Fuller, Smith & Turner

Fullers logo

Fuller, Smith & Turner. Sounds like a rock band from the 80’s, doesn’t it? Except it’s much cooler than that. It’s the name of one of the foremost British brewers of traditional ‘real’ ale, and a benchmark for quality and innovation around the world.Fullers Brewery front door

I was lucky enough to pay them a visit recently at their Griffin Brewery site in Chiswick, London. From the moment you walk through their front door, you realise that even after nearly 200 years, they still feel like a family business.  Everyone inside and outside were all so cheerful, and friendly to one another, myself included, that for a second I almost felt I was on the set of The Truman Show!

The purpose of my visit was three-fold; take a tour of the brewery, visit their sampling bar, and then have lunch in their own pub, The Mawson Arms, round the corner. And I’m happy to report that I managed to achieve all three objectives!

The brewery tour was everything a beer geek could dream of, and more, because it was also happening in a place that has actually made, and continues to make, beer history.  From the milling rWP_20160209_007oom to the hop store, the brewers office to the mash tuns, and the fermenting vats to the kegging lines, this, no matter how often you see it, is as close as I come in adulthood to going to church. The delicious, rich smells; the steady, quiet calm of man and nature in perfect harmony; and the gentle hum of good things happening all around.  Because WP_20160209_005of its reputation as a giant of the ale brewing world, the one thing that keeps surprising me whenever I’ve visited is how small some of the spaces actually are! The milling room, where the wonderful ‘grain bill‘ for each ale is mixed and milled, is little more than a bedroom, and the hop store not much bigger than a restaurant walk-in chiller. Another lovely feature of the brewery is the way that they have expanded and built a thoroughly modern brewery, shining stainless steel everywhere, around so much of their old, historic equipment which is all mostly still in place.

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In this brewery, Fullers have produced winning ale after winning ale, year after year. Their first CAMRA Champion Beer of Britain winner, Extra Special Bitter (ESB), a 5.5% ‘winter beer’, has since won the prestigious award a further four times, along with two other Fuller’s ales, Chiswick Bitter and their flagship ale, London Pride. In fact, in the USA, ESB now denotes an entire class of beers, thanks to the distinct rich maltiness and high alcohol warmth of the original.

One particularly special ale that Fullers produce is an annual limited edition Vintage Ale. Since 1997, they have produced an individual, specially crafted ale with different malt and hops each year. They actually recommend that buyers lay them down for several years before drinking, as they continue to improve in the bottle over time. One very good reason to keep going back every year!

9 bottle triangle

 

Ester and The Enzymes

Ester 1

If brewing awarded Grammys, this little group would be scooping them up year after year. Sure, they’ve had their hits, and their misses, and who hasn’t had at least one complete flop in their career? But, just about every single released by the group has had its fans, although there have been cases of extreme inter-fan rivalry, even downright violence, but there’s no doubt about their loyalty. Across a mind-boggling diversity of genres too, their unmistakable voices shine through, and even though they’ve been around for millennia, the future still looks bright for this extraordinary ensemble.

So, how did they meet?

Well, The Enzymes were there first. They were the ones who broke it down, you know, so others could follow. There were two of them, Alpha and Beta Amylase (sound kinda like stars, don’t they? Who knew?) Regular guys, hard workers, they mostly hung out in grains, like Barley, but also some others like Wheat, Rice, and Corn. Take Barley; the minute that grain started to germinate, or malt, those guys got to work, hydrolyzing those complex starches into sugars, which the grain was going to need as it grew. Of course, no one knew then what was headed their way – Ester; she blew into town one day with some guys called the Yeasts. At first no-one noticed. They kept to themselves, almost invisible. But it wasn’t long before the Yeasts met the grains; Greatest hitsI mean, they were everywhere!

What happened next?

It took everyone by surprise. One minute folks were making their usual daily bread, and the next thing, bang! Beer arrived! Crashed through the saloon doors like in a John Wayne movie. It was crazy! People started singing, laughing, sometimes even throwing the furniture around. What a laugh! And then Ester, this quiet little girl that no-one really noticed before, just appears from the back of the room; a stunning beauty! And what a fragrance! Conversations stopped, men with hands like shovels wrung their fingers nervously, waiting to see what she’d do. She just smiled at The Enzymes, and then gave this…this…smouldering Lauren Bacall look to The Yeasts, and then the music began. They’re still going strong. I’ve been buying their albums for years!

Belgium

Belgian flag

 

Belgium”, General Charles de Gaulle once said, “is a country invented by the British to annoy the French”. Well, he had his issues. Luckily for the rest of the world, they’re not annoying us at all. In fact, many beer writers and experts have posited that Belgium is to beer what France is to wine, the Scottish Highlands to whisky, and even Cuba to cigars! Tim Webb, in his ‘World Atlas of Beer’, even deBrughes canalscribes it as “the Mother Ship of craft brewing”. So, if you’re interested in beer, you’d better get interested in Belgium.

This fairly small European country (approx. x6 times the size of T&T) of 11M people, is home to no less than 140 breweries! In comparison, if T&T grew to ten times our population, based on our current brewery to square mile ratio, we’d have, uhmm..yes, 9 breweries. Take some time to swallow that. And the next time you meet a Belgian, throw yourselves at their feet and beg them to take you home. For it is there that the widest variety of categories, sub-categories, styles and sub-styles of beer in the world have been brewed for centuries.

There are Trappist & Abbey ales such as Chimay and Orval, fabulous Oak-aged ales like the exquisite Duchess De Bourgogne, the ‘farmhouse’ or seasonal beers known as Saisons such as Saison Dupont. There are spiced Wheat beers, infused with coriander, cumin and orange peel, and then there are the idiosyncratic, uniquely Belgian Lambic sour, almost wineish beers. Add cherries and raspberries to give you Kriek and Framboise lambics respectively, and then pair them withMoules_Frites food, and you can start to believe that wormholes through time and space actually DO exist. Then, there’s the fact that practically every neighbourhood has its own ‘regional’ beer; Duvel Moorgat is a good example, and you can picture your fairly well informed beer enthusiast writhing around on his back in a cobble-stoned medieval square somewhere in Belgium babbling and frothing with information overload. It’s sort of like that Heineken TV ad, where all the men come to a house warming party and start screaming at their mate’s newly acquired Beer Cave, in tandem with his wife’s friends screaming at her Shoe Cave. Except that, the breadth and depth of Belgium’s brewing chutzpah can actually stun you into silence (almost; the author is hard to shut up).

The evolution of Belgian cuisine over the centuries, as a consequence of this happy cornucopia of styles, has meant that there is no better place in the world the true connoisseur of cuisine a la biere can go to open their palates, and minds.