The quest for days off when you work in retail is an arduous one. You bust a gut for days at a time, giving blood, sweat and tears to reach the sanctity of 48 hours worth of free time, away from the madness. Once the goal is reached, they seem to disappear quicker than Lewis Hamilton on a race grid and you are back to the grind. So, its worth making the most of those beautiful days, by cramming in whatever fun stuff you can do in the little time you have.
With me being 'in the Biz', I sometimes stumble upon some fine opportunities to get out and about, and partake in a bit of product knowledge/getting merry. So when I got the opportunity (in the company of a few work colleagues) to take a trip down to the 'Big Smoke' and be entertained by the good folk of Fuller's Brewery, I was booking my tickets without haste.
A quick potted history of the brewery saw it take on many different guises from its first incarnation in the late 1600s when two separate small brewhouses in Chiswick, West London were bought by Thomas Mawson, and he started to put the foundations in place for commercial brewing. The brewery passed through a few different hands until the 1830s, when John Fuller invested in the brewery to save it from financial ruin, and, after his death, his son John Bird Fuller brought in John Smith (already and experienced brewer) and John Turner to complete the 'Fuller, Smith and Turner PLC' you see under the Fuller's name today.
The first beers that they concentrated on were HK (Hopped and Keepable) and eventually a Porter. This kept the coffers on an even keel, but it was the start of the 20th Century that started to put Fuller's in the brewing limelight. In the 1930's, they brought Chiswick Bitter to the market. By the 1950s the famous and iconic beer London Pride (named after a rockery plant that was growing at the brewery throughout the Second World War) was bought out, followed by ESB in the 1970's.
Now, they have a vast selection of beers flowing out of their taps and bottles, but all of them anchored in the rich history of the brewery and the beers they have staked their reputations on. Our guide for the day, Lisa, took us all around the mash tuns, where the basic ingredients of the beer are mixed with hot water to create the sugary wort. Contrary to popular myth, just because the brewery is situated on the banks of the River Thames, no water from it is used in the production of their beers (if any of you have seen what floats about within its murky surface, you'd thank your lucky stars they took that decision). We then were told that the brewery have to add a fair old whack of Gypsum to the water that they use, so as to harden the water (the water in the home of British Brewing, Burton-upon-Trent, is perfect stuff for top-notch beer) and increase the bitterness somewhat.
Moving through the brewery at a pace, it was really interesting to see the attention to detail that Fuller's put into creating their product. Take their beer Organic Honey Dew. Now, its pretty evident what one of the main ingredients are for the beer. Honey gives it that slight sweetness to go with the light citrus bite and refreshing finish. However, what you may not know is that they don't just go down the local Costco and clear the shelves of the cheapest sticky stuff they could get their hands on. The honey used is actually sourced from Brazil, as it gives a better flavour to the beer. To see such a large brewer going to extraordinary lengths to make sure their product stands out from the vast plethora of breweries on the market was really refreshing to see. In addition to this, Fuller's are a very 'green' brewery, making use of the yeasts in the fermentation process as much as they can. They then sell some to Japanese Whisky producers (making whisky is very similar in terms of production to beer) to be used there, and also then some to farmers to use as cattle feed. So drinking is definitely good for the environment, in my opinion...
As we neared the end of our trip, along came the jewel at the end of the beer-y Nile, when we indulged in a spot of tasting. We tried the very consistent and always enjoyable London Pride and ESB, but my standout brews were as follows:
The Golden Ale 'Oliver's Island' at 3.8% is the holy grail of Beer & Food matching. A beer that can match a good lightly spiced curry, or haddock and chips, but is equally enjoyable on its own. Packed full of orange zest and wheaty flavours, so refreshing for a session beer.
Fuller's step into the craft beer market has come in the form of Frontier 'Small Batch' Craft Lager, at 4.5%. Unashamedly (and admitted to) trying to lure Peroni and Kronenberg drinkers away from their usual pint and I for one would forego any tasteless lager for this. It took a few mouthfuls to get into it, but once you understood what they were looking to do, I really started to enjoy the light body and very light fruit flavours. Its a fantastic gateway into the fascinating world of Craft beers and an easy step over for the more commercial lager drinkers.
And the Diamond in a world of Cubic Zirconium is the Fuller's Vintage Ale 2015, at a whopping 8.5%. This is a style that Fuller's have created which is a testament to the longevity of bottle conditioned beer. The advice is you should leave this to age for a minimum of 6-7 years before even thinking of opening it. We obviously broke all the rules and had to have a snifter. Big, malty flavours which smack your chops about a bit and, admittedly, is a bit hefty to start with. However, perseverance is the key and you do start to sense that even with the brooding nature of this massive beer, there are some lovely soft fruity flavours coming through, balanced out with an undercurrent of bitterness. This will only get better, trust me.
All in all, after a week of hard graft, this was a wonderful way to spend a day of leisure and has shown that things only get better with age, be it 19th Century family brewers or bloggers for Vinspire...
If you fancy having a look round this great brewery yourself, then click here. They run from Monday-Friday at hourly time slots from 11am-3pm.