Thursday, 27 October 2011

A tour of Fuller's Griffin Brewery: 24th October 2011

I thought about what to do on an autumnal Monday morning in London and decided that a tour of a warm brewery seemed like a good idea, probably followed by lunch. So which one was it to be ? I considered a couple of the smaller microbreweries, but then decided that at that early time in the week, a more organised tour made more sense, and after that it was a fairly simple decision to book up on Fuller's Griffin Brewery tour, down on the Thames at Chiswick. Although I'm not a huge fan of their flagship beer, London Pride - it can be a bit of a 'brown, boring, bitter' for me, I do quite like some of their seasonal beers (Red Fox and London Porter), and their more niche, high-abv, oak-aged typed beers also seem interesting.

View Fuller's Griffin Brewery in a larger map

  District Line to Turnham Green (just in Zone 2)
  15 minute walk via Chiswick High St and Chiswick Lane

Although I've visited a lot of breweries, this really was to a different scale altogether (although, scarily enough, probably still small compared to some of the really mass market brands).

I managed to persuade one of my lager drinking friends to accompany me and we turned up at Fuller's pub The Mawson Arms at the corner of the brewery about 15 minutes before the tour was due to start. It's very definitely a brewery workers local with hi-vis jacketed workers coming in for food all the time and the opening hours reflecting this (10:30am to 8pm, Mon - Fri only).

Before the tour started we managed to try the new Fuller's 2.8% abv (and hence low duty) beer, The Mighty Atom. It was a drinkable bitter, but still reminded me too much of the occasional Kaliber experience.

There were going to be 11 people on the tour but 5 didn't turn up - which just meant less waiting around for people and more time in The Hock Cellar afterwards.

Our guide (I can't remember her name - I'm useless with names) gave us a quick history - a brewery on the site for over 350 years, the takeover by Fuller, Smith and Turner in 1845, the Beehive and Gales acquisitions, and the present day situation (see here for more details) and then took us to the entrance of the staff bar, the Hock Cellar, to put on our hi-vis jackets.

The tour proper started at one of the old copper mash tuns - in days of yore spent grain was dug out by young lads climbing down a ladder to the bottom of the container

compared to one of the new mash tuns

where spent grain is automatically sluiced out to be collected

The water used is London tap water, although it is 'Burtonised' with gypsum for the pale and hoppy beers. The malt used is only East Anglian Malt and is still milled using a couple of fairly old milling machines

Of the 20 beers brewed last year, all but 1 used English (mostly Kent) hops. The one that wasn't was Discovery - which is brewed with Liberty and Saaz hops to impart some citrus tones (and I'm sure our guide also mentioned Cascade but I can't find mention of it anywhere, so it may be a new addition) as well as some wheat for smoothness. The hops are all kept in the (surprise) insulated Hop Store.

I think there were 2 large coppers

with the heating controlled from a single Control Room, although the hops are still added by hand.

Different strains of yeast are used for the separate Fuller's and Gales lines of beers and the hopped wort is left to ferment in the fermenting vessels for 7 days

and then left in maturation vessels for a further 7 days

The casks are then are then filled (with about 8 people on the racking line)

or the beer is kegged - yes - that is a robot on the kegging line, with only a single person supervising

or the beer is bottled/canned. Currently ~75% of production is cask, with ~25% keg, bottles and cans. 75% of the cask output is London Pride!

Also next to the kegging line were the casks of Fuller's Brewers Reserve #4 in Armagnac Casks (sorry - too far away for a pic) due out some time next year.

Each batch is tested, which happens 5 days a week by 'experts', and there is also a weekly Tasting Panel to which any employee can be elected (nice job if you can get it etc...).

The tour now over we retired to the Hock Cellar bar. Our guide was quite happy to give us very generous samples of every beer available and then larger measures of a couple of favourites - not bad! I have to admit the London Pride was a lot better than I have had before - there was some sweet caramel malt, but there was also a fair amount of dry bitterness as well, certainly a lot hoppier than I remembered, so maybe there is something in the fact that London Pride is a lot better drunk in London. Most of the tour party (including my 'lager' friend) went for ESB as their favourite beer, but there's something about the up-front malt and alcohol in it that I just don't like (and that goes for most 'olde' English ales). I wimped out and went for the Discovery - it's no Fyne Ales Jarl, but it's a decent citrusy, summer ale - I quite like it. The London Porter on keg was also pretty good, lots of chocolate and some vanilla, and not too cold from the kegging.

The Hock Cellar is also full of Fuller's memorabilia

I managed to find this - K2 Lager - which rang a dim and distant bell.

In the early 1980's Fuller's had started down the Lager route due to sales pressure and named the Lager after the mountain K2, after (supposedly) a Fuller's Director was impressed by the people attempting the 1986 K2 expedition, and decided to sponsor it. After the K2 Disaster the image of the beer (and sales) took a pounding and in addition, in 1989 CAMRA lobbied the Government to pass the Beer Orders, which meant a guest ale (and in particular London Pride in London) was in very high demand. Lager production was then stopped and hasn't happened since.

It was then back to The Mawson Arms for a bite of lunch (very nice) and a pint of Organic Honeydew (also pretty good).

All told it was a most enjoyable way to spend a couple of hours and I may have even made a conversion (albeit partial) of my friend.

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