EATING FOR BRITAIN: LONDON PRIDE HAS BEEN HANDED DOWN TO US
The EATING FOR BRITAIN trip is coming to its end and with just a handful of visits to go I think I can safely say that I have given it my best shot at finding some of the fantastic foods and amazing producers we have on offer in the U.K.
I am also aware that I have been very, very fortunate and that, while people could and probably should have been quite wary of a strange, plump bald man turning up on the doorstep and prodding about their business, they have, almost universally, been incredibly welcoming and more than happy to show me around. Not only that, I have also been given privileged access to places that under normal circumstances I would only have dreamed of seeing and been given the opportunity to taste stuff that under normal circumstances, I would never have had the opportunity to try.
I kept this in mind as John Keeling, for the last ten years, the Brewing Director of Fuller’s Brewery took two hours of his incredibly valuable time to show me around the brewery and take me through a tasting of some of their vintage beers and the much sought after “Brewer’s Reserve”
There are few weekends that pass without HP and I downing a couple of pints of London Pride at The Artillery Arms near Old St. It remains one of our favourite pints, great flavours from the malt and hops, but also noticeable for its dependable consistency, which is a major factor in the oft futile search in London for a decent pint.
There has been brewing on the famous site in Chiswick for almost 350 years, but Fuller, Smith and Turner, as it is still know, has been brewing there since 1845. There have been considerable changes in that time, not least in the 1970’s when many breweries were ditching their cask ale production in favour of keg beers, which were seen as the future. Fuller’s Brewery made the then brave decision to keep making cask ales and turned down the opportunity to move to an out of town site in favour of spending a great deal of money on revamping their historical location. It paid dividends and now they are one of the few remaining breweries in the capital.
With London Pride being so prevalent in London Pubs, it is easy to mistake Fuller’s for one of the giant brewing companies, but John put it into perspective when he told me that, although they brew 220,000 barrels, that is only about a third of what other regional brewers like Greene King can churn out and a fraction of the 6 million barrels produced by super brewers like Carling. This relative small scale gives Fuller’s the chance to retain a certain amount of innovation and they now produce about twenty beers a year including their “reserves” and their seasonal ales.
John gave me the tour of the brewing house and, although I have seen many over the last couple of years, the individuality of each one always comes through. Here at Fuller’s it was great to see that while computers and mechanisation were obviously very much to the fore, there were still plenty of aspects, which depend on the skill of the brewer and his team. As if to prove a point, after the tour, we returned to John’s office and he showed one of the Fuller’s Brewery books. This weighty, leather bound book contains all the daily recipes dating back over one hundred years and, along with the daily notes from the brewer also showed the exact mixes of each beer down to the type of malt and hops.
The issues discussed in the books, scarcity of hops, problems with malting, failure of machines etc may have happened over a century ago, but when John had to deal with the leaking of fermentation tank, while I was there, you could see that precious little has changed in that time.
Tours are one things, but the proof is in the tasting, so after we left John’s office, we headed down to the “Hock Cellar” where barrels of beer used to be stored as they conditioned, to have a tasting in the smart new Fuller’s bar. John poured me a glass of their “Vintage Ale” a relatively new idea where they are taking one making a year, using the very best ingredients that have been supplied to them and making a limited amount of ale to be conditioned in the bottle and sold at a premium price. It is good, but powerful stuff coming in at a whopping 8.5% and half a glass left me swaying as I came blinking into the sunlight as John saw me off.
I made one last stop at their impressive new shop and then began the long walk back to Turnham Green tube station. On my way, I passed the George IV a Fuller’s pub. Well, it just had to be done. I popped inside and ordered a pint of London Pride. It was a good pour, no sparkler to knock all the Co2 out of the beer and a full measure. I sat outside in the Sun, sipping on my pint and making some notes. What could be better? I would like to say that my visit made the beer taste different, but of course it didn’t. It tasted like it always tastes, great. A very dependable pint and something that Fuller’s Brewery and London should be very, er proud of.