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English Ales and the art of parti-gyle brewing

Fuller's Griffin Brewery

If you get to London and have a spare week day, head out to the Fuller’s Griffin Brewery for a tour.

You need to book and there may be a modest charge but it is worth the coin to do it. The ‘souvenir’ shop is really the merchandise shop for the pubs that serve Fuller’s. It has tap handles, rugby jumpers, bar mats and towels, but no snowdomes.  

Fuller’s brewery backs on to the River Thames where they originally drew their water. The brewery has been the same size for many years and is still run by the Fuller family. It is a bit of a walk from the nearest tube station but google maps will get you there. They are smaller than many craft breweries who started 20 years or so ago but Fuller's aren’t considered craft brew by many even though they have had the philosophy of craft brewers since they started.

They don’t make Euro lager brewed under licence or even follow trends like American IPAs etc. They just make good wholesome traditional English ales. They do a few special brews, but they are not flashy, super hoppy or limit pushing beers like Black IPAs. Their traditional ales have plenty of variety to keep you inspired. You will get a few samples at the tasting bar after the tour and they were generous on the day I went. You can also visit the attached pub, the Mawson Arms for a few paid ones and mix in with the brewery workers.

Parti-gyle Brewing

I was lucky enough to see John Keeling, Fuller’s head brewer at the time, speak at the Australian National Home-brewing Conference in Canberra a few years ago where he carefully explained Fuller’s parti-gyle method of brewing. Parti-gyle, old English for many worts, is done using two mash tuns, two kettles or coppers to make three or more beers. The mash starts as normal in the first mash tun and the brewers move on to the second, the brewers drain the first runnings for the mash tuns into the first copper. The mash tuns are refilled with hot sparge water and later drained into the other copper. The coppers are boiled and hops added as required, but at different amounts, as needed for the different final products.

Once the boil has finished, the coppers are blended as they are drained into fermenters. Here is where the maths gets tricky as the gravity of each copper is vastly different. Blending to reach a desired starting gravity in each fermenter, and use all the wort, is a real trick. If you know Fuller’s ales, their Chiswick Bitter is the light lunchtime quaffer at 3.5%abv, London Pride is the after work pint at 4.1%abv and ESB (Extra Special Bitter) is the after dinner ale at 5.5%abv. They also make a fire side sipper called Golden Pride at 8.5%.  Pretty clever to get so much from one brew day. The Chiswick bitter is dry hopped, but otherwise they are from the same batch.

Riding Along the Thames

I used to live in London, somewhere between the Fuller’s Griffin Brewery and the old, no longer used Young’s Ramsgate Brewery in Wandsworth. There is a great tow path along the Thames on the south side starting at Putney Bridge. It starts by going past the iconic boat sheds where the Oxford Vs Cambridge rowing race starts.  If you have bikes that can handle a gravel path, it is a slow and gentle ride and you can get all the way to Richmond for lunch at a choice of pubs. Head past the old sewerage works that has been a bird sanctuary for many years and follow the path next to the river. When you are 1.5 km past the green and gold Hammersmith Bridge, if you look through the trees, you can see the back of the Griffin Brewery.

Trying pari-gyle at home

I am yet to try parti-gyle at home but it is possible. You would need at least a single system like a 20l Braumister, Grainfather or Robobrew, an extra 35l boil pot and energy source as well as three 20l fermenters, one of them capable of taking boiling wort. A standard plastic fermenter, like the ones that come with a starter kit, should do. Up the volumes to the maximum your system can deal with. Use the malt grain bill for the middle beer, but scaled up to match the water volume you are using. My Braumiester can go to about 30l with sparging with enough head room spare for the boil. You would do the first lot of mashing and tip the first runnings in to the spare boil pot. Hopefully you can get 15 or more litres in to it. Sparge the mash and drain the second running go into the fermenter. This maybe another 15 or more litres.

Mash the second time and drain the first runnings into the same boil pot and this should take it to 30l or more. Start the first boil.  After you sparge and remove the malt, return the second runnings from the fermenter to the single system to make up 30l or more and boil the second runnings. Here’s where working out the hops will determine how your beers will end up. Fuller’s seems to add equal hops so the Chiswick bitter is relatively bitter but the ESB is malt driven. Hops would be EKGs or fuggles to be traditional and think about the late hops for the target style. Once the boiling has come to an end, and assuming you lose a couple of litres per pot in the boil, you should chill and pour about 8 litres into the “London” fermenter from each boil pot and pour the rest of the first runnings into the “ESB” fermenter and the second runnings into the “Chiswick” fermenter. Check the gravities and you may choose to balance them up a little if they are too extreme. Ferment as normal and enjoy the results.

When I do this for myself, I will share the story but if you do it or have done it, let me know how it went.