Thursday, 6 December 2012

Fuller’s Past Masters – Old Burton Extra

I spent last Saturday delivering the winter issue of the Sussex Drinker to pubs in Portsmouth & Southsea. Alighting at Portsmouth Harbour railway station, one of my first calls was to the famous Still & West Country House, a Fuller’s house now back in the Good Beer Guide after a period of absence.

I was pleased to see a range of Fuller’s speciality bottled beers on sale - Vintage Ale, Brewer’s Reserve and the third in Fuller’s Past Masters series, Old Burton Extra.

As beer writer Martyn Cornell makes clear, Burton Ale was not a bitter IPA as one might suppose, but a slightly stronger, darker and sweeter beer than the pale ales first made famous by that Staffordshire brewing town before its name become synonymous with India Pale Ale. A Burton remained a popular choice in pubs in the immediate period after the Second World War but today it is a virtually forgotten style – Gone for a Burton, as they say. More recent beers brewed in the Burton tradition no longer go by that name.

This Fuller’s Old Burton was recreated from an authentic recipe of Thursday 10th September 1931 that used Pale Ale and Crystal malt, maize and special brewing syrup; hops were Fuggles and Goldings, both in the copper and for dry hopping. My bottle cost £4.85; the contents poured a clear amber-brown; I sat and sipped in contemplation, looking out of the pub windows over the harbour towards Gosport, watching the ferries sail by.

This is very recognisably a Fuller’s beer with characteristic marmalade and spearmint aroma but also hints of fresh grassy hops and hazelnut above the fruity caramel malt. For its strength of 7.3%, I was surprised at the smooth, light, almost delicate initial taste, only after which the alcoholic warmth becomes apparent. It is certainly a very easy beer to drink, aided by the fact that it is not in the slightest bit cloying; for while the flavour is predominantly fruity and sweet with burnt sugar and caramel malt, it is remarkably well-balanced by a gentle but lingering dry hop finish.

The original Fuller’s Old Burton Extra was replaced in 1971 by a winter brew called ESB. Wonder what happened to that?

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