If, like me, you look forward to a few glasses - or even pints - of Fuller's Vintage Ale each autumn, you're going to be sadly disappointed this year. Unless, that is, you caught it at the London Craft Beer Festival back in August.
|Cask-conditioned Vintage Ale 2020|
This year, however, there has been a problem. I heard from multiple sources that the casks had been sent out, but had then been recalled by the brewery. So I asked for more information and this is the reply I received:
"We released a very small quantity of Vintage Ale 2021 on cask this year at London Craft Beer Festival in August and a handful of pubs during Cask Ale Week.
"Unfortunately, as time progressed, we weren’t completely happy with how some of the Vintage Ale 2021 casks were tasting when we sampled them.
"There were a few cases of low cell counts, which left them susceptible to oxidation. While they posed no safety risk, we did recommend to the pubs that still had stock to withdraw from sale.
"Hope that is helpful to know. We’re sorry for any disappointment caused. Our priority is always ensuring consumers enjoy our beers and experience cask at its best."
It's hard to judge from the outside, but it looks like something went badly wrong while the beer was being prepared for cask. This involves filtering the beer and then reseeding it with the right amount of fresh yeast for that secondary conditioning in-cask.
It all seems rather odd. Yes, it can be a ticklish process to get right, but Fuller's brewers should have plenty of experience here, and under normal circumstances you then have experienced cellar staff in the pubs who are able to make the final quality decision.
Yet the reports I've seen from LCBF suggest the Vintage Ale was unusually sweet this year. Could someone have forgotten to reseed it with fresh yeast? Or what else might have gone wrong? Either way, it is disappointing - but still, better no beer than bad beer, I guess.