Fullers bar came under siege on Tuesday afternoon, as the first cask of the latest Brewers Reserve No.3 went on sale. Only available in thirds, it is £1.80 and around 9%, and the next cask is due on sale at 6pm on Wednesday.
According to head brewer John Keeling, it's Golden Pride that has been matured in Auchentoshan casks for over 800 days, blended down to a saleable strength using ESB. The Fullers brewers have done several experiments with cask-ageing beer, discovering quite early on that the result could be a tad harsh, and that the answer was to blend it with fresh beer. John said that the two ales used for No.3 are the same ones that went into Brewers Reserve No.2, although in that case the Golden Pride was matured in cognac casks. "We found that this combination worked best," he explained.
Blending with fresh beer is also aimed at solving the grogging problem. Basically, when you age spirits in a wooden barrel some of the alcohol seeps into the wood - whisky distillers call this The Angels' Share, and it accounts for about 2% ABV per year. If you then put another liquid into the barrel - even water - some of that alcohol will seep back out. This is called grogging and it was made illegal by the Finance Act of 1898, as it was a known scam in Victorian times. It still counts as evasion of excise duty and it will have HMRC after you.
The idea was therefore to blend the aged ale back from its barrel-enhanced 12-14% to nearer its original beery strength, thus ensuring that Fullers achieved only a flavour advantage from the barrel and not an ABV one. John said Fullers still has people working with HMRC on the technicalities of this - "We thought we had the grogging problem solved, but apparently not," he sighed.
Fortunately for us, the beer is still on sale. It is rich, and not surprisingly has a lot of whisky and grassy character, along with honey notes and that classic Fullers tang of dark orange marmalade. It is drinking well despite its youth, but will undoubtedly get better still with bottle ageing. "It'll be good for 15 years," John predicted.