Do you fancy a lager? Fuller’s Frontier Craft Lager, to be precise. Yes, it’s That Word, “craft” again. With a capital “C”. Right there in the name, where once the mighty “Premium” might have stood. Even the bigger British regional breweries have been going “craft”, lately, but a Fuller’s lager I wasn’t expecting when I walked into The Parcel Yard, Fuller’s excellent refurb station bar next to Platform 9 and 3/4.
How could I not try it? “Hey, not bad! I wonder who will buy it,” I thought.
The successor to K2?
I’m old enough to remember a previous Fuller’s venture into cold fermentation: K2, named after the world’s second-highest mountain. At the time, I was firmly entrenched in the “real ale” camp. Even so, I could admit to myself that K2 was better than the standard lager offerings at the City Pride in Farringdon. It didn’t last. Was K2 ahead of its time or just a foolish mistake?
Fuller’s have been thinking about putting out a successor to K2 for a good while. In June 2011, the Fullers Fine Ale Club web forum posted “Should Fuller’s brew lager?” The response of club members who responded was, er, divided:
“Why in the world should the worlds (sic) best ale brewery brew lager? It doesn’t make sense, why would they choose to brew an inferior type of beer?”
“No, leave the chemical beers to chemical brewers.”
“I do not like the taste of lager but if Fullers brew one I hope it is cask conditioned. This could possibly help to introduce lovers of the carbonated [censored]type lagers to the joys of real ale.” [Fuller’s own moderation. I think it might have been a C-word.]
The few pro posters mostly thought the only reason to brew lager would be to boost the Fuller’s coffers. That seems like a tacit admission of the unprofitability of ale, but it didn’t seem to cause a stir.
Two years later, and forum posters ignored, we have Frontier Craft Lager. That’s two years in which a lot has happened. The beer world has adopted “craft”. Beer tastes have expanded to include a much wider range of styles. If you can make an imperial oatmeal coffee stout matured in whisky casks, why wouldn’t you brew a lager? Craft isn’t a euphemism for keg, but it could be a byword for being a bit more adventurous.
Fuller’s are taking the Frontier adventure seriously – it doesn’t seem like a brewer’s whim. There was a proper press launch of Frontier to which I received an invite and a press release. I couldn’t go. My non-availability followed closely on from my non-attendance of Fuller’s launch of Chimay Gold.
Despite my actually being hard-to-get, a Frontier-branded goodie bag turned up at Malt Towers with a bottle of Frontier and a nattily turned-out pilsner-style glass (hey, Peroni!). It was my chance to give Frontier some proper attention.
Frontier in the glass. Are you ready?
Once chilled appropriately and poured into the slender glass, Frontier rewards you with biscuity, cheesecake-base malt, lemons-in-hay hop aroma, and a crisp bitterness. Definitely in the recognisable region of a lager in taste and appearance. Neither overly hoppy to put off “ordinary” lager drinkers, but nothing like the nay-sayers in the forum feared. It’s tasty and refreshing, but not a throw-it-down-your-neck lager. Might go nicely with the fish and chips or fish pie on the Parcel Yard menu.
Fuller’s boast Frontier is “bold and innovative”, make a deal of being “hand-crafted for 42 days”, and say it will “appeal to premium lager drinkers who are interested in more flavoursome beer with the characteristics of lager”. It’s 4.5% ABV, unpasteurised, filtered, and kegged (usually). That is very definitely lager talk.
There has been a divide in the British beer world. A frontier where ale drinkers wouldn’t cross to lager and vice-versa. That is slowly being dismantled. Or rather, being made invisible. I’m not sure about “innovative”, but for Fuller’s, Frontier is rather “bold”. It’s not on the Fullers website (yet) but it is on the Parcel Yard’s. Some of us are ready, at least.