Brewing at the Griffin Brewery site, on the banks of the River Thames in Chiswick, West London, goes back over 350 years. In 1845 a country gent by the name of John Fuller (who by all accounts had a few quid), bailed out a flagging operation there and took over the reins. There was just one problem. Being loaded doesn’t mean you know much about brewing. So he brought on board a business partner called John Smith who invested on behalf of his son, Henry Smith, and his son-in-law, John Turner. Fuller, Smith & Turner was born and today is listed on the London Stock Exchange under that name, although it’s the ‘Fullers’ brand we all know (and most of us love) today.
As you wander past the Wisteria fronted old brewers cottage on the way into the brewery, it feels a million miles away from the edgy East London railway arches and the new wave of brewers on the other side of town that we’re usually heralding as the saviours of London beer. There are a lot less tattoos on show. Very few beards and plaid shirts combos too. The word “craft” doesn’t really feature anywhere. But dig a little deeper and the similarities start to appear. The word “quality” is used a LOT. The beers definitely reflect their location in the heart of this great brewing city. The technology is every bit as modern, perhaps even more so than their younger contemporaries and the beer is certainly brewed by a team of passionate people that know their onions. It’s all just on a much bigger scale with a tad more science and quality control involved.
Quality control is something that Head Brewer and Mancunian John Keeling (above) is always keen to chat about. When he left school without telling his mother, she forced him to take a job as a lab technician at Wilsons, the local brewer. He was hooked. In 1977 he left Wilson’s and headed to Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh to take a BSc in Brewing and joined Fuller’s as a junior brewer in 1981.
The reason most big brewers start producing rubbish beer is because the bean counters gain control. That’s something Fullers haven’t allowed to happen. It’s not really a Griffin, a mythical Greek treasure-guarding creature featured in the Fullers logo protecting the traditions and recipes of one of Britain’s oldest breweries. Nope, that role falls to John and the head brewers that have preceded him.
London Pride may have become ubiquitous, but beers like ESB, Past Masters and Bengal Lancer are all stunning examples of their style. Brewer’s Reserve and the very special Vintage Ale (a 1997 version will set you back £250 a bottle) show Fullers have a more adventurous side.
First brewed in 1995 to celebrate the brewery’s 150th birthday, 1845 is a classic. Bottle-conditioned (unlike the majority of Fuller’s bottled beers), it’s a boozy fruitcake of a beer. We take great pride in unearthing great beers, from breweries you’ve probably never heard of, that you will find pretty hard to find elsewhere. But in the case of 1845, well this one has been right under your nose all along.