Brewing With Pride In Chiswick

A chance to win a free Vintage Ale Tour for Four at the Griffin Brewery


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People come from all over the world to visit the Griffin Brewery but as a local , I had never been inside to see their work, writes Anne Flaherty.

Fuller’s say they would be delighted to welcome more visitors from Chiswick, so I recently joined a group for a tour to see what goes on behind the walls of the historic local industry.

Tour guide John Holloway

A group of about seven of us (from Singapore, Germany and America) gathered outside the Brewhouse with our guide John Holloway, and our attention was drawn to the old Wisteria which we learned was originally a cutting brought from China to Kew Gardens in 1816. Then we popped down to the Hock Cellar (which gets its name from the brewery's mild ale) to don our high visibility vests and hear a little about brewing history. We learned that brewing involves four natural raw materials, water, hops, barley and yeast and discovered the difference between cask (live yeast) ale and keg ale. Most people now drink pasteurized beer and about half the beer from Fuller's is pasteurized and exported. The Cellar has a number of vintage ales bottle- conditioned; for example, the Brewers Reserve has a two yea rmaturation in wooden casks originally used for whiskey which gives added flavour. Bottle conditioned means the beer still has the yeast alive in the bottle-so you pour that one slowly. The popular London Pride provides 80% of their work, and this is a beer containing a 4% acohol level.

After the Hock Cellar, we went into the old Mash Tun area, where John told us some anecdotes about his many years delivering beer on the drays. The hospitality was legendary- beer was offered at every pub and the beer intake by workers was “ legendary” he said.

" Many years ago, you had what was known as a “wet brewery” where staff were allowed to drink beer to slate their thirst because it was heavy manual labour," he told us.

The liquor tanks

Workers in most breweries were paid partly in beer tokens which they often traded. Nowadays nearly all breweries are ‘dry’- and only the Head Brewer is allowed to swallow beer when tasting (for the after flavours). He gets chauffeured home on a heavy tasting day.

We saw old pictures of coopers being ‘ christened’ by having beer poured over them and rolled around the yard. but only Scotland uses wooden casks, now they are all metal.

The tuns contain a mash of hot water and malt, a bit like porridge, and when the mash is heated to around 65°c it starts the process of turning the starch into sugar. The mash becomes Wort (a sweet solution)after being boiled for an hour and then the hops are added, and the mix is t ransferred to the Coppers ( though the vats are actually now made of steel),

About 21 tonnes of malted barley is used per day, and although Mashing is still carried on in the old manner, the process has been brought up to date with new rules on hygiene and the use of automation. The brewery uses four pints of water to make everyp int of beer and interestingly it is all mains water. But local authority water is more suited to dark beers and stouts, so Fuller’s add calcium sulphate (or gypsum) to 'Burtonise' it ( Burton water is considered perfect for brewing). So we can see that water shortages can affect the price of beer.

The Hops come as pellets, like rabbit droppings, and when crushed they release their aroma. Their purpose is to add bitterness, taste and aroma to the beer.

The Fermentation vessels cool down the Wort mixture and then the yeast is added- at around 17degrees celcius. The mix then goes to maturation,ad while most brewers package straight after fermentation, Fullers mature from 7- 21 days depending on the beer. Yeast being a living organism does not work at speed, despite modern technology.

” At Fullers we boast about how slow we make our beer not how quickly,” quipped John.

The group were fascinated to hear about how traditional Eastenders went hop pickiing in Kent, and often this was their annual holiday. The hops were pulled down by a man on stilts and the seed is used to add to the beer. John also told us that fresh hops in a pillow case are a traditional cure for insomnia. The brewery still uses Kent hops but they also come from New Zealandl.

We passed by the laboratory, where one precious single cell yeast is responsible for all their beer. It is DNA-marked and samplesare kept in a Yeast bank in Norwich. This yeast is changed after four months and a new strain comes by courier for scientists to grow.

We also watched the work in the packaging room where the casks racking line is used for live beer and the kegger for the pasturised - the latter is the one that lasts longer and is thus better for export. A German-made robot handles the automated racking but men are still needed to operate the cask racker. Labels are then put on- each cask has about 4-5 weeks life.

The original brewery was situated in the gardens of Bedford House on Chiswick Mall, and the business expanded and thrived until the early part of the nineteenth century. Money problems forced the owners, who were then Douglas and Henry Thompson and Philip Wood, to seek a partner.John Fuller joined them in partnership in 1829 but then left. In 1845 his son John Bird Fuller was joined by Henry Smith from Romford Brewery of Ind and Smith, and his brother in law, John Turner. Hence, the beginnings of the Fuller, Smith and Turner name.

Since that date the Griffin Brewery has gone from strength to strength. In 1909 the Beehive Brewery in Brentford was acquired, along with its 34 pubs. In 1929, the partnership was dissolved and a Limited Company was formed. Descendants of those first partners are still heavily involved in the day to day running of the company.

In November 2005, Fuller’s added George Gale & Co. (Gales), of Horndean, Hampshire. The Gales deal added 111 houses to the estate taking the total number of pubs to 362. It also means that another beer brand HSB has been added to the ale portfolio. Fuller’s was recently named ‘Regional Brewer of the Year 2011’ in The Publican Newspaper awards.

After the hour-and-a half long tour, we returned to the Hock Cellar for beer sampling and a good look around its museum. It had been a most interesting experience, even for a non-beer drinker like me, and a great way to learn more about the history of my neighbourhood.

To win a Vintage Ale Tour for Four (worth £60) please answer the question below;

Which three Fuller's beers have won the Champion beer of Britain (a feat unmatched by any other brewer)?

 Email your answer to

Competition closes at noon 8th November 2012. Entrants must be registered on one of the Neighbour Net sites.


Tours of Fuller’s Griffin Brewery run between 11am-3pm, Monday-Friday, and they take about 1hr 45mins.

The cost is £10 per person (or £15pp for a Vintage Ale tour – a complimentary bottle of Vintage Ale 2005 and 10% off in the Brewery Shop), which includes a full tasting of Fuller’s range of cask and bottled premium ales. Your experienced tour guide will take you on a guided tour taking in the history, ingredients and traditional brewing process before being taken to the famous Hock Cellar for a tasting and a look around the Fuller’s museum. Afterwards why not browse the Brewery Shop and have lunch in The Mawson Arms pub on the brewery site.

 To book please call 0208 9962063, email or visit


October 24, 2012

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