The sale includes the historic Griffin Brewery, close to the River Thames at Chiswick, all the Fuller’s beer and cider brands, plus the associated distribution business. Fuller’s will retain ownership of their 400 or so pubs and hotels, and will enter into a long-term supply contract with Asahi.
This news came completely out of the blue, and caught industry observers, as well as casual onlookers, completely by surprise. As a lifelong fan of Fuller’s and their beers, I find this story particularly sad as it brings to an end the involvement of both the Fuller and Turner families in a business which was established in 1845. Now Fuller’s and its beers, will be just another collection of brands.
Pub Curmudgeon and Zythophile, both of whom put a different spin on the story, and concentrate instead on describing my own involvement with what, until yesterday, was the sole surviving, independent, family-owned brewery, left in London. (I am discounting of course, the 120 small to medium breweries which have set up in the capital, over the past couple of decades).
His parents were what I’d call proper Londoners, who had moved to Ashford when it was designated as a London "over-spill" town. Pub-going was a way of life with them and they spread their drinking around a number of rather traditional (old-fashioned) pubs, in Ashford.
The two breweries of course, were Young’s of Wandsworth and Fuller, Smith & Turner of Chiswick. I will leave the story of my initial experiences of Young’s beers for another day, but I first enjoyed a few glasses of Fuller’s beers when I accompanied my friend on a trip up to London, to visit his aunt. RG's aunty lived in Chiswick, in a house which was just a stone’s throw away from the Griffin Brewery, so this was the ideal opportunity for us to enjoy a few glasses of Fuller's.
I don’t recall much else of what we did that day, apart from taking the underground back to Waterloo, and then the train back to Ashford, but a couple of years later, when both RG and I were home from our respective universities for the summer vacation, we took another trip up to London. We had both recently signed up as members of CAMRA, and were armed with a copy of the first ever CAMRA Guide to Real Ale Pubs in London.
written previously about our little pub crawl, but for those who may not have read that piece, our last port of call, prior to the afternoon closed session (remember this was long before “all day opening”), we visited the Star Tavern, in Belgrave Mews West. This legendary Fuller’s pub had a slightly chequered past, as it was here, in an upstairs room, that the Great Train Robbery was said to have been hatched.
For the beer enthusiast, the Star was one of the few Fuller’s pubs which offered beer dispensed as it should be – by hand pump, rather than under gas pressure. As well as renewing my acquaintance with London Pride, the Star afforded my first opportunity to try the equally legendary Extra Special Bitter (ESB).
Fast forward to a move back to Kent, initially to Maidstone and later to Tonbridge, which saw a vastly improved local beer scene to the one I had left, back in 1973. Fuller’s beers were quite widely available in local free-houses, but I was also fortunate to visit the Griffin Brewery, on a number of occasions, with my local CAMRA branch.
So it is with much sadness that I continue to digest the news about the sale to Asahi. Fuller’s claim that 87 per cent of their operating profits came from the pubs and hotels side of the business, so from a pure hard cash point of view I can understand the reason for the sale. But from an emotional one, selling your brewery, and your highly regarded beer brands, is akin to auctioning of the family silver – something the UK seems pretty adept at doing.
Somewhat ironically, I noticed a number of Fuller's bottled beers on promotion at Waitrose, this afternoon. So rather protectively, I picked up three bottles of London Porter for the bargain price of just £5.