Another day, another half formed beer idea. In this case deciding to head over to the Fuller’s brewery in London for a look around. Unfortunately their beer tours require pre booking by a couple of days, which kinda ruined the spontaneity of the event, but here we are, a few days later and ready to go.

Fuller’s are probably the biggest of the breweries I’ve hit so far. Thankfully they still do pretty good ales, even if they did hire that prick from Top Gear for their adverts (no, no, not that prick, the other one). Still they got good first impression down perfectly. I had turned up over an hour early due to miraculously not hitting any problems getting into London and the tour guide kindly let me jump onto an earlier tour.

The tour turns out to be an organised group from the “White Horse” pub. A really friendly group, tons of enthusiasm for good beer and it really helped the energy for the tour. It reminds me I really should take some time out to hit that pub at some point, I’ve been meaning to for a while based on their reputation, and the impression they made just confirmed the good things I had heard about it.

The tour split between the brewery tour itself, and the bar. The tour was pretty good, it didn’t go too much into the intricate detail, but gave the usual overview of the process and a bit of the history of how things used to be. The tour guide was a big help on keeping things flowing, being friendly and good at answering general questions.

A few points about Fullers really came out here. The first is good, they make a lot of talk about traditional English ale at Fullers, but they also seem to back it up. What a lot of people seem to forget is old traditional ale was powerful. The middle of the road flavour and two unit a pint average we expect nowadays is pretty much the result of lower taxes for weaker ales (an item I notice with annoyance is gaining favour again). Fullers have started a “Past Masters” line, recreating old recipes from the breweries past, with the first being Past Masters XX, a strong ale. I’ve grabbed a bottle for later trying but this really should play to Fullers strengths.

The weak point I would say of Fullers, emphasised by the tour, is they describe hops as being like a spice that should be used sparingly, which is true, but they tend to go too far and use them too sparingly. Now for their big beers like 1845, Vintage, London Porter, etc this approach works very well, and it’s these sort of traditional ales that they excel at. The lighter beers however really seem to suffer from lack of a bit more hops. Their new spring beer – Gales Spring Sprinter showed this very noticeably. This ale uses the legendary New Zealand hop Nelson Sauvin, but used sparingly it couldn’t really bring its distinctive flavour into play with full effect, making for slightly disappointing ale. Compared to say, the wondrous Gales Prize Old Ale they broke open for us, you can really see where their skill lies.

So, back to the original point. As Gales’ old ale, and the 1845 show, the traditional style does not mean turning out boring beers. Much as the Craft beer breweries innovate, they also dig into the forgotten past, finding styles and techniques that fell into disuse from the pressures applied to the industry. A big traditional brewer like Fullers pulling deep into their well recorded history will hopefully both bring great old beers back to the light and help break this perception that strong beers is just some recent attention grabbing stunt, rather than just returning beer back to what could do before it was artificially restrained.

One point I missed a chance to ask about, much to my annoyance at myself, was the effect the yeast had. The guide mentioned that their acquiring of Gales had giving them access to that breweries distinctive yeast, and also emphasised that Fullers had their own house yeast strain. Now I have seen the radical difference yeast strains can make in the Belgium style IPAs and the like, and wanted to ask what sort of character he felt these two strains brought to the beer. Oh well, maybe next time.

After the tour there was the bar and museum, which was of very high quality. Whilst I would have liked a bit more background on the display pieces, the crowds enthusiasm was for the beer, and on that I couldn’t complain. The poor overworked tour guide kept filling our glasses as quick as we could pass them to him, giving samples on tap of their full Gales and Fullers standard range, and broke open some of the bottled beers as well on request.

For nearly an hour then he answered our questions and quenched our thirst. Well done that man.

So, all in all, not a bad tour, a friendly tour guide and a great bar to finish off. As always I guess it would be nice to be able to quiz some people behind the scenes on the reasons for choices made in the beers development, but I doubt any brewers standard tour will offer that level of accessibility and still keep the brewers at the job they are intended to do (the Brewdog tour had that level of detail but was a special one off event).

Now if only I could have found out what type of casks those mysterious Brewers Reserve cask 4’s were (Cask 3 incidentally was confirmed as Whisky casks).

So a pleasant use of a few hours, and thanks again to all those at the “White Horse” for allowing me to join their tour, and being such a friendly and enthusiastic group, and complements again to the tour guide for keeping up with such a thirst for beer.