Fuller's & Friends 2019

A lot has changed in the world of beer since the last version of Fuller’s & Friends (see our review). Fuller’s sold their drinks business (whilst retaining their pubs and hotel offerings) to Japanese beer mega corp, Asahi and several other UK breweries have struck a variety of different deals. From full acquisitions to privaty equity, it’s been a busy 12 months in the UK beer industry.

This website was never created to report on beer-related news - you can find that elsewhere, we are simple-minded folk who just want to wax lyrical about beer and travel. However, upon reading about Fuller’s acquisition by Asahi, I wondered if they would release the Fuller’s & Friends series this year and if so, whether any breweries would pull out due to their affiliation with big beer.

It seems that some breweries aren’t as anti-macro as others (especially compared to the US where it feels much more black and white) as only one other brewery in this collaboration pack is now owned by a big global conglomerate. I think a lot of breweries, regardless of their stance on what is or isn’t craft, would love to work with Fuller’s due to their rich heritage and influence on beer so it’s testament to them that they’ve been able to release this series without much backlash.

The scope this year is a little more broad. Last year was heralded as the opportunity to showcase 6 different UK breweries across a range of styles whereas this year, whilst some of the collaborators are close to home, others are from much further afield.

  • Magic Rock - Huddersfield, UK

  • Tiny Rebel - Newport, UK

  • Mack - Tromsø, Norway

  • Woodstock - Cape Town, South Africa

  • Stone & Wood Brewing Co. - Byron Bay, Australia

  • Pilot - Edinburgh, UK

A pretty exciting range of breweries on offer, three of which I’ve never had beers from and two I’d not even heard of so I’m intrigued to see what they offer.

Let’s dig in, in classic Beer Voyage Expectation vs. Reality style.

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Misprized - Oaked Mild 4.5% // Magic Rock x Fuller’s Brewery

What the box says: Mild – an undervalued beer style? Not anymore. In a celebration of this classic English style, we’ve tweaked a traditional recipe from 1920 by adding rum barrel oak chips to give a sweet, nutty depth of flavour. Overall, it’s a rich, malty masterpiece (and that’s putting it mildly).

Expectations: The mild has seen a mild resurgence (ahem) amongst craft brewers as of late, it’s still quite an unpopular choice amongst modern beer drinkers. However, there’s still a time and a place for a well kept pint of mild on cask. I don’t often drink more traditional styles in bottles but am willing to give this one a go, especially with the oak chip tweak to it which will hopefully provide an interesting take on a mild.

Reality: There’s a reason I don’t drink traditional beers at home often and it’s simply because I think they are best enjoyed from a cask and in a proper pub. This is a perfect argument for that - it just feels a bit run of the mill here. The beer itself is fine, although the rum barrel oak chips are so subtle you’d not know they were there unless you’d read beforehand. It’d definitely be better on cask. A shame as I was hoping the twist would help elevate it. Nevermind.

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Respect Your Elders - Mosaic ESB 6% // Tiny Rebel x Fuller’s Brewery

What the box says: Old brewery meets new brewery and bonds over their mutual appreciation of ESB – that’s the story behind this beer, which gives the classic style a contemporary tropical twist. With a trio of new world hops, this malty, marmaladey beer beautifully bridges the generation gap.

Expectations: Other than Fuller’s own Extra Special Bitter, I can’t remember the last time I had an ESB. I’m definitely up for a contemporary take on the style though. Mosaic hops are one of my favourites so I hope the tropical, fruity, herbal characteristics come through in this beer. Good label too!

Reality: This is really good. It is very citrussy and the mention of marmalade is bang on. It fits the brief perfectly and has the right balance of new vs. old; it’s very much still an ESB but the different hop addition make it feel a little lighter than the traditional version. When I first took it out of the fridge and tried it, I couldn’t taste a thing but as it’s warmed in the sunshine, the flavours have really developed. For 6% it is deceptive and is going down like a session beer. Lovely.

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Krøke - Herbal Lager 5% // Mack x Fuller’s Brewery

What the box says: Named after the Norse word for ‘Crowberries’, these sloes come fresh from the Arctic Circle and give this lager a slight tartness to offset its sweet, honeyed notes. Learning from Viking tradition, dried meadowsweet is used to add a slight bitterness to this crisp, pale gold lager.

Expectations: I’ve always found any sort of spiced or herbed lager to not really be my thing. Give me a straight up crisp, refreshing lager on a hot day anytime but any attempt I’ve come across in the past to spice things up has just taken away from the overall taste. Happy to be proven wrong here.

Reality: This is one of those rare occasions I can say I was right. The initial smell and taste is very light and fresh but the aftertaste is straight up bad. I can’t quite place what it reminds me of but it just tastes sort of… off? Once the strange taste subsides, there’s some floral notes coming through but I almost need another beer to get the taste of this one out of my mouth. Thankfully, this was the first one I opened so I have five more to help with that. Hmm.

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Love on the Run - Session IPA 5% // Woodstock x Fuller’s Brewery

What the box says: This hop-forward IPA is the perfect marriage of London town and Cape Town. The African Queen hop and native African cereal Sorgham are combined with British Olicana and Bramling Cross hops. Fresh blackcurrant and lemongrass aromas offset a dry, earthy malt base in what is a very sessionable IPA.

Expectations: Probably the one I’m least excited for (yeah, less than the lager above) just because it’s another session IPA. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a style I know I’ll like but it’s also a style that’s pretty much ubiquitous. The African hops might bring something new to this? Colour me underwhelmed.

Reality: Yep, this was the epitome of bland. Very middle of the road. It’s not a bad beer but it’s not a good one either. Just nothing to it to make it stand out. You could argue that’s exactly what a session IPA is but it should still taste of something. I was hoping for something a bit more in a special release such as this. Boo.

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Way Down Ale - Australian Ale 5.8% // Stone & Wood Brewing Co. x Fuller’s Brewery

What the box says: The hops that make this fruity ale aren’t just from down under, they’re from way down under. Our Aussie mates have selected a trio of Tasmanian hops – including an unnamed experimental hop – that combine to create a beautifully balanced beer, full of tropical fruit flavours. A fitting homage to Tasmania’s hop growers.

Expectations: This is back to the type of beer I think this box should be about. Like the ESB and Mild above, a fusion of ingredients to make something, hopefully, a little different. Always a sucker for a new hop so looking forward to see what flavours it may bring to this beer.

Reality: This is more like it. It’s has a lot of caramel flavour amongst the tropical fruit from the hops which makes this an eminently drinkable beer. I’ve had a few Stone & Wood beers that have made their way to this side of the world and have been pleasantly surprised each time. This beer goes into that list. Good stuff.

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Huvvy Dug - Wee Heavy 7.4% // Pilot x Fuller’s Brewery

What the box says: A Caledonian classic, this Wee Heavy is made using six malts – with not a new world hop in sight. Smooth caramel and biscuit notes come to the fore in this rich, full-bodied ale. Huvvy Dug? Well because it’s ‘huvvy like a huvvy dug’ of course (don’t ask, we didn’t).

Expectations: Edinburgh’s Pilot are infamous for their very funny Twitter account. Sadly, their beers rarely make it south of the border so I’m yet to try any of their solo efforts. I am, however, excited for this Wee Heavy - a style that’s often ignored. A Wee Heavy (or Scotch Ale) is a strong malt-forward beer that’s both rich and sweet and I’m very excited to try this collaboration’s take on it.

Reality: This is hands down the best beer of the box. When I poured it the foam was very yellow and gave off a super boozy aroma. The beer itself is wonderfully rich and packed with treacle and toffee flavours. It’s like drinking a liquid sticky toffee pudding. Molasses for days son. A belter of a beer and only makes me more sad Pilot’s beers are a rare thing to see in London.

On balance, I’d juuuust about recommend this box; one poor beer, two average beers, two very good beers and one great beer means it teeters just over the acceptable line. A little disappointed that the styles weren’t as varied as they could’ve been or the twists or modern takes weren’t pushed as far as they could which is what I was hoping for in this box. It’ll be interesting to see if this series continues in light of Fuller’s acquisition or if it slowly fades away.