Peeking over the tops of the posh houses of west-London suburbia, I can just about make out the famous Golden Griffin, sat proudly atop the red banner that bears the name of the historic London brewer. My footsteps quicken as Fuller’s iconic Griffin Brewery comes into sight for the first time. This brewery visit has been a long time coming.
The Griffin Brewery has been the home of Fuller, Smith & Turner plc (Fuller’s for short) since the 17th Century, and it is hard to think of a UK production facility more steeped in tradition and history. The brewery even pre-dates Fuller’s itself, with beer having been made on the banks of the Thames here for over 350 years.
It’s no surprise, therefore, that brewery tours on this historic site are fairly popular. Running six days a week, on the hour, throughout the working day, the brewery churns through visitors with a similar reliability to which it churns out London Pride (over 18,000 people visited the brewery in 2017).
After a quick chat with Simon Dodd, Managing Director of The Fuller's Beer Company about the brewery’s recent acquisition of Dark Star (Look out for this in The Morning Advertiser later this week), we head into the brewery’s on-site pub, The Mawson Arms, for a spot of lunch.
The pub takes it’s name from a gentleman named Thomas Mawson, who helped lay the foundations for the brewery by purchasing several private breweries and merging them together in the late 17th and early 18th century. A cosy and old-fashioned boozer, The Mawson Arms is a great place to swap tales over a couple of lunchtime pints of London Pride.
Our tour guide for the day is Guy Stewart (The brewer responsible for the collaboration with Fourpure as part of last year’s Fuller's & Friends project). Stewart was previously employed by AB-InBev as a brewing manager at its Morklake facility. He tells me that the brewing giant used to rank its global breweries on the quality of their product, and his bonuses would be tied to this performance, making him a stickler for consistency and reliability.
Consistency and reliability, incidentally, are two characteristics that are never far from accurate when describing a Fuller’s beer. The London Pride is perfectly conditioned; all caramel sweetness with a delicate bread-like malt base. I crave another, and another, but refrain until we have first toured the brewing facility.
As Stewart leads us around the site, it is impossible not to be impressed with the lengths at which Fuller’s have gone to in order to continue brewing here at their London home. No inch of space is wasted; the brewery will often parti-gyle brew and liquor-off at different gravities to produce both London Pride and ESB from a single mash. It also makes use of its capacity to contract package for a number of other breweries including Sharp’s, Butcombe and Marston’s, while its small-batch canned releases are packaged over in Bermondsey at Fourpure.
One of the major constraints at Fuller’s, Stewart explains, is that they can only brew in two batch sizes, the smaller of which will produce around 900 kegs of beer. This means that any beer produced on the Fuller’s kit needs to have saleability. Having a estate of nearly 400 pubs undoubtedly eases that pressure slightly, but we’re likely to see more experimental brews out of Fuller’s once a new pilot kit is installed in the near future.
All in all, there’s a lot to be admired about Fuller’s. The brewery has undoubtedly reinvigorated its image after a decade of change and upheaval in the marketplace, while retaining its links to the past and its reputation for quality and consistency.
From the vast collection of brewing books, in which recipes dating back to the 19th century are meticulously recorded, to the array of memorabilia from through the ages that adorns the Hock Cellar (an on-site brewery tap and events space), Fuller’s is a brewery that draws on and takes inspiration from the past, whilst not being defined by it. There’s an air of dignity about everything the brewery does, and consequently it is easy to see why it is so revered by those who lay claim to being lovers of British beer culture.