I recently spent three fantastic days and nights exploring London’s beer scene along with our UK correspondent, Sophie Atherton. She’d set up a full plate of visits for us that she hoped would give me an overview of everything going on, both new and old. And as exciting as breweries like Beavertown and The Kernel are, they both owe no small debt to Fuller’s – London’s largest and oldest brewery.
Fuller’s Brewery is located in Chiswick – a district in West London that grew out of an ancient parish in Middlesex county, known for its fishing and agrarian economy back in the day. The district has long since been overtaken by the city, but its village appeal was still very much evident as we made our way south from “the tube” through tree-lined avenues of gentrified housing that would eventually give way to Fuller’s extensive brewing complex.
Founded by John Bird Fuller, Henry Smith, and John Turner in 1845, Fuller’s Griffin Brewery rests alongside a leg of the river Thames. And it was just this location – so near to the legendary tributary – that was essential to the brewery’s early success and survival. The Thames was the city’s primary shipping lane back in the 1800s and the brewery’s access to the river allowed it to thrive.
The brewery itself is its own enclave, and comprises several city blocks. It’s a warren of red brick alleys, vintage buildings covered in vines, shadowy weaving walkways, and an amalgamation of historic and ultra-modern technology.
If Harry Potter were to do a major production brewery, it might look something like this. And if touring this spectacular historical setting wasn’t enough, we ended our visit tasting beer with Fuller’s Head Brewer – John Keeling.
Fuller’s is best known for its award-winning London Pride, a sessionable English-style Bitter/Pale Ale. But clearly John loves everything they’re currently brewing and his eyes sparkled as he explained the nuances of the many beers he poured us. He’s an ageless guy with an easy grace and charm, and a born storyteller.
An active twitterphile who drops rock music references as casually as he explains sophisticated brewing techniques, John’s an award-winning brewer who’s been doing great things for over 40 years. He’s also a pub man and explained that’s where he most enjoys drinking. And his command of sessionable styles – like the 3.5% ABV Chiswick Bitter – speaks to London’s pub experience, where hours are spent drinking several beers with friends.
John’s an archivist as well, who’s committed to the rediscovery and reinvention of old and almost lost recipes from the brewery’s long history – many of them reintroduced as part of the brewery’s Past Masters Series – and an outspoken champion for beers that demand longer brewing times.
As we blissfully wrapped up our many samplings with John, Sophie commented that any understanding of London’s beer scene would be woefully incomplete without a visit to Fuller’s Brewery…And, as usual, she was right…this time brilliantly so.
Bottom line – If you’re serious about beer and you’re ever in London – a visit to Fuller’s Brewery is an absolute “must.”
We’d like to thank John for making time for us and the entire Fuller’s team for pulling everything together and allowing us such tremendous access.