Cambridge CAMRA members recently had the pleasure of joining Red Lion, Histon, regulars on a visit to Fullers. The brewery is sited in Chiswick, close to the Thames, inviting a pleasant riverside walk into Hammersmith after our tour. The site itself has seen brewing for over 300 years but the brewery underwent a major redevelopment a few years ago to cope with increased demand. However despite the use of new-fangled devices like conical fermenters it still feels and smells like a proper brewery, and the beer produced is as good as it ever was. Down in the hospitality cellar bar we were invited to sample the full range of draught beers which was not much of a hardship.
Fullers flagship brew is London Pride (4.1%), a magnificent ale achieving a perfect balance of fruit and hops. It can increasingly be found in the free trade and as a guest ale in big brewery pubs. In Cambridge you can always find an excellent drop of the stuff at the St. Radegund in King Street. Chiswick Bitter (3.5%) is seen much less often but many connoisseurs regard it as an even better ale than its higher-profile brother. It's a hoppy refreshing and very more-ish brew, the perfect session ale. In 1989 it won Champion Beer of Britain award. ESB (5.5%) is a strong, aromatic beer of immense character which has also won a hatful of awards. Fullers are about to give it a major re-launch.
The brewery, like many others nowadays, also offers a range of seasonal ales, and on our visit Honey Dew (4.2%) was taking its turn. The honey flavouring inevitably means it is a bit on the sweet side, but it is mellow and not at all tacky. The Summer Ale (3.9%) will have replaced it by now.
Fullers own 210 pubs, mostly in London, but with a smattering in the home counties and one each in Bristol and Birmingham. In the sixties and seventies, Fullers went over almost entirely to top-pressure. Thankfully the wheel has turned and all their pubs now sell real ale. Recently they have invested a lot of money in converting old banks and similar buildings into a stylish chain of Pie and Ale Houses.
Finding anything critical to say about Fullers is difficult. They have dropped their Mild (Hock) but had clearly tried hard to promote it - the public must take the blame for its demise. The only complaint could be that we do not see enough of these excellent beers in our neck of the woods.