The term 'craft-beer' is banded about a lot these days, so much so that it seems to have lost all meaning. We champion the term here, but in reality, we throw it around, adding it to conversation like a kid who's just learned some swear words and wants to start bumhole pee-pee adding them in willy-nilly boabie.
Take ESB from Fullers, for example. Now I'm probably being a little naive and also a lot ignorant here, but I'd only vaguely heard of Fullers before. I assume that's because up here north of the border, they aren't as popular or well-travelled as some of the local brands, like Tennent's, McEwan's and Buckfast... For this reason, when I recently spied ESB in my local Waitrose (don't judge me!) among their tremendous selection of beers and ales, I immediately assumed that because I had never heard of it before, that it was from some little-known brewery and thus 'craft' in origin.
Yeah, I know. I'm an idiot.
For the uninitiated (i.e. me), Fullers being a craft-brewery is about as far away from reality as saying that John Wayne Gacy was a good person to leave the kids with. In other words, without the needlessly ridiculous comparison, not true in shape or form. The brewery was founded in 1845, is now owned by beer titan Asahi and in 2017, had a turnover of £392 million. So yeah... I'm a big idiot.
"Fullers being a craft brewery is about as far away from reality as saying John Wayne Gacy was a good person to leave the kids with..."
And even more ridiculous is the fact that I've never heard of two-time world champion ale ESB before this week. It's like I don't actually know anything about beer at all and just like writing bollocks online in an attempt to get through a working day without actually having to do any real work. Or, if you're my boss reading this right now, I'll have those papers on your desk by close of play today pleasedontsackmeplease...
And - because I like making matters worse for myself and I might as well dig my grave down by another couple of feet here today - I had what can only be called a 'kneejerk reaction' when I reviewed ESB on Untapped and only gave it a rating of 3.5. That's a decent, if average, score for a beer these days. If I see that score against one of my own beers, I'm chuffed. But in hindsight, it's too low for ESB. It should be higher. I was too busy trying to get the photo and review out of the way, that I scored ESB based on a single mouthful, rather than give it the attention it deserved.
If, up to this point, this all reads like an apology to Fullers, then that's because it sort of is. I am sorry - this is a great beer and I sort of feel like I underappreciated it on Untappd and now I feel guilty about it. I can't imagine that Mr Fuller (or whoever is in charge of the brewery these days) is quietly weeping to himself just now after reading my earlier review. More likely he's swimming through his Scrooge McDuck sized fortune. But I feel I owe it to myself to set the record straight here, so that I can sleep easily again.
ESB stands for Extra Special Bitter, which is a rather apt description of this beer. This award-winning ale has depths in spades. You'll mainly get the massive malty hit when you take a swig, but this is just the backdrop to this masterpiece; the canvas, if you will. If you dig deeper though, you start to taste other nuances in the flavour. There's chocolate, which also breaks down to vanilla and maybe a hint of caramel. There's also a milkiness to it - a creaminess, that I can only assume is down to the unpasteurised nature of the beer. There's a real presence to ESB - substance, even. I like that there's more sweetness to it, than actual bitterness (despite the name).
There's a mention of fruit on the label - marmalade, I think it was - but I didn't get this at all from it and I'm not disappointed at that fact. I think that sort of flavour would cut through the maltiness too much and would take away from the overall effect of the beer. This is big, comforting ale - ideal for these cold winter evenings. It doesn't need a massive fruit or hop presence. This is Ovaltine in beer form (but cold, obviously). Or, the thought that just popped into my head - liquid Maltesers.
"This is Ovaltine in beer form - or liquid Maltesers."
Three and a half stars is too low a rating for this. If I could figure out how to edit my score, I'd add at least a point onto that rating. If I can find it somewhere else other than Waitrose - because let's face it, I'm not going to be in there every single week - I will definitely be picking it up again.
So - to try and tie up this final paragraph with the first - if we judge 'craft beer' by the size of the brewery making it, ESB and Fullers are nowhere near being close. But, if we judge it based on the 'craft' that's employed into making the beer, then ESB absolutely qualifies for the moniker. This is an ale made by a brewery at the top of their game, with a proven track record in making great beer. That I'm only finding this out just now just proves that I'm still a little ignorant to the wonderful world of beer that's hiding in plain sight out there and the thought that there could be other gems such as ESB to find, just excites me even more.