Fuller’s Griffin brewery celebrates 30 years of brewery tours

Image above: Fuller’s Griffin Brewery; photograph Nick Raikes

350 years of brewing and 30 years of brewery tours

Fuller’s Griffin Brewery is celebrating 30 years of its famous brewery tours. There has been brewing on the site (now beside the Hogarth roundabout) for 350 years and the tour guides take visitors through both the history and the practice of brewing.

Though Japanese global beer brand Asahi took over the brewery in 2019, the beers are still very much Fuller’s brands. The partnership of Fuller, Smith & Turner dates from 1845; they still run Fuller’s pubs and inns.

Cask beer used to be produced in open fermenters, and it was head brewer Reg Drury, who died in 2015, who transformed and modernised the brewery, perfecting Chiswick Bitter, London Pride and Extra Special Bitter (ESB) in the 1970s and ’80s.

The woman who took the first guided tour, Jill Rigeon, still shows visitors round. She told The Chiswick Calendar what people like is to see the brewery in action, with people working around them as they tour the site.

Image above: Jill Rigeon giving a tour in the early 1980s

Jill’s first experience of working with Fuller’s was as a student in 1980, when she was studying for a Home Economics degree at Manchester University and came to the brewery for work experience in the laboratory. Her third year thesis was on aspects of brewing.

She shot herself in the foot career wise, as she started going out with the laboratory boss Simon, so could not apply for a job there. It turned out well, as they got married, they still are married and she has had a very successful career with another company.

None of which has stopped her taking tours of visitors around the brewery. In the early days the visitors were area managers with customers from their own pub. As time went on, the tours were opened out to the general public.

“I was the only one doing it in the beginning. I wrote the tour, with information on how the beer is brewed, what it’s made from and how it’s packaged. The history is really important and people like that it’s small enough to see everything.

“They love that it’s small and intimate and that people are working around them. They’re in a real working brewery.”

Image above: Gates to the Fuller’s Griffin Brewery

The Chiswick Calendar’s reporter Bartley Chipchase went on the tour and was amazed at the depth of information and the complexity of the process. The tour is an absolute must, he says, for anyone who’s serious about beer, or brewing as a whole.

READ ALSO: Fuller’s Griffin Brewery tour – Bartley Chipchase

The Griffin Brewery is a Chiswick Calendar Club Card member, offering holders of a Chiswick Calendar Club Card a 15% discount off tours and everything in the brewery shop (at any time) apart from spirits. See their Club Card page here: Fuller’s Griffin Brewery and shop

Image above: Talking to Jill Rigeon by Zoom

Champion beers of Britain

Perhaps best known for their signature London Pride, a wide range of Fuller’s beers are distributed to pubs across the country and exported to more than 80 countries worldwide. Their beers have consistently earned praise from ale drinkers and awards from groups such as the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA), with brewery tours themselves earning excellent reviews on Tripadvisor and through word of mouth.

Jill says the good thing about London Pride is its consistency:

“It’s brilliant because of its quality and consistency, compared with craft ales, which can be quite variable. Also the way the beer is looked after in the pubs. Fuller’s offer great training and their cellar service is second to none.”

London Pride, Chiswick Bitter and ESB have all been named champion beer of Britain in the Campaign for Real Ale annual awards.

Images above: Aerial view of the brewery; kegs

More than a million pints a week

Pre-Covid the brewery was delivering more than a million pints of beer a week. When Asahi bought the brewery in 2019, they vowed not to mess with the beer’s winning formula. It is after all Fuller’s beers that they wanted to sell worldwide.

I asked Jill about the tales of people drowning in vats – all apocryphal apparently. Like Beefeaters at the Tower of London, some of the tour guides like to embroider with a few legends. It is true that the coppers used to be cleaned by hand – a hot and dirty job which took several hours, for which the men were awarded extra beer.

True also that the dray men used to consume quantities of beer prior to the introduction of breathalysers and drink-driving laws. ‘Alan the gallon’ was reputed never to drink less than a gallon if he sat down to take ale, and only have solid food at night, preferring to keep going on beer during the day.

Jill is more comfortable talking about the science of brewing. She told me all the barley used is grown on the east coast, they use over 30 different types of hops and even though the UK only has a very small hop growing industry now, the majority still come from the UK.

Image above: Fuller’s dray horses at the Christmas open house 2021, to which they invited brewery workers and neighbours

Fun beer facts

She is a mine of information, among the fun beer facts she told me being:

Fuller’s was the first brewery to Contract Bottle Guinness (in the 70’s). Not just ordinary Guinness this was ‘Bottle Conditioned’ Guinness with yeast in the bottles. Guinness actually installed bespoke Guinness tanks in the cellar for us, which have never been removed. (They would have to be cut out).

Before the 1980s the beer that was destined for the bottling hall, ran through Pyrex Glass mains from the brewing department, so you could actually see the beer moving across the yard (These days they are all stainless steel pipes).

The tours are not just a one-way flow of information though.

“I learn a lot from the visitors” Jill says. “They come from all walks of life. We used to get servicemen – when battleships docked they came over and took a tour as a jolly. The police are a good laugh. We get lots of students, a lot of Scandinavians, and now South Americans. Draft beer was until quite recently rare in those countries because of the climate, they’re used to having cold fizzy beer.”

The most popular question from visitors? – “What is the difference between ale and bitter?”

I could explain, having talked to Jill, but much better that you hear it from her or one of her fellow tour guides. Currently tours operate Tuesday – Thursday and Saturday at 11am, 12pm, 1pm, 2pm and 3pm. On Friday, tours are at 11am, 12pm, 1pm, 2pm, 3pm, and 4pm. On Sunday, there are tours at 1pm, 2pm and 3pm.

Price £25 (£21.25 with a Club Card).

Images above: Fuller’s Griffin brewery

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