Fuller's Griffin Brewery - Fuller's Special Edition ESB
After all my travels around the world, visiting breweries from Alaska to Adelaide, today I’m at the brewery nearest to my home – walking distance from my home. My local brewery, a brewery whose beers I drink every week – every week when I’m in Britain, anyway. It’s a local brewery to London, but it’s very well known in the United States, and it’s known by the name of Fuller’s. But if you look on the label or outside the pub, you’ll see that its full name is Fuller, Smith, and Turner. Today I’ve got with me the Chief Executive, the man who runs the business, Michael Turner. And I’ve also got the man who makes the beer, John Keeling. John has a fancy title, but he’s a northerner, and we’re just plain folks in the north, so he prefers to be called not by the fancy title - he prefers to be called Head Brewer, which is a much better title.
John Keeling : Quite descriptive.
MJ : Head Brewer, the guy who makes the beer. So, how do we get my local brewer, the brewery and their beers into the Rare Beer Club? That would be really good, that would be a personal buzz for me. You’re a very old brewery, but you’re a very innovative brewery too, and one of the things that you’ve been doing a lot of recently is bottle conditioning, which is bringing back a great old tradition. And bottle conditioning, in my mind, is an old tradition and it’s good to do, but it does more than that. It creates very interesting flavors in beer because the yeast in the bottle is working in different circumstances than the circumstances it would be in if it were in a fermentation vessel. So different things are happening in the flavor.
JK : They certainly are Michael, and the other thing I like about bottle conditioned beers is the person who buys them feels partly to do with how that flavor comes out in the end. They have an input into it, on how they store it, how long they leave it before they drink it. Because without doubt, fresh tasting bottle conditioned beer tastes different from aged bottle conditioned beer.
MJ : How would you like them – I mean, with Fuller’s 1845 for instance, one of your newer products, bottle conditioned, how would you like the consumer to handle that beer?
JK : Well personally, I don’t expose it to the light. I don’t expose it to extremes of temperature, but that’s the simple solution to that beer. The other thing is, how long do you leave it before you drink it, and again, the beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so it’s very much down to personal taste. But that’s me, I might drink it when it’s 2 years old.
MJ : No extremes of temperature, so if it were too cold, the yeast would stop working. What would happen to it if it were too warm?
JK : It would probably work in an uncontrolled fashion. So it produces flavors not natural within that beer.
Michael Turner : It’s just like buying a case of wine, and trying the vintage each year and seeing when it’s absolutely at its perfection. I think the same thing is true for beer, exactly the same thing - to have a case and then try it each year, and try to remember what it was like before and see what it’s where it’s still improving.
JK : It has a story to tell in that case. It’s got something to say to you.
MT : It’s a great voyage of discovery, isn’t it?
MJ : Having your brewery as my local brewery is one of the things that keeps me in West London, I think. Traveling as much as I do – I constantly seem to be getting taxis from Heathrow coming into inner London where I live and when I see Fuller’s Brewery, on the road there, I feel “Yes, I’m back.” It’s a wonderful landmark. I always tell people that if you’re coming to Britain, flying into Heathrow, look out for the Fuller’s Brewery. It’s a real landmark It’s been here for quite a long time, hasn’t it?
MT : It has. We enjoy working here and I think one of the secrets is that everyone else enjoys working here, as well. The brewery’s been here since 1654, although the Fullers, and Smiths and Turners only arrived in 1845.
MJ : Oh, a new company?
MT : Absolutely, indeed. But it’s nice to be involved in a business where not only one’s own ancestors have been involved, but also all the people who work here, their fathers, their uncles, their cousins. There are all sorts of families that are involved here, not just the Fullers and Smiths and Turners. So it’s really fun. And I think people like John make such fantastic products, and we’re all really excited about what we do.
JK : I love beer and I love Fuller’s beer. That’s why I’ve stayed with Fuller’s, because I like the beer. Why not do something you enjoy?
MT : I think that one of our great attributes is enthusiasm, which is absolutely boundless for the product. And that’s what generates interest with the brewery here and why people want to continue coming to work here, and that then moves out into our pubs, as well.
MJ : You know to me, the great genius of British brewers is to be able to make beers that don’t have to be strong, that are often quite modest in their alcohol content because people that drink by the pint all night don’t want to fall over. But there aren’t many brewers in other parts of the world that can do that trick. And that’s something I miss when I’m in other countries.
The story of Extra Special Extra Special Bitter (ESESB) - Project code name: Thriller Beer
We were developing ideas for a new beer to celebrate Fullers 160th anniversary (this year). We wanted to do an enhanced version of ESB, possibly in both bottle and cask. The bottle would have to be bottle-conditioned, as we feel that is best for flavour, and it seemed that a special version of our most famous beer for Michael Jackson and the Rare Beer Club would fit the bill! We decided to go ahead and produce it a bit ahead of our original plan, and have the bottled version shipped to the states for the club in December. We also decided to release this brew as a cask beer here in England, in September 2005, as the official beer to celebrate our 160th.
Whilst this beer was to be special, it still was to be ESB. We therefore kept the original ESB recipe: 91.5% pale ale malt (optic barley variety), 3.5% crystal malt and 5% flake maize, but we decided to push this to the limits and produce a stronger than normal version. We managed to push the gravity from 1054 to 1060, and the alcohol to 6.1%. This should rise to maybe as high as 6.3%, because it is bottle-conditioned.
We also changed the hops to 100% Goldings, and doubled the late copper hopping rate. This resulted in a bitterness of 42.55 (the normal ESB target is 34). After fermentation we then dry hopped the ESB in the maturation tank with Goldings. We left the beer in tank for 3 months, and bottled the beer with a count of 0.5 million yeast cells.
From the above analysis you can see why the beer will taste hoppier and more bitter than normal. However the beer has a reasonably high gravity of 13.9 to balance this. As with all bottle conditioned beers, it will change and mature during its life. Our “1845” beer normally lasts two years, and many people say that our 1997 Vintage Ale is still at its best. Who knows how long this beer will take to reach its peak – will you have the patience to do the research?
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