Feelings about Fuller’s

On Friday it was announced that Asahi had acquired the brewing wing of Fuller’s, subject to rubber-stamping, and we felt, frankly, gutted.

Jess, being a Lon­don­er, took it espe­cial­ly hard, though not, per­haps, as hard as the per­son who runs the Lon­don His­to­ri­ans Twit­ter account:

For Fuck's sake Fuller's. What's wrong with you?

With a few days to absorb and reflect we’re still feel­ing dis­ap­point­ed, despite com­men­tary from those who argue that Asahi aren’t the worst, that it’s a vote of con­fi­dence of cask, and so on. It still feels as if some­one you thought was a pal has betrayed you.

We know this is com­plete­ly irra­tional, busi­ness is gonna busi­ness, and so on and so forth, but we kid­ded our­selves (or were seduced into?) think­ing Fuller’s was a bit dif­fer­ent.

Of course the signs were all there (the lack of respect for Chiswick Bit­ter, for exam­ple, in favour of any­thing they could slap SESSION IPA on) but there were pos­i­tive indi­ca­tors too – sure­ly if they were going to sell up they’d have done it in 1963, or 1982, or… And why the inter­est in old recipes, in col­lab­o­ra­tions and so on, if there wasn’t some kind of sen­ti­men­tal attach­ment to the idea of the fam­i­ly busi­ness, her­itage and beer?

Odd­ly, when the news broke, we were eat­ing break­fast in a Fuller’s hotel-pub, and it seemed that the staff were as bewil­dered as us. As cus­tomers asked them for their views, they polite­ly mut­tered, “We don’t know much about it, I’m afraid.” They appeared to be read­ing news web­sites and social media to work out what was going on in the com­pa­ny they work for.

We made a point of going into a cou­ple more Fuller’s pubs over the course of the week­end, like mourn­ers clutch­ing at mem­o­ries of the recent­ly deceased. The beer tast­ed as good as ever – bet­ter, in fact, espe­cial­ly the stuff badged as Dark Star and Gale’s. Again, staff seemed on edge, in one case open­ly snap­ping at a beer bore who insist­ed on lec­tur­ing them about Asahi and how the takeover would ruin the beer.

It’s worth not­ing, by the way, that this was being talked about in sev­er­al pubs we vis­it­ed, includ­ing one non-Fuller’s pub, all of them, we’d have said, ‘out­side the bub­ble’. Peo­ple have heard of Fuller’s and were inter­est­ed in this news, which got cov­ered heav­i­ly in the main­stream press.

From a cou­ple of sources, it became clear the brew­ing staff were in shock, too. Head brew­er Georgina Young:

It was a long and very emotional day.

Here’s what one Fuller’s employ­ee said to us in a pri­vate mes­sage on Sat­ur­day:

I wish I knew more – we all found out yes­ter­day… It’s a ratio­nal busi­ness deci­sion but a dev­as­tat­ing one for beer. If we are not inde­pen­dent, what’s the point? What do we still rep­re­sent? All this stuff about brands and growth is pret­ty mean­ing­less to Fuller’s cus­tomers who will just be pissed off.

Maybe this will not dam­age the beer in the long run, who knows. We’re aware it’s a con­tro­ver­sial view but we’ve been real­ly enjoy­ing Young’s recent­ly, iron­i­cal­ly in lots of Young’s-branded pubs where the aver­age punter prob­a­bly doesn’t realise the brands and the pubs part­ed com­pa­ny years ago. We’d cer­tain­ly be quite hap­py to walk into pubs and find cask ESB along­side Pil­sner Urquell. (And Fron­tier Craft Lager hurled into the skip of his­to­ry.)

What we do wor­ry about is those hid­den gems – the non-flag­ship back­street pubs in West Lon­don where grey paint and fake ghost signs have yet to take hold, and which still feel vague­ly like booz­ers. They’re either going to get trashed, or ditched, aren’t they?

And we wor­ry about whether this means Fuller’s, as a brew­ery, will stag­nate. What will moti­vate dis­en­fran­chised staff to try new things, or throw them­selves into reviv­ing old recipes? It’s been hard to find Lon­don Porter in any for­mat for a cou­ple of years – will this final­ly kill it off for good, along with poor old Chiswick? Look at Mean­time: the qual­i­ty or the core beer may be good, but the breadth of the offer is now dis­tress­ing­ly bland.

All that’s kept us going into Fuller’s flag­ship pla­s­ticky, faux-posh cor­po­rate pubs for the past decade is the beer. We go to the Old Fish Mar­ket in Bris­tol because we crave that dis­tinc­tive yeast char­ac­ter once in a while, not for the brand­ed cof­fee and gin expe­ri­ence in sur­round­ings that resem­ble a hotel lob­by.

We don’t know how this will turn out. We’re not going to boy­cott Fuller’s. We’re not ‘but­thurt’. But some­thing in the rela­tion­ship has changed, and we will prob­a­bly end up drink­ing less Fuller’s beer with­out think­ing much about it.

News Pub and Old Favourites #4: The Grenadier, Belgravia

The Grenadier is one of those celebrity pubs, a London institution only a rung or two down from Buckingham Palace, on a par with the inflated walrus at the Horniman.

It’s in every vin­tage pub guide you can think of, from Green & White to Tav­erns in the Town by Alan Roul­stone.

The sto­ry (which we haven’t checked in any detail) is that it was built as a mess for offi­cers in the First Reg­i­ment of Foot Guards, became a pub prop­er in 1818, and has been trad­ing ever since.

And yet, we’d nev­er been.

The last time we attempt­ed a sur­vey of the hid­den mews pubs of Bel­gravia, the Grenadier let us down: being tiny, and being famous, some­body had decid­ed it need­ed to close while the Win­ter Won­der­land event was tak­ing place in near­by Hyde Park.

It near­ly defeat­ed us this time, too, con­ceal­ing itself in one of those folds in Google Maps that send you walk­ing round a place with­out ever find­ing it. Read­ers, we may have bick­ered, but even­tu­al­ly an alley­way appeared that hadn’t been there moments before, and we slipped through the por­tal.

Three Amer­i­cans, one shirt­less, were bel­low­ing at each oth­er: “Bro! Dude! There’s a freak­ing bug on my back! Dude!” One of his friends poured the remains of a pint over his head and called him a pussy. They stag­gered away into the night. The scene was set.

A military jacket at the Grenadier.

The mews was qui­et, but the pub was throb­bing, steam­ing, taut and ready to pop. We strug­gled through a gap in the door and through a gap to the bar and ordered a round of aston­ish­ing­ly expen­sive but very decent Tim­o­thy Tay­lor Land­lord, served with busi­nesslike effi­cien­cy.

We squeezed through the crowd to a rel­a­tive­ly less dense­ly packed cor­ner and leaned against two inch­es of shelf over the heads of a group of Amer­i­can stu­dents, two lass­es and two lads, all too tall to fit their knees under their tiny table.

Near­by, a par­ty of nine Dutch stu­dents (con­spic­u­ous flash­es of orange) had some­how gath­ered around a table for two and were forced to part like the tide every time a fresh par­ty came steam­ing towards the din­ing area, and then away from the din­ing area once they’d realised it was a din­ing area.

Scowls all round: this pub would be per­fect if every­one else would just piss awf.

There is a per­fect pub here, beneath the over­pop­u­la­tion. Like oth­ers near­by, it hasn’t been giv­en a cor­po­rate makeover, or tidied to bland­ness. The cor­ners are still gloomy, the sur­faces are dinged and rubbed, and every flat plane, includ­ing the ceil­ing, is cov­ered with tat. (Supe­ri­or tat, mind – earnest, well-earned mil­i­taria, rather than plas­tic clocks.)

Wax jack­ets, rug­by shirts and piles of shop­ping bags.

Expen­sive per­fume min­gled with wet dog and hot gravy.

Con­ver­sa­tions weav­ing togeth­er, encrypt­ing each oth­er as they pour out into a hot fog around the light­bulbs.

We did not see Madon­na or Prince William.

New Pubs and Old Favourites #3: The Bricklayers Arms, Putney

We can’t quite call the Bricklayers in Putney an old favourite because we only made it there once, about a decade ago.

On that occa­sion, we were delight­ed to find a pub in Lon­don with beer from Tim­o­thy Tay­lor. Not just the then ubiq­ui­tous Land­lord but the full range – Gold­en Best, Ram Tam, dark mild, and more.

But then we moved to Corn­wall, and while we were away, the pub changed, los­ing its unique sell­ing point and becom­ing just anoth­er Lon­don pub with a ‘great range of real ale’. Peo­ple stopped talk­ing about the Brick­lay­ers, and we for­got it exist­ed.

Then before Christ­mas, the buzz began again: Taylor’s was back at the Brick­ie.

We went out of our way to vis­it in the week between Christ­mas and the new year, despite Google’s insis­tence that the pub was closed on Fri­days. As we approached along the qui­et back­street we felt reas­sured: the lights were on, fig­ures were mov­ing behind the frost­ed glass.

Bricklayers pub exterior.

Not many fig­ures, though: we walked into an almost emp­ty pub, and the peo­ple at the bar were into the last inch­es of their pints, mak­ing their long good­byes.

It’s an excit­ing sight, a line of pumps with Taylor’s clips, espe­cial­ly when rar­i­ties such as the porter are there along­side the big names.

There’s been a lit­tle con­tro­ver­sy about this brew­ery late­ly. Depend­ing who you lis­ten to, it’s either over­looked and under­ap­pre­ci­at­ed, or over-hyped and new­ly trendy, but we like the beer and have liked it for almost as long as we’ve been pay­ing atten­tion.

This time, there were some hits and miss­es. Land­lord was off – a trib­ute to the pow­er of the brand, we sup­pose – and the dark mild was sim­ply mud­dy. Knowle Spring was sad­ly bland. The porter we’d been so keen to try seemed like a squirt of cheap cola.

But Ram Tam! Oh, Ram Tam. Anoth­er best mild, we think, and though peo­ple keep telling us it’s just Land­lord with caramel… It doesn’t taste like Land­lord with caramel. Per­haps we’re mugs being fooled by the optics, per­ceiv­ing flavours that aren’t there, but we are per­ceiv­ing them, so who cares.

A moth­er and father with moody teenage son arrived, made small talk, and agreed to try a mix of Gold­en Best and dark mild that the local CAMRA crawl had appar­ent­ly enjoyed on its sweep through.

A reg­u­lar arrived, con­ceal­ing his drunk­en­ness expert­ly until he’d been served, and then star­ing dumb­found­ed at a pint he didn’t real­ly want. “I tell you what, I’ll have a whisky,” he said, but didn’t get one.

The fire flick­ered.

The boards creaked.

Faces appeared against the frost­ed glass, scat­tered into pink points, fea­tures scrunched in con­sid­er­a­tion. To come in from the cold, or walk on? They walked on.

News, Nuggets & Longreads 27 October 2018: Brixton, Babies, Beer Festivals

Here’s everything that grabbed our attention in the past week, from financial stories about big beer to blog posts about Dorchester.

Cana­di­an beer writer Jor­dan St. John came to the UK in August and in typ­i­cal­ly reflec­tive style, ele­gant­ly expressed as ever, has shared some out­sider obser­va­tions:

The next day at the Great British Beer Fes­ti­val, more change is evi­dent. For one thing, the crowd is sig­nif­i­cant­ly younger than when I was there in 2013. It’s a Tues­day and most of  London’s brew­ery staff has the day off and is in atten­dance. I run into peo­ple from Moor and Wind­sor & Eton, but real­ly I’m there to talk to the peo­ple from Four­pure. They have just recent­ly launched their Juice­box IPA in Ontario, but sad­ly the beer didn’t clear cus­toms in time for the launch. Even more recent­ly than that, they’ve announced the sale of the brew­ery to the Kirin owned Lion PTY Ltd. Check it out: Pur­chased by the Aus­tralian sub­sidiary of a Japan­ese Brew­ery to be a cat’s paw in Eng­land to com­pete with Mean­time, which is owned by Asahi, anoth­er Japan­ese Brew­ery.

Bill Coors.

Beer indus­try mag­nate Bill Coors has died at the age of 102. Reject­ing the rev­er­en­tial ten­den­cy Jeff Alworth has writ­ten a clear-eyed reflec­tion on Coors’ life and lega­cy:

Wealth and suc­cess have always been enough to laun­der bad behav­ior into insti­tu­tion­al respect and hon­or, but we shouldn’t let these state­ments become canon­i­cal. In the decades of his chair­man­ship, the idea that he had a “com­mit­ment to bet­ter­ing lives around him” would have been greet­ed with sour laugh­ter by many. Bill Coors had a dark side, and it is at least as impor­tant to note as his tenure as chair­man.

A baby.

Per­haps pick­ing up on a theme estab­lished by Becky last week, Rachael Smith explains how impor­tant The Pub has been to her in ear­ly moth­er­hood:

Kerthudd! That’s the sound that a half-full infant’s beaker makes when it hits a hard tiled floor, thrown from the height of a high­chair with all the gus­to and might a four­teen month old can muster whilst sleepy and full of chips. Well, most­ly full of chips, I’m sure half his por­tion were on the floor by the end of the ses­sion, minus the one half-eat­en fry that was gift­ed to the staff mem­ber who took her time to get to his lev­el and say hel­lo… Whilst I was chat­ting with a friend, my child had been com­mu­ni­cat­ing in his own lit­tle way with anoth­er lit­tle kid on the table next to us. They had their own lit­tle lan­guage going on and were get­ting on like a house on fire. At the end of lunch a slip of paper was popped on to my table, as I looked down a lopped-off giraffe’s head looked straight back up at me (it was, I soon realised, the top of the children’s menu), next to it in cray­on were names, a num­ber, and the words; play-date?

Keg taps.

An inter­est­ing obser­va­tion from Alec Lath­am: there is a con­stant three-way push and pull between super­mar­kets, craft beer bot­tle shops and pubs. He writes:

I was put in mind of this over the week­end when I went to vis­it a new bot­tle and tap room in Harp­en­den opened by Mad Squir­rel Brew­ery (Hemel Hemp­st­ed)… I noticed how many chillers there were on the shop floor and enquired whether the cans and bot­tles could be con­sumed on site – a daft ques­tion – of course they could… But then he also men­tioned some­thing I’d not­ed myself sub­con­scious­ly, but with­out join­ing up all the dots: take­away sales of cans from beer shop shelves are reap­ing dimin­ish­ing returns, where­as sales of cans from the fridges to be cracked open in the shop are increas­ing.

Gary Gill­man has been dig­ging into the his­to­ry of beer fes­ti­vals  – what filled the gap between Okto­ber­fest and CAMRA’s 1975 Covent Gar­den Beer Exhi­bi­tion? Part 1 | Part 2.

The Dorchester Brewery c.1889.
SOURCE: Alfred Barnard/Hathi Trust.

Mean­while, Alan McLeod con­tin­ues his research into the provin­cial beer styles of Britain with fur­ther infor­ma­tion on the appar­ent­ly once leg­endary Dorch­ester Ale:

A lady, who had been my fel­low pas­sen­ger, turned to me as we drove up the avenue, and said, “I sup­pose, of course, you mean to try the Dorch­ester ale, which is so cel­e­brat­ed.” “Is it very fine?” I asked.

Dear me, have you nev­er tast­ed Dorch­ester ale?” “No, madam, nor have I ever been in this town before.” She looked at me in some sur­prize, as my speech was not Irish nor Scotch. When I told her I came from the Unit­ed States, she gazed upon me with the great­est curios­i­ty…

(Read the com­ments, too.)

An inter­est­ing bit of finan­cial newsAB InBev has cut its div­i­dend after a tough year in some mar­kets:

We can’t remem­ber a more dis­ap­point­ing set of fig­ures from AB InBev,” said RBC ana­lyst James Edwardes Jones, not­ing that most regions missed ana­lysts’ esti­mates for vol­ume growth.

And final­ly, faith in human nature, and so on and so forth:

News, Nuggets & Longreads 20 October 2018: Bermondsey, Breakfast, Birthday Beers

Here’s everything on beer and pubs that seized our attention in the past week, from greasy spoons to tap rooms.

For Imbibe Will Hawkes has been inves­ti­gat­ing what’s going on with London’s beer scene as out­siders infil­trate and suc­cess leads to exo­dus:

Enid Street is not London’s most pic­turesque road, despite the huge, ver­dant plane trees on the Neckinger Estate along its south­ern side in Bermond­sey. It’s a place of light indus­try rather than ele­gant archi­tec­ture, dis­tin­guished by its rail­way-arch busi­ness­es and the rum­ble of trains on the tracks above. For beer-lovers, though, Enid Street is spe­cial, and it is about to become even more so.… The recent past and imme­di­ate future of Lon­don beer and brew­ing is being played out here. Reg­u­lars on the ‘Bermond­sey Beer Mile’.… may know about Moor Beer, the Bris­tol brew­ery that occu­pies num­ber 71. And if they don’t yet, they’ll sure­ly soon know all about num­ber 73, which Cloud­wa­ter is turn­ing into a Lon­don tap for its Man­ches­ter-brewed prod­ucts.

Lon­don isn’t an island and all that.

Beer pump for Young's Ordinary bitter.

The weeks-old post Cask Report dis­cus­sion con­tin­ues, and con­tin­ues to be inter­est­ing.

First, Pete Brown reveals some of the back­ground research behind the Cask Report, which he didn’t edit this year, but did con­tribute to. Of par­tic­u­lar note is the word-cloud show­ing what peo­ple who don’t drink cask ale think of it: “old man”, “unpleas­ant”, “strong”, “dark”, “warm”, “thick”, “hip­ster”, “piss”, and so on.

Mean­while, at the nar­ra­tive end of the lane, Jes­si­ca Mason has been con­duct­ing a thought exper­i­ment: what if cask ale was a per­son, and what if you were try­ing to con­vince a mate to go on a blind date with it?

You were so busy try­ing to describe them by com­par­ing them to oth­ers and by try­ing to impress peo­ple with details on their past or intel­lect; you for­got all of the real­ly great things about them.

You for­got the fact that they are hon­est. Hum­ble. And real­ly real­ly nice.

You for­got to say how, when you met them, that moment was life-affirm­ing. And how, for lots of your shared time, they have always been a plea­sure and a com­fort.

Greasy spoon cafe, Bethnal Green.

This arti­cle about greasy spoon cafes by Edwina Attlee for Archi­tec­tur­al Review isn’t about pubs but also kind of is, in a week when there has been much dis­cus­sion of booze­less booz­ers, and in the gen­er­al con­text of think­ing about ‘the third place’:

In one sense it was the imma­te­ri­al­i­ty of the food in these places that meant they were prob­lem­at­ic for plan­ners and puri­tans alike. It didn’t mat­ter what time of day it was, you could always get break­fast. It didn’t mat­ter how long you stayed as long as you ordered a cup of tea. If you were going there for one rea­son (com­pa­ny or com­fort), you could pre­tend it was for anoth­er (eggs and bacon). If the plan­ners hoped that civil­ians would start and end their day at the fam­i­ly home, these strayed homes made that less like­ly. They need­ed to be planned out.

(Via @gargarin.)

Trillium's Garden on the Greenway
SOURCE: Tril­li­um Brew­ing.

Here’s anoth­er shout-out for new blog­ger Peter Allen who at Pete Drinks a Beer reflect­ed this week on the sup­posed gulf between the world of beer geeks and that of ‘nor­mals’:

Aside from the brew­ery based at trendy Fort Point, Tril­li­um also run a beer gar­den (Gar­den on the Green­way) in a more offices-and-Irish Pubs part of the city that I vis­it­ed twice. Per­haps the most notable thing about this was that, although there were a hand­ful of the maligned “peo­ple sit­ting there with five small glass­es in front of them, filled with dif­fer­ent beers, tak­ing notes”, the place was most­ly filled with peo­ple who clear­ly had no idea that a) Tril­li­um are a world-renowned brew­ery or b) that many Craft Beer Nerds would like­ly con­sid­er exchang­ing a limb for a night spent at the Gar­den on the Green­way. Most of them were drink­ing the low­est ABV beer on offer (the superb Launch Beer) and pay­ing it basi­cal­ly no mind what­so­ev­er.

Belgian beers from Guinness

The Beer Nut offers tast­ing notes on an inter­est­ing set of beers: a stout/Lambic blend from Guin­ness and Timmerman’s, with sup­port from a bunch of Bel­gian-inspired beers brewed at the exper­i­men­tal Open Gate brew­ery in Dublin. Some hits, some miss­es, but over­all an intrigu­ing path for Guin­ness to be on, even ten­ta­tive­ly.

Thomas Hardy in profile on the neck of our 1986 beer bottle.

We’ve nev­er quite got into the Thomas Hardy game but we note with inter­est via our pal Dar­ren Nor­bury at Beer Today that the 50th anniver­sary edi­tion of the beer, brewed at Mean­time, is now on sale.

Now, an adver­tise­ment for some­one else: if you val­ue what Ron Pat­tin­son does (“Pedan­ti­cal­ly cor­rect peo­ple on Twit­ter?” No, the painstak­ing research and writ­ing and stuff) then you real­ly ought to bung him some mon­ey once in a while. Now, there’s a fun new way to do that: for €25 he’ll dig into his vast col­lec­tion of his­toric beer recipes and find one for a date of your choice – your birth­day, or your kid’s, or your wed­ding anniver­sary, or when­ev­er.

Final­ly, here’s an inter­est­ing bit of news for peo­ple who like to mon­i­tor CAMRA after the man­ner of Cold War Krem­li­nol­o­gists:

Want more? Alan does some­thing like this every Thurs­day, too.