CARLOW - LONDON (19 May 2005)
A Discovery at Fuller's.
The most interesting thing that happened on Thursday morning at Heathrow, where interesting things happen to me all the time, came as I passed through Customs, well back in the pack, and the man at the desk said to me, "So, you sell beer too?" I told him, no, I write about beer. "Write about beer!" he was duly astonished. "How do you get a job like that?" Considering we were standing, oh, 20-30 miles or so from the home of the man who invented the whole concept of writing about beer, it was all I could do not to whack the dolt.
Once officially in England again, we were greeted by Stamford Galsworthy, Fuller's North American Export Manager, about whom I wrote in a recent issue of Ale Street News and whose off-handed and unfortunate comments about cask ales ignited a full-scale BeerAdvocate.com meltdown in April. At the same time, we lost Peter Reid of Modern Brewery Age (to which I've just added a link on the main LDO page), who was off to Germany to visit Veltins (I wrote about my visit there on an earlier DBI trip here) and picked up Kerry Byrne and wife Lee, who was surprisingly cheerful, given the burdens she bears day in and day out.
We arrived and cleared Customs early and thus were equally early arriving at the historic Griffin Brewery, throwing our whole schedule off. Rather than begin with the Tutored Tasting scheduled for Noon, we started out on a tour of the brewery (all gussied up in coats and ties and such, 'cause them are the rules), conducted by Brewing Manager Georgina Young in the absence of Head Brewer John Keeling ("he's off on a royal yacht somewhere for the weekend"). As you can see below, she does a most enthusiast job of showing the place off.
They make you wear those orange vests, by the way, so you don't get run over by a forklift or something.
We interrupted the tour for the Tasting, where we sampled London Pride, both cask and bottled versions; ESB (ditto); I845 and London Porter (both bottled) and Vintage Ale 2004 & 2003 (bottled). My notes don't show it, but I believe we also got our first taste of Fuller's new blond summer ale, Discovery, at this point. If not then, we definitely did during the buffet lunch which was next, in the Board Road, with most of the brewery's top execs on hand. More about it later on.
After lunch, there was a press conference where we got to ask all those important questions you beer geeks want answered, answers you'll have to await until our various stories see print, of course.
Oh what the heck, I'll go ahead and reveal my key inquiry: Does a woman absolutely have to be named 'George' in order to work here?" It was inspired by the fact that Georgina Young and Public Relations Manager Georgina Wald (of whom we will see more shortly) were the female face of Fuller's during the visit. Hey, you know me, I always go right to the heart of the matter. The response, by the by, was non-committal; make of that what you will.
We then completed the brewery tour and the distributor types went off to a business meeting with the Fuller's folks (somebody's got to pay the piper) while the "journalists" (how do you tell the journalists from the distributors in this group, somebody asked at one point; the answer: the journalists are the ones who are continually busting on one another--by which they meant. of course, Byrne and Glaser) were taken in hand, as it were, by PR person Georgina for a pub crawl.
To be honest, my notes from here on through the rest of the day are, well, pretty much non-existent, so we may have hit more than one pub during the afternoon, but I remember only one--and memorable it was: The Churchill Arms. As soon as I walked in the door, I decided that, were I to live in London (not a bad idea), I'd want to live in walking distance of this place.
The owner is one Gerry O'Brien, shown below, along with our happy guide, Ms. Wald. The place is, as the name might imply, a Winston Churchill tabernacle, with memorabilia all over the place. But that's just a part of it. All around the walls of the back room where we sat and chatted with Gerry are photos of U.S. presidents from Washington to Nixon; it ends there because he ran out of wall space (talk about your unfortunate circumstances--then again, he could have gone all the way to the current resident of the White House). The ceiling throughout the pub is hung with hundreds of chamberpots, who knows why?
Plus, Gerry has of late broken through to the space next door and leased same to a Thai restaurant, where the food and food aromas were mesmerizing. The ceilings over there? A veritable jungle of hanging plants. Absolutely cool from end to end.
During the earlier Tutored Tasting, it had been remarked that there were but a few bottles left of Vintage Ale 1997, the first one ever brewed, and I immediately suggested that we needs must taste one, but was told they were so rare that it was unlikely to happen. Yeah, right. Our pal George (shrinking "Georgina" down to "George" is what they do over there, and who am I to fight tradition?) pulled two bottles from her purse once we were settled at The Churchill Arms. Sadly, they were, while not quite gone, definitely on the downslope, wine-y and borderline unpleasant. Not that we let that stop us...
It was off to our lodgings at Sanctuary House, a fine Fuller's-owned hotel where we'd also stayed on the last visit, after that, to check in, wash up and set out for dinner at Star Tavern, a Fuller's pub where we also been previously. I don't know whether to be concerned or not that I remember nothing about the evening, but since there've been no process servers at the door so far, I guess it's okay,
If you click on the Sanctuary House link above you'll see that it includes a map of the hotel's location. Somewhere just shy of 30 hours after we checked in, most of us would have paid a pretty penny for such a thing, following one of the wildest days I, at least, ever spent in Europe, and that includes both the long weekend in Amsterdam with the stunning Else Winnubst (undoubtedly misspelled) during my wayward youth and the night I was chased down a dark Paris alley by a horde of American tourists from Iowa.
Come back tomorrow for revelations of semi-illicit sex, dastardly crimes and political influence gone awry (talk about your unseemly trifecta).
Not that I'm complaining, mind you.
Next: Parliament Days, SoHo Nights
5. We'll Always (Almost) Have Paris
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