My job was to calm everyone down: “Hang on! Let’s make it really drinkable”

29 Jul 2016

In this month’s column, Fuller’s head brewer John Keeling explains how this year’s London Beer City Summer Ale was made - and why retirement can wait as he makes a list of the brewers he wants to work with ...


“WE wrote the recipe in the only suitable place: the pub! There was me, Jenn Merrick from Beavertown, John Driebergen from Fourpure, where the beer was brewed, and Greg Hobbs from Five Points. It was a fascinating afternoon. We talked about ingredients - what kind of hops we were going to use, that sort of thing - but my main contribution was to say: ‘Let’s make it a really drinkable beer, the sort of beer that people want to have pints of’. You want something that drinkers want to go back and get another immediately.


It’s got some interesting ingredients in it; American hops like Mosaic, Citra and Simcoe and a classic English malt variety, Maris Otter. The yeast is Vermont, which I don’t have any experience of, but that was led by John and Jenn. I was more in the background: ‘Hang on, that’s gone too far! Let’s tone it down a bit’. They’re full of ideas, and I was more than happy to listen to these young people talk about beer.


For me, collaboration is not really about the making of the beer, but about meeting and chatting to other brewers. It’s great to visit other breweries, to see how they do things, their hopes and innovations. I always pick up ideas: I was fascinated to see how they deal with canning at Fourpure. They make some good beers - particularly the session IPA, which I really enjoyed - and I sampled most of them during the day!


I’m really keen to do more collaborations. I did another recently, with Stu McKinley from Yeastie Boys, which will be part of the New Zealand Embassy at London Beer City. I’ve worked with HardKnott and Stone & Wood in the past.


I get lots of offers, particularly from overseas, but I’m not interested in brewing with somebody I’ve never met. It should be a friendly thing: you can design a beer over email but I don’t think that’s real collaboration. You have to know what the other person’s philosophy is, how they like to brew. You need to have a chat over a couple of beers.


There’s lots of people, though, who I’d love to work with. Steve Dresler, who’s just announced he’s going to retire as Sierra Nevada head brewer next year, is one; I’ve met him at various events so it would be good to fly him over for a brew.


I’ve actually got a couple of interesting collaborations coming up using the old Gale’s Prize Old Ale yeast. It’s hard for us to do collaborations because the minimum brew length here is 60 barrels - about 17,000 pints of beer - and Prize Old Ale is a 9 per cent beer, so we’re taking the yeast to two smaller British breweries, both of whom contacted us in the same week.



These beers will be riffs on the original beer rather than a simple recreation. They’re interested because it’s got that sour tang and the history. I’m delighted it’s happening, to be honest: we don’t make it here. It’s good to keep the name going.


When you make a beer like this, tasting it is often the most exciting part. It’s usually not how you imagined it would be! It’s not a million miles away, though, and I like to find something delicious that you didn’t expect, something nice.


It’s a similar process with Past Masters, our series of beers from Fuller’s records: they’re not collaborations but you still have that uncertainty about how they’ll turn out. It’s fascinating not only to see what flavours you get but also to be able to drink it where those old brewers had it many years ago.


At the moment I’m planning to do something with Jenn at Beavertown … but there are so many brewers i want to do something with. I might have to postpone my retirement to do the collaborations! Why give up when you’re enjoying it so much? Don’t tell [Fuller’s brewing manager] Georgina [Young] that, she’ll be pushing me down the stairs!”


London Beer City, which begins on Friday August 5, is a week-long, city-wide festival that takes place at the capital’s best pubs, bars and breweries. The London Beer City Summer Ale will be available at pubs across the city during the week, which ends on Sunday August 14.