PHOTOS THIS COLUMN: (from top) The London Eye observation wheel as seen from the River Thames; our group in London Eye capsule as it descends; the capsule in front of ours at its apex; beer writers meet with MP John Grogan on the Parliament terrace; Ed Westemeier, Stamford Galsworthy & I at the House of Parliament Hop Inn Sports & Social Club; Brewing Director John Keeling conducting brewery tour; Fuller's Hock Cellar, where the formal tasting was held; Kiff Forbush checks out the Hock Cellar bar; Jeff Guice, Sheryl Barto & I during the vertical tasting; press table at Dove Inn; crowded bar at Old Bank of England Pub; Fuller's CEO Michael Turner (left) chats with Mark Proell prior to our final dinner.

PHOTO CENTER COLUMN: Fuller's Chairman Anthony Fuller, DBI President Jeff Coleman, a rather well-known local beer writer & Fuller's Commercial Director Tim Turner, seemingly quite pleased to be behind the bar at Star Tavern.

        IN LONDON

FULLER'S (10 Sept. - 12 Sept. 2003)

Merrie Olde London Town...
Somewhere there in Germany, during a quiet moment, Jeff Coleman had confided to me that he considered Fuller, Smith & Turner (which we will refer to from here on out as Fuller's, just like everybody else in the world) to be without peer in terms of hospitality. He knew whereof he spoke; within our first six hours or so in London, our hosts provided what were, for me at least, two of the most memorable moments of the entire overseas adventure, one high above London, the other deep in the bowels of Parliament.

A coach (when in London, speak as the Londoners do) was waiting at Heathrow to whisk us to Sanctuary House Hotel in Westminster. We were in the capable hands Stamford Galsworthy, export manager-North America for Fuller's, along with a very funny and informative professional guide named Gary T. McGowan, who mixed references to historical sites, birthplaces of rock stars, an astonishing array of insults to the French and all-round good humor into a steady patter during the long drive through London. One odd sight we saw along the way was annoying illusionist David Blaine, hanging in a giant cube on the banks of the River Thames, where he trying to spend 44 days living on only water, no food. Don't know why. I think he's still up there. Don't care.

If I might, a digression here (and that's a clue, by the way, though I doubt anyone will need it): before leaving the U.S. I'd jotted down the phone number of a certain gentleman who resides in London and approached Jim Dorsch early on with the suggestion that we might want to phone him up and see if we could get together for a few pints. "Already talked to him from back home," replied Dorsch, "and said I'd call him when I got in." And call he did, on the bus ride in, a conversation in which Fuller's people soon became involved. "Well," said Jim when it was over, "I think he's coming to dinner with us tonight." More about this mystery guest later.

After we'd checked into the hotel, we went for a quick lunch at The Raven at the Tower, a Tanner Street pub, and then were off for a very full afternoon indeed, beginning with a tour of The Tower of London. As that hour unfolded, I was struck by how bloody and complicated much of the history of Britain turns out to be when you begin to see it as a whole, and equally by how familiar we all are with it, how much we know of the names and legends that form that history.

Next up was a boat trip on the River Thames, a pleasant way to see the city but one which, given our dissolute lifestyle for the past several days, left several of us struggling to stay awake in the large, warm cabin where we sat. Everybody perked up, though, when we came in view of our next destination, The London Eye, the astonishing giant "ferris wheel" (or, more properly, observation wheel) which towers over the city from the banks of the Thames. Allow me to reveal my appalling ignorance of the world in which I live: I'd never heard of this thing and was duly shocked and intrigued. Built by British Airways to celebrate the Millennium, it opened in March 2000 and is the world's tallest and largest observation wheel. We rode in one of the Private Capsules (the standard compartment on the wheel, 25 persons maximum) and the vast, incredible sprawl of London beneath us as far as the eye could see as was awesome indeed.

That alone made the day but there was more to come, maybe the best part of all, at least for the press and PR portion of our party. I don't know what the DBI folks did, but we moved on the House of Parliament where special arrangements had been made for us. We were given passes to the Special Gallery, East to watch the House of Commons debate (my first trip ever to London I saw the House of Lords in debate, so I've pretty much got that Parliament thing covered). After that, we went down and out onto the terrace area in front of Parliament and were joined for drinks by MP John Grogan, a Labour member from Selby, who is Chair of Parliament's All Party Beer Group (why doesn't the U.S. gummint have important committees like this?). Among the things we learned: 20 years ago, the Temperance Group was the largest in Parliament, now the Beer Group is.

When Grogan had to leave, Stamford took us down to the basement level of the Parliament building and to the Hop Inn Sports & Social Club, a private pub for Members and staff workers, where we did our duty and quaffed Fuller's London Pride. This is apparently a stop that Fuller's uses to properly impress guests, and it worked very well. Quoth the bartender when we asked if Fuller's was always served: "If we were to cut off London Pride, we'd have an uprising." It was so cool that, were I the sort of person who would do such a thing, I might have, urged on by a Fuller's person (and therefore having a bit of moral justification), walked out with a very exclusive pint glass hidden the purse of an, companion.

Dinner, for which we were a bit late, was at The Star Tavern, a 19th century pub just off Belgrave Square. I switched to Chiswick Bitter, the 3.5% ABV classic which basically defines the style and spent some time sitting and talking with Fuller's Chairman Anthony Fuller, who was our host for dinner, which was also attended by MP Grogan. After a bit, our Mystery Guest--who was, of course, Michael Jackson--arrived, much to the delight of several of the DBI folks who'd never met him before. I'd promised Sheryl an introduction so after MJ had time to settle in at a table across from where I was sitting, I took her over to keep that promise, whereupon, using that amazing memory bank which is the repository for his trademarked "digressions," he proceeded to blow me away.

Before I could get a word out Michael pointed at me and said "I didn't get around to answering your email, I'm sorry." He was referring to a six-week old and quite obscure question that I'd emailed to him and had long forgotten. How the hell could he dredge that up as soon as he laid eyes on me? Nor was he finished. I introduced Sheryl, mentioning for some reason or other that she lived in Aspen, and with that, he began peppering her with questions about bars and pubs and things he had no business remembering, much less even knowing in the first place. I did an appropriate double-take and left them to their conversation.

The rest of the evening sort of blurs out, to be honest. Lots of good beer, good food and good talk. Many photographs were taken as people lined up to get one with Michael. It was a fine day and I slept well when, at last, we returned to Sanctuary House.

A rare tasting, Richard Fuller waits tables and our final dinner.
John Keeling is a very happy man and a very funny man. Both characteristics were highly evident on Thursday as he conducted us through a tour of Fuller's historic Griffin Brewery and two, count 'em, two, very special tasting sessions. The morning began with a brief meeting in the office of Sales Manager Richard Fuller during which we were provided some background on the brewery as part of a quick rundown of some early Fuller, Smith & Turner captured in oil paintings on the walls. Then is was off to pose for an official picture in front of the oldest wisteria in all of England, which grows on one of the brewery walls, and turned over to Keeling, who is the current Brewing Director, having succeeded the legendary Reg Drury (42 years in the job) four years ago.

As I said, he was not only informative, but very funny. When he showed us the brewery's fermenters, some of them of closed design and other, older ones of the open variety, he noted with great glee that "CAMRA, of course, prefers to believe that open fermenting is the proper way to go, but all the medals we have won in recent years were with beers created in closed fermenters. So there, CAMRA." At another point, he told us "I purchase malt from six different maltsters," and, after discussing the quality and importance of good malts and how the ability to pick and choose what to buy where and when is invaluable, asked, "do you want to know another reason why I buy from six maltsters? Because there are only six maltsters in England and if I buy from each of them, that means I get six Christmas presents, six dinner invitations, six people who like me a lot. So, if there were seven maltsters in England, I would definitely buy from seven of them."

The high point of the tour came at the brewery's Sample Room, a small room lined with shelves upon which rested bottle upon bottle of brews from over the years, each with brewers' notes taped to them. "As you know," said Keeling, "Fuller's produces a Vintage Ale and this year, for the first time, we are releasing a cask-conditioned version of that Ale to a few special customers. We happen to have a cask right here, only a week old, and I thought perhaps you all might like to be the first people outside of Fuller's itself to ever taste this beer?" Yeah, we sure would. Dollops were poured and tasted and, yes, it was very young and difficult to judge but the occasion was historic, after all, and a proper introduction to what came next.

What came next was a formal tasting of Fuller's beers in the brewery's Hock Cellar, a room filled with artifacts and memorabilia and, in this instance at least, dual rows of long tables, each seating three, in front of a small platform with several chairs and a lectern. Those chairs were filled by Public Relations Manager Georgina Wald, Brands Manager David Spencer, Richard Fuller, Operations Director Duncan Monroe and Jeff Coleman. Keeling stood at the podium and conducted us through a tasting of Organic Honey Dew, London Pride, ESB, London Porter and 1845, and a vertical tasting (in reverse order) of Vintage Ale 1999, 2000, 2001 and the 2003 we had just tasted from the cask. It was a marvelous session and I expect to go into more detail in the December/January Celebrator Beer News.

Afterwards, the DBI people were off to a working lunch with their Fuller's counterparts while we poor, neglected writer types were forced to walk with Richard Fuller to The Dove, an historic 17th Century riverside pub a bit down the road. We did so in a misty rain, protected by large Fuller's umbrellas we had been given. John Keeling joined us there a bit later. The Dove is known for some of its celebrity customers over the years (Graham Greene--about whom I wrote my Master's Thesis many years ago--and Ernest Hemingway among them) and is supposedly listed in the Guinness Book of World Records for having the smallest bar in Britain, 4 feet, 2 inches by 7 feet, 10 inches (I couldn't find that record in an online search of Guinness and was curiously unmoved to peek into the small room beside the "real" bar to check it out). The place was a bit overwhelmed by our arrival and Richard Fuller ended up being not only our host but also taking our drink and luncheon orders. Remember when I talked about "hospitality" way back up there in the first sentence....?

We all went various ways for the late afternoon (I tried to take a nap, no avail) and gathered again, most of us, at the Green Man Pub, which is located on the lower level of the famous Harrods Department Store, where we dutifully consumed more pints of Fuller's before moving on to our final dinner, which was held at the Old Bank of England Pub. This pub is located in what was, in fact, a branch of the Bank of England (since 1888) which was acquired and restored by Fuller's in 1995. This bank branch was where the Queen's jewels were stored for protection during WW2. As befits such an august site (and as had been suggested in our itinerary), we dressed up for dinner, coats and ties and all that good stuff.

We had a side room off the main bar, which was packed with revelers. More beers, of course, and eventually we sat down for dinner at a long table which stretched the length of the room. I found my seatmate to be Fuller's CEO Michael Turner, which ain't bad company, ya know? We'd clearly, as we had at both Erdinger and Veltins, been given access to the very top people in every brewery. With that in mind, I noted to him that we'd now seen two Turners and two Fullers, but nary a Smith. He chuckled and said that there was still a member of the Smith family involved but that he was a very old man, in his late 80s, I believe. Smith was not in great shape but had been to visit the week before, having to be helped at every step and unable to do very much at all. Still, during the ride back to his hotel, he had confided a little secret. "I guess I should tell you, I'm getting married tomorrow." And so, laughed Turner, "he can't be with us because he's on his honeymoon."

Dinner was quite good, with fine wine as well as beer being offered and accepted happily (Fuller's is involved in wine importing along with its brewery and pub business). Afterwards, some sort of game broke out at the other end of the table with teams contending to see who would be stuck with the dinner check (well, I guess it was a "pretend" game) but I could neither understand it nor get very interested, so I can't tell you much about it. We were then invited downstairs into the one of the cold rooms used to store beer. Two casks were pulled forward and they announced that two of us were to be chosen to tap same, driving the soft spile into the top and inserting a tap into the keystone. They chose Dorothy Creamer and I, on the theory, I suspect, that either the young chick or the old guy, or perhaps both, would screw things up and give everyone a good laugh. They were, I'm happy to tell you, disappointed as we both did yeoman-like jobs, spilling very little as the taps went in.

For all practical purposes, it was over. Painfully early the next morning, Bob Lempinen and I shared a cab to Paddington Station and took the Heathrow Express to the airport (the best method fo moving between London and Heathrow in my opinion, albeit quite a bit more expensive than using the Tube). Ninety minutes and another horrendous wait in line later (note to self: avoid Heathrow whenever possible), I was on the plane and headed home.

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