Posts Tagged ‘Fuller’s’

I was early for the event at Fuller’s, so I went straight to the Brewery Shop, which was splendidly refurbished since my last visit. Lots of souvenirs and gifts. Beers in bottles and mini-kegs, a fine range of wines, and, as a highlight, most of the versions of Fuller’s Vintage Ale, going back to 2000. I bought a few of those to drink at my leisure.

As it turned out, the brewery shop was also where the night’s event was going to start.  I was happy to see that there were a few familiar names on the list of participants, including Ron Pattison, Melissa Cole and Pete Brown, and I soon introduced myself to Ron.

After a few rounds of Honey Dew beer, the stage was given to the managing director  of Fuller’s, John Roberts, who talked about the brewery and the Fine Ale club. The brewery is the last remaining traditional brewery in London, it is still in family control and at present has 365 pubs.

We were led to the newly refurbished Hock Cellar, where the tasting was going to take place. For anyone interested in the history of beer and brewing, this is like Aladdin’s Cave, with lots of items from Fuller’s history. I managed to take some nice photos to use on the blog in the time to come.

John Keeling, the head brewer, was leading the tasting – but it was much more of a tasting, it was also a passionate speech on the philosophy behind the brewery today. It was very interesting that one of his main themes was directly relevant to the discussions we have had in the blog sphere lately about innovation and tradition.

Liquid history

Keeling started out with pointing out that aging beers is nothing new. The aged beers Fuller’s now have in their range are the result of rediscovering aging, going back to the lost art of mixing stock ale with fresh ale.  And seeking the best raw materials from around the globe is nothing new, either, the records from 1906 show that they were using Chilean malt and hops from Oregon at the time.

Fuller’s was also viewed in relation to the rest of the industry. Keeling meant that the micro breweries have played an important role, driving the market and making the world a more interesting place.

On the other hand, there are some brewers that place quality and consistency above everything else. Some of them are great brewers, and they make Carlsberg and Budweiser. The problem is that they forget to other important aspects – flavour and character.

Keeling peppered the rest of his presentation with anecdotes and jokes too numerous to quote. If you want an articulate spokesman for the British beer industry, this is certainly your man, I hope he is widely used.

On to the beers:

Starting out with the London Pride, with its familiar malty nows and flowery hoppy aroma. Lots of malty flavour, bitter finish.

Set up for tasting

The ESB has more character. It has even more malt, but this is balanced by more hops. It used to be the strongest cask beer in Britain.

On to the London Porter, a splendid beer in its bottled version, superb on cask. Havana cigars, campfire. Coffee and dark fruit. Keeling had a word of advice: London Porter is delivered to the pubs that order it. If you want it on cask, pester your pub about it!

1845 was presented as as close to a traditional Burton ale as we come in this country, so if you want a reference beer for the style, here it is.

On to the more advanced stuff: First the Gales Prize Old Ale 2007. This is similar to lambic, it is an uncontrolled process. Lots of fruit combined with a pleasant sourness. Prunes and grapefruit, according to my note-book.

35% of the beer is aged for 18 months, the rest is fresh beer.

Brewer’s Reserve #1 is sold out. 40 casks were made after experimenting with Golden Pride, ESB and 1845 as the beer to age. The beer was matured for 500 days in 30-year-old whisky barrels.

Strong and sharp oaky aroma in this one – #2 is maturing right now.

This beer is also, as far as I understood, a blend of aged and fresh beers, particularly because of the Grogging Law of 1745.

So, to the highlight of the evening. The 1999, 2005 and 2009 versions of Fuller’s Vintage.

2009: Hazy amber beer, fine head. Fruit, pepper and sweet malt, Smooth. A great beer for drinking as it is.

2005: More syrupy, very complex. Vinous, a little sour. Lovely, a beer on top form.

1999: Dusty hops, sweet malt, all the edges have been rounded off. Liquor-like. Over the top? Probably, but still a highly drinkable brew.

The evening finished with a buffet and an open bar, and I chatted a bit with my beer blogging colleagues before venturing out into the dark December night again.

What a lovely evening. And it was still only midweek!

John Keeling presenting his beers

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It was a dark and rainy night in London. All the bus windows were steamed up, and the neon lights of King Street, Hammersmith were struggling to cut through the rain. Your hero, equipped with a sturdy brolly, decided to walk along the Thames to his destination. Luckily the clouds parted, as if by magic, when he passed under the motorway.

I was actually going down to meet Tom on Wednesday. He is the assistant manager at The Rake, and he promised he had some good stuff on.

On my way out of the hotel, I decided to check my e-mail, and logged on. The usual trash, except a reply to an e-mail I had sent off a month ago.

Fuller’s brewery in Chiswick, London, has a fan club of sorts, the Fine Ale Club, with tens of thousands of members. They send out a quarterly newsletter, run competitions etc. It’s a useful way of getting updates on their beers and pubs, and, despite the fact that this club nominally only accepts members in the UK, I have managed to get into their list.

In the November issue of their newsletter they announced the 10th anniversary of the club. They encouraged members to run beer testings, and those who mailed in their tasting notes would enter a draw for a celebration of the 10the anniversary of the Fine Ale Club including a tasting at the brewery on 2 December.

Well, I didn’t have time to organise any tasting, but as the celebrations would be at the same time I was in London, I sent an e-mail asking if I could come along to the event and cover it on the blog.

I didn’t get any answer, so I more or less forgot about the event, until opening my mailbox on, correct, December 2. The reply was dated two days before, stating that I would be very welcome to come along.

So, this was the background to me walking briskly along the Thames Path on a dreary winter evening. I had high expectations.

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White Horse

White Horse

I told you about the mixed experience Lars Marius, Stine and I had two years ago when we went to the White Horse Old and Winter Ale festival. The White Horse, with its splendid location in Parson’s Green, West London, has a long standing reputation for its solid beer list, both British and Belgian beers on draft and bottles which are picked for making up a broad range of flavours and styles, not to give a ticker’s list of pale lagers. (There is a lesson to be learned here, Porterhouse!)

But, as I have written about recently, the beer is dependent on the person who is serving it. At the time we had the most sweet waitress, who had just arrived from California. She did her best, but she did not have a clue about English ales. She kept mixing them up, which means we resorted to ordering bottles instead to make sure we got what we ordered.

This year it was easier. When I had elbowed my way past the main bar, I found that the back room, which used to be a restaurant with table service was now the bar for the festival itself, serving about a dozen milds, old ales, stouts, barley wines – English dark beers from cask stillage – no hand pumps, just the gravity to do the job.. Add to this a few BrewDogs and Belgian Winter Ales in the main bar, and you could easily spend the weekend here!

Well, I did not have the whole weekend at my disposal, just a few hours before being on my way. Things were made easier by another young American lady. From eavesdropping on the conversations she was having with the regulars, she had been there for quite some time, this being their last shift before getting back home for Christmas. The expertly poured glasses shown she had used here time there well.

The beers?

Breconshire Rambler’s Ruin is an old ale, with some (intended oxidation. A reddish beer with little carbonation. Nice grassy hoppiness, malty body, but, somehow, the element’s did not blend too well together.

The Adnams Tally-Ho is very port-like, and is most sensibly drunk in halves. Rich, sweet, syrupy. Alcohol warmth. Prunes, figs, blackcurrant, sour cherries. A complex beer, I found myself a bench and sipped this slowly.

To finish off, I asked for the Fuller’s Golden Pride. This is not a new beer, but it is very seldom seen. A classic strong ale. Ripe fruits and berries. Blackcurrants, rowan berries. a little sour and oxidised, but pleasantly so. A neglected gem from the Fullers range, which should be available more often.

But why do they call it Golden Pride? It is not golden at all, but a lovely dark ruby. And when golden beers are a dime a dozen (well, £ 36 a dozen at today’s prices..), they could have played on the true color of the beer. Maybe it used to be golden?

I thought out a name for a ruby beer. Anyone can use it, though it will cost a dozen bottles for the first batch.

Ruby (Don’t take your love to town)

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This is one of the classic Fuller’s pubs, with a series of rooms, ending up in a conservatory or winter garden with a Thai restaurant.It is fairly full with both drinkers and restaurant guests shortly after noon. I had planned on limiting my lunch to a sandwich, but the tempting smell from the Thai kitchen made me sit down and order a red curry with duck. Actually, there are a few sandwiches and deep fried English dishes on the blackboard menu, too, but they seemed dull by comparison.

The London Porter was on as the seasonal cask ale – a lovely brew with a coffee aroma and lots of roasted malt.

One large table is filled with serious men with papers – seems they are planning some alterations to the place. This is probably one of the pubs used for inspiration by the companies exporting English pubs wholesale – full of bric-a-brac – so it could probably do with a little tidying up. But I hope they won’t redo this like they have started doing with the Young’s pubs when they got too much money on their hands.

The food is rustic rather than sophisticated – they could have peeled the tomatoes before cooking them, for example, But the duck is tender, the vegs are crisp and the coconut curry sauce is spicy without burning.

If you haven’t been to this pub, it should be on your list. It is one of the originals, and you never know how long you have them around. Fast and friendly service, too. It is in Kensington Church Street, easily reachable from both Kensington High Street and Notting Hill Gate tube stations.

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Stonehenge Old SmokeyI had a very nice pub round with Chris in London a few weeks ago (no, it was not a crawl!), and as we popped into various establishments on the Hammersmith riverside we discussed various aspects of pub quality.

There is a fair number of pubs in this area. Some cater for the local community, being tucked away in side streets. Some are on the bustling High Street, others are by the Thames, being extremely busy on sunny weekends and reverting to being more of local watering holes on a dark September evening.

I stayed at a hotel in King’s Street, that conveniently had a large Wetherspoon’s pub in the same building. This was splendid for good value family meals – two hot dishes of a decent quality for about £ 6.50 is great. They also had five hand pumps of rotating guest ales, which were in splendid condition. These beers were changing day by day, in the five days I was there, I tried about a dozen beers, including the Old Smokey in the photo, some of them even rarities at ratebeer.

But it was not a particularly nice place. The low prices of booze and food attract all sorts of clientele. It was all right to to take my family eating in the dining area before eight in the evening, but after that it was better to leave the place to the serious drinkers. That was, however, not my main objection. A pub is , at the end of the day, a place for drinking and not for bringing up children. The problem was more the total lack of atmosphere. The quasi-Swedish pine furniture and large glass windows did not add much enjoyment, neither did the dim lightning which made it hard to read a newspaper. It was like a fast food restaurant where you come in to have your nourishment but where the chairs are uncomfortable enough to make you leave as soon as you can afterwards.

For those whom life had left stranded near Ravenscourt Park, W6, it was probably more important to get a pint almost a pound cheaper than in the pub down the road. For me it was a place to have half pints to sample new beers on my way to and fro.

There are Fuller’s and Young’s pubs in the area which are much nicer, but they seem to have lost something as well. The seasonal beers are usually not to be found, usually you only find two cask ales on – plus a fridge full of cider. Why are there no flagship pubs in the Young’s and Fullers estates that pride themselves in offering the full range of beers – on cask and in bottles? I have never seen the Fuller’s Vintage Ales in any of their pubs for example. There is no use in whimpering about loss of trade to the supermarkets if you don’t even sell your own beers. Young’s had a nice concept last year where you could pick and mix four of their bottled beers for £ 6, but that was probably just to clear the warehouses of the old range of Young’s beers. 

We ended up at the Black Lion, where they had cask ales from several breweries. No rarities, just well kept beers. The barman gave us a  welcome like long lost friends, and we were happy to have another pint when he called for last orders.

At that point in time, this pub had a coziness that made it the perfect place to be. Well worn, but not worn out, furniture. A very decent pint of London Pride. Noddy Holder singing in the background – but not intrusive at all. I’m sure there is a fireplace for the winter and a Sunday roast, too.  The perfect pub? Maybe not. But on that evening it did just fine.

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