal cheese and just-made sushi. Oh and while you’re in the store pick up a couple of bottles of Fuller’s Vintage (if there’s any left), one to age and the other to eat with your cheese. And another oh, I suspect you can also buy it from the website, but you’ll have to find that out yourself, we can’t hold your hand for everything.

Adrian Tierney-Jones