Griffin Brewery launches 2020 Vintage ale

For a beer drinker, tasting the new Vintage ale from the Griffin Brewery is a bit like a vintner getting a first swig of Beaujolais Nouveau. It is an annual event, eagerly awaited by the cognoscenti. For Guy Stewart, this year’s first taste was a little nerve wracking. He’s been in brewing for 25 years, but this was his first as Head Brewer at the Griffin Brewery, being in charge of creating the year’s Vintage ale.

“Everything in it is British” he told The Chiswick Calendar. “Last year’s had a New World feel, with New Zealand malt and hops. This year we’ve taken it back to its British roots”.

He’s used Simpsons double roasted crystal malt, and explained to me that the process of malting barley involves allowing the grain to start to germinate, so it releases enzymes into its starch store and it’s the sugar in the barley extract that gives the beer its dark colour.

He’s chosen Target hops, grown in Kent (and also used in London Pride, which gives the beer its bitter taste) paired with Jester hops from Hertfordshire, which gives it a white wine grape note, and Godiva hops, which bring a floral / berry fruit aroma to the mix.

Images: 2020 Fuller’s Vintage ale; Simpson’s malt; photographs Alanna McCrum

Dry run for the 25th anniversary

I asked him how decided on his final combination, and of course, like anything, the answer is experience. Guy worked at Watneys brewery at Mortlake for twenty years and gained another five years with Fuller’s brewery, now owned by the Japanese beer company Asahi. This is not his first Vintage ale. He has been involved in the process many a time before and has a depth of knowledge about what goes well together.

“There have been a lot of pre-orders” he told me “and a lot of excitement, with people waiting to see what it’s going to be”.

Fuller’s has a core range of 15 or 16 beers, most of which have been around for a long time. They’ve been creating an annual Vintage ale since 1997, so it’s good to get one under his belt before he has the pressure of creating the big one, the 25th anniversary ale in 2021.


Image: Guy Stewart; photograph Alanna McCrum

“Very nice” says John Keeling

The Beer advocate website says it’s ‘outstanding’, giving it a score of 94. Guy is particularly pleased that John Keeling, who retired as head brewer at Fuller’s in 2018, told him it was “very nice”, which Guy says is high praise indeed.

Fuller’s Vintage Ale is available mostly as a limited release of individually packaged and numbered bottles. Some people drink it straight away. Others let it improve and keep it for a special occasion, like a fine wine or whisky. It was launched in mid October, but since the Griffin Brewery shop has just reopened, you can go and buy it direct from the brewery. The shop is on the east side of the brewery, on Chiswick Lane South (accessible by car from Chiswick Mall).

It retails at £6.00 a bottle. A collection box with three bottles – the 2018, 2019 and 2020 vintages, will set you back £25.

Owners of a Chiswick Calendar Club Card get 10% off everything in the shop. Open 2.00 – 6.00pm, Monday – Friday and 12.00 – 6.00pm on Saturdays.

Image above: Brewery bike; photograph by Alanna McCrum

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