One of the perks of being a travel writer is that majority of the attractions I visit are comped free for me. In return I typically write a review talking about my experience. I’m not a journalist, however I do try to remain as balanced as possible in my destination reviews - no matter how difficult that may be sometimes.
Fuller’s Brewery, London, England
The London underground isn’t as impossible as many claim. However, the worst isn’t getting to know the layout, it’s the random closures. The way the rail system is setup, you can usually find your way around the closures if you’re near London’s center. But if you’re trying to get outside of city center and off of a more obscure stop, you are at the mercy of the system. I visited London for five days, and I had four bliss-filled days with no issues. On day 4 though, all hell broke loose, I left an hour and a half early from northern London to go to Cheswick in west London for my scheduled review.
“Hi there. I’m an hour late for my tour, is there another one I can jump on?” I asked the receptionist. Confused, she looked at the sheet of paper clipped down in front of her and told me the next tour isn’t for another two days.
“Ah man! That won’t work, I leave for Amsterdam tomorrow. I’m supposed to interview with Derek Prentice, the brewing manager.”
“Oiii Derek! You have a meeting with the Oracle then,” she winked. “Let me page him and I’ll see what we can do for ya,” she said jovially. Then she turned on her heel and disappeared to the back of the bar and around a corner.
“Oracle?” I scoffed. “Silly name. Reminds me of the Matrix movies, how unfortunate,” I muttered to myself.
She returned a few minutes later from behind the bar and said, “your tour is about to enter the tasting cellar, Derek said he will catch up with you afterwards.”
“That’s perfect actually, thank you!” I smiled, thanked her and turned toward the door. As I pushed the door open, I turned back, realizing I had no idea where the cellar was. “How do I get there?” I asked the women shrugging sheepishly.
“Ah yes, well you take a right out the door there, down some stairs and you’ll run right into it.”
Walking from the bar, I passed the gift shop. A moment later it hit me that I was now in the thick of the production of one of my all-time favorite beverages. The welcoming, yet tantalizing smell of wort met my nostrils. Most breweries tend to be quite hot inside, due to the production, so when you add in the smell of hops and barley, you basically have created one of the most comfortable environments known to man. It’s one of my ultimate guilty pleasures - much like how many other people fancy the smell of gasoline or fresh cut grass.
In the tasting cellars, I was able to try every beer they had available, many times and again. I hadn’t eaten prior, due to the morning’s quandary with the underground system. So I was starting to move swiftly from the warm detachment of my inhibitions that only the effect of alcohol on an empty stomach can have, to a more boisterous feeling of nominally-inebriated. Slowing down, I wandering around the cellar, which is setup as a museum of brewing history, which is full of Fuller’s memorabilia. I must say that my favorite beers were the traditional English brews like the HSB Bitter, London Pride, and Chiswick Bitter - be sure to give them a try, specially the London Pride.
As time was up for the tour and the crowd dispersed to no doubt visit the shop full of beer-infused goodies and logo-painted nicknacks, Derek then indeed appeared to greet me. I would describe him best as the quintessential typical stereotype that Americans tend to have of British men. Tall, lanky and a bit awkward, with a cheesy grin revealing his misaligned colorful teeth. (I do not describe him as such to insult him) He is one of the nicest and most well-educated people I had met in my recent travels. That’s saying something - through my three week tour I had bookings with many knowledgable guides at over 20 of the most visited and notable attractions and museums in Ireland and the United Kingdom.
I had come to find out that Derek had dropped everything to give me a personal run through of everything that I had missed. “Who does this type of gracious act nowadays? I asked myself.
We meandered around the grounds and through the factory, stopping once again in the cellar. We sampled more beer and talked about the tastes and of life, dreams, typical stereotypes, of London and of the States. One of the highlights of the tastings was their new summer seasonal brew. I was one of five to be the first to try it, and the first outsider that didn’t work at the brewery. The summer beer was only to be released in London, but it was their version of Blue Moon. Hoppier than their traditional brews, with a heavy mix of orange and lemon tones. He asked me to wait to publish my article for once it had been released. Who am I to disrespect my host’s wishes?
To finish up our appointment, Derek offered to personally treat me to lunch at the brewery’s sponsored pub and restaurant. I graciously thanked him and denied that his sentiments were unnecessary, he waved me off and bellowed “Cheers” and we smacked our glasses together, high in the air. A clunk resounded, followed by a hefty slosh of beer escaping from our pints, so then we drank - and drank some more - and maybe a bit more.
Putting my excellent and unique experience at Fuller’s Brewery aside, I will say that if you’re ever in London, the tour is actually worth the visit. The factory is just another factory to be honest, but the grounds are built of an old stone styling that is particularly classic to old London - plus the cellar tasting room and museum is a definite highlight. I can’t say the normal tour that a customer would take is the absolute best ever, but keep in mind that the Fuller’s Brewery is still family owned and operated, making it a rare and enticing experience in itself. I would however surely rate their beer as some of the best traditional British bitters available, in the world. I should know as I test-tasted over 40 others throughout my travels.
(Photo by © Brandon Elijah Scott / Eye & Pen)