I’ve spent quite a bit of time in London recently and so have become quite au fait with the local brews. (No, au fait is NOT Scots for all full…). Basically, this means a choice between Youngs and/or Fullers, and not wishing to show any favouritism, I sampled as many of both as I could although this review is about just the one, Fullers ESB.
ESB (Extra Strong Bitter) was first brewed back in 1971, although the Griffin Brewery on the banks of the Thames has been hard at it since 1654, long before Fuller, Smith And Turner was formed in 1845. But that’s all history now.
Fuller’s beers are awash with awards but ESB takes winning to an unprecedented level having been voted Best Strong Ale a massive seven times. It’s brewed using Target, Challenger, Northdown and Goldings hops and with Pale Ale and Crystal Malt.
Their beers are pretty widely available all over the UK, but not surprisingly, especially so in London. ESB can also be bought in 500ml bottles and, at 5.9%, this version is a little stronger (it’s all to do with bottle conditioning) than the draught version I’m about to describe.
Working down in London meant I had to cancel my appointment at the sperm bank. No biggie, I just phoned and told them I couldn’t come.
Back to the beer…
ESB pours a bright, copper-red colour with just a suggestion of haze which is crowned by a very respectable half-inch of tan coloured foam which shrinks a little, but never disappears and so leaves some nice lacy rings all the way down the glass.
The aroma is gentle and is dominated somewhat by soft malt – caramel mostly, although there’s a hint of something more treacly and it’s a touch grainy. Hops are there of course, but rather shaded although there’s a good whiff of fruitiness. It’s quite ‘medicinal’, and you can almost smell the alcohol.
It’s medium bodied with a soft and smooth mouthfeel. The taste is initially fruity, but through the middle more woody, earthy tones make an appearance. There’s a bit of leafiness, but not a lot of bitterness although there are certainly plenty of spicy flickers. It’s hard to say what the fruit flavours are – there seems to be a whole basket assortment jostling around. In fact it’s almost a little overwhelming…but not quite. There’s plenty of roasty-toasty flavours from the malt, and a decent sprig of herbal flavours attempting a balancing act, and almost succeeding, but it’s malt dominated for me. Having said that, there’s a nice hop presence in the finish and that leaves a moderately bitter tanginess lingering long after you’ve swallowed.
At 5.5% ABV, this is a classic. Not my words, theirs! Nah, it’s pretty darn good, but I wasn’t quite bowled over. I thought there was maybe just too much going on with it. It’s was a little over complicated if you see what I mean. Now this could’ve been because I was looking for more of a session ale at the time – I don’t know. What I do know, is that it’s a quality beer just the same. It reminded me a little of a beer like Belhaven 90/-, but I thought it just fell short of that. Still, that’s not to say I didn’t enjoy it and I repeat, it IS pretty darn good. Definitely one to savour though as it’s not really a beer you could sup all evening.
Would I drink it again? – How should I know? D’ya think I’ve got ESB…sorry.