A merrie band of Draft House types made its way to Chiswick on Wednesday for Cask Marque exams and a tour of Fuller's Griffin Brewery. Among those who hadn't yet taken the test (an exhaustive examination of one's cask beer management knowledge) was yours truly. We learn if we passed or failed next week. If it's the latter in my case I promise to close all Draft Houses down the next day and adjourn to a darkened room with a revolver and bottle of whisky (I won't deserve a beer, clearly).
Not especially being a London Pride fan I have always had a somewhat jaundiced view of Fuller's and their dominance of the West London market. But having seen Young's flee its splendid Victorian brewery in Wandsworth Town Centre for an anodyne facility in Hertfordshire (following a merger with Charles Wells) I have been wanting for some time to re-evaluate my opinion. Indeed, there is much to like, perhaps even love about Fuller's.
Despite being extremely cramped for space between the Thames and the Great West Road those stubborn Fuller's types have stuck it out on their historic patch.
The brewery is close, even claustrophobic. Ancient, disused coal-fired coppers sit cheek-by-jowl with modern, computerised kit. Narrow corridors are lined with wooden barrels of the Master Brewer's latest vintage offering - currently the 2007 (below).
Our guide was a 41-year Fuller's veteran, John. He regaled us, somewhat wistfully, with tales of the golden era of "wet" brewing - in effect the period until 1984 when brewery staff were permitted to drink while they worked.
There were some notoriously thirsty types, some drinking 15-plus pints a day. But, as John informed us sagely, these chaps were engaged in heavy manual work so they didn't really feel the booze. Workers were paid partly in tokens which they exchanged for pints, often starting off with a foaming mug before the morning shift at 4am. I'm thinking the chaps in the front row below might have had a couple. We especially liked the watering can.
It's hard not to like a place which has not only been at the heart of the revival of cask beer, but which also engenders such a fierce loyalty and - yes - pride in its staff.
And now there are follow some silly pictures of Draft House managers who should have been paying attention to more stories about drunken brewery staff but instead chose to eff about.
Here was the light canteen lunch which we were privileged to share with the Fullerites:
And finally, a richly deserved pint in the Mawson Arms next to the Griffin Brewery.
From left to right Michael (Westbridge), David (Westbridge), Juan (Northcote), Neil (Tower Bridge), Charlie (Owner), Adam (Operations). Regrettably, these were not the only pints drunk on this occasion (ouch). But I did learn to like Chiswick Ale and tolerate Discovery. I bought a bottle of the 2007 Vintage Ale which will go to the top-scorer in the Cask Marque exam.
PS a special apology to our Australian colleagues, David and Michael, who had to tolerate Fosters jokes throughout the day. I would like to correct the impression, if it was given, that Fosters is anything but the finest beer in the world.
PPS Thanks so much to the fabulous Annabel Smith of Cask Marque who managed to make a potentially dry subject interesting and useful.
PPPS Huge gratitude for Juan Christian's surprisingly good pictures (considering they were produced by a camera phone). Thanks Juey!