It’s just after 11am at the Marble Brewery in Manchester and Hayley Marlor is getting a taste of how the other half brew. The 27-year-old Fuller’s shift brewer is digging out the mash tun.
It’s an energy-sapping process, particularly for someone used to working on a kit that does the hard work for you - and particularly at Marble. Marlor digs steaming-hot spent grain out of a small hole in the mash tun’s side, dumps it into a wheelbarrow, wheels the laden barrow to a ledge and tips the contents over into a vat below, without spilling any on the floor. The process in then repeated, over and over, until the mash tun is empty.
Marlor’s obvious relish for the task does not go unnoticed. “This is good,” says Marble head brewer James Kemp, an unmistakable smirk on his face. “It’s nice to work with someone actually useful.”
Working together like this is the essence of modern small-scale brewing; it’s also the driving force behind the project that brought Marlor and Kemp together.
The beer they’re making - Matariki, a New Zealand Saison - is one of six beers brewed for Fuller’s & Friends, a collaboration project that has seen London’s oldest brewery work with some of the UK’s most well-respected new breweries: Cloudwater and Marble from Manchester, London’s Fourpure, Moor from Bristol, Thornbridge from Derbyshire, and Hardknott, which is based in Cumbria.
“The aim was to have some fun and make great beer,” explains John Keeling, former Fuller’s head brewer, current global ambassador and the man who came up with the idea having recently been part of Sierra Nevada’s Beer Camp, a similar collaboration project in the USA.
I wanted to show the friendly world of brewing: brewers do get together, and they do help each other. Collaboration is a great way to make friends - and it’s also a great way for our junior brewers to learn from some of the best people in British brewing.
The project has been the best part of a year in the making. The idea first took solid shape in January, but it was not until early April that planning began in earnest, amid the 19th-century splendour of the Drayton Court, a Fuller’s pub and hotel in Ealing, West London.
“We picked you because we like you,” Keeling told the assembled brewers at a dinner in the pub’s cavernous basement dining room to celebrate the launch of the project. He then paused, before clarifying: “You are all here because we considered you to be friends of mine.”
Keeling’s successor as head brewer, Georgina Young, sitting across the room, smiled in a way that suggested she’d heard plenty of these jokes since she joined the brewery in 1999. Guests at the dinner had been divided into three tables, and around Young on table one was a group that included Hardknott’s Anne Wedgewood and Dave Bailey, Cloudwater’s Katy Pietsch and Fuller’s production brewer Henry Kirk.
Each of the junior Fuller’s brewers were paired with one of the breweries (Guy Stewart with Fourpure; Kirk with Cloudwater; Anthony Smith with Thornbridge; Marlor with Marble; Stewart Fettis with Moor; and Dave Evans with Hardknott). They were seated together to aid recipe planning and general beer discussion.
Cloudwater’s approach to brewing is very different to Fuller’s, so it was no surprise that Kirk, whose passion for brewing in all its forms shines as brightly as his box-fresh Reebok Classics, was soon deep in conversation with Pietsch. A discussion of hop oils led onto to the revelation that Cloudwater does not use any hops before dry-hopping. Kirk looked suitably impressed.
Others took inspiration from the food (smoked salmon paired with Frontier Lager, rump of lamb with ESB, chocolate brownie with London Porter, cheese with Vintage Ale) and the beer brought by participating breweries. Bailey was particularly taken with Smokey Horyzon, a smoked rye ale made by Moor. “That is really good,” he said. “I think it went with the smoked salmon better than the Frontier did.” The Fuller’s head brewer, sitting beside him, offered no comment.
The next day brewers re-assembled in the Hock Cellar ahead of a brewery tour. Young took the group through the labyrinthine interior of the Griffin Brewery, explaining the technical capabilities and cultural quirks (why is the yeast propagation vessel called Gladys? “I’m not sure!”) as she went.
There were plenty of questions. “What’s the difference between Gale’s and Fuller’s yeast?” asked Justin Hawke of Moor. Gale’s has more soft fruits, more strawberries, while Fuller’s is more citrus, explained Young.
The tour was of particular interest for Kemp, who used to work at Fuller’s but who hadn’t been here since 2005. Had much changed? “Not really,” he said, but that was before he saw the new three-stage filtration system. “Now that is super sexy,” he said.
Afterwards, at the nearby Cross Keys, a host of key issues were hammered out. What type of beers would be made? What should the name of the project be: Fuller’s Brew Club? Fuller’s Union? Friends With Benefits? And what about the twitter hashtag? Waitrose, where the beer was to be exclusively available in the off-trade, and hop merchants Charles Faram - in the genial form of Will Rogers - were present to offer valuable perspective.
Young, whose job it would be to co-ordinate the project, pointed out that a proposed completion date in August might be a bit optimistic if there were to be pilot brews, too - and so it turned out.
The project was shifted back a few months, and pilot brews at the smaller breweries took place in July. By now final beer specifications had been decided, and the six beers were a deliberately diverse bunch. There was Galleon, a dry-hopped lager, made with Fourpure; Rebirth, an ESB, made with Moor; Flora & The Griffin, a red rye ale brewed with Thornbridge; New England IPA, with Cloudwater; Peat Souper, a smoked porter with Hardknott; and Matariki with Marble.
Housed in a railway arch in Ancoats, the Marble brewery is a little Heath Robinson in construction, with a mash tun that’s too tall, malt that comes through a precarious-looking elevated white plastic tube and sacks of grain stacked wherever there’s space on the archway floor. Brewing is carried out to a soundtrack of heavy metal, Kemp’s favourite. “There’s a direct correlation between the music and the quality of the beer I make,” the lavishly-bearded New Zealander says, tongue firmly in cheek.
Kemp, known to all as JK, is one of the UK’s most respected brewers. His career has taken him from New Zealand to Fuller’s, back to New Zealand - where he was homebrewing national champion - and then to Thornbridge and Buxton, before a period running Port 66, a homebrewing company. He has been at Marble for just over a year-and-a-half. Marlor, by contrast, started her career on the graduate scheme at Fuller’s in 2012, having completed a degree in biochemistry from Imperial College, London.
Together they were making a New Zealand Saison, which entailed a complex malt bill (Pilsner, Wheat, Vienna, Rye and Spelt), potent, intensely aromatic New Zealand hops (Nelson Sauvin, Motueka, Rakau) and most important of all, a Saison yeast, which gives the final beer dryness plus earthy, spicy notes.
Marlor’s enthusiasm meant she was at the brewery bright and early - well before the 6.30am mash-in time. “I was so keen to get started,” she says. “JK said 'Ah, you're early,' and I thought, 'Best not to tell him I've been sitting outside in my car for 20 minutes!'”
A number of the pilot brews appeared on bars up and down the country in August. The beers made at Thornbridge, Marble, Moor and Hardknott were available at the London Craft Beer Festival, as part of the Fuller’s-curated ‘Cask Yard’, a section of the festival which showcases the best of British cask beer.
The LCBF is a heaving, raucous celebration of modern beer held in the heart of Hoxton but, according to organiser Greg Wells, Fuller’s & Friends beers proved one of the major draws for customers in 2017.
“The beers went down really well,” he says. “They were a big pull. I think there’s a real respect for Fuller’s in the wider beer community: more than any other traditional brewery, they are taking an interested, engaged and active part in modern British beer culture.”
Among the breweries at the LCBF was Cloudwater; the previous day, head brewer James Campbell had been at Fuller’s to oversee the brewing of his collaboration with Kirk. It was to be a New England IPA, perhaps the most intriguing of all the collaborations. Given the volume of hops used - 160 kilogrammes of Simcoe, 40 of Olicana and 40 of Chinook - it was certainly the most expensive.
Kirk was a barely restrained ball of energy as the brewday began. He spent very little time at all in the small, glass-fronted office from which Fuller’s brewers oversee the brewhouse. He was constantly on his feet, checking this and fetching that. “Look at it there!” the 34-year-old said as he opened the mash tun to add calcium chloride to lower the pH of the mash, before taking a deep and rather dramatic breath. “Smell the aromas!”
Despite his untameable enthusiasm, though, Kirk was only the second-most thrilled Fuller’s brewer to have Campbell on site. During a trip downstairs to discuss yeast pitching (two yeasts - Gale’s and a West-Coast US strain - were to be used), Campbell - a laidback, easy-going West Midlander whose impressive brewing pedigree includes a long stint as head brewer at Marble - was spotted by Fuller’s brewing operator Amanda Hunt, who offered a mock bow. She’s a fan of Campbell’s beer: “Everything I’ve had from them has been top notch.”
New England IPAs are hugely fashionable at the moment, courtesy of their thick, mouth-coating texture, low bitterness and massive hop flavour that comes courtesy of huge amounts of dry-hopping. They’re famously cloudy - some would say murky - although the Fuller’s/Cloudwater version was to be bottle-conditioned, a possible complicating factor. “I’m fielding a lot of questions about how cloudy the beer is going to be,” said Kirk, “and the answer is: I don’t know!”
Given the multiple differences in how Fuller’s and Cloudwater brew, it was a fascinating experience for all involved. “You can’t come away from a brewery like Fuller’s without learning something,” says Campbell. “It's been a long held ambition of mine to be there for a brewday.
“Henry got everything nailed down in advance, which helped things along nicely, especially organising the mixed fermentation cultures, which take a degree of planning and prior experimentation. It was good to unwind over a few pints afterwards with him, too. We had a really good time.”
By October, the beers were nearly ready for the public: a slow drip of information on social media had ratcheted up anticipation while the branding - designed by Thirst Craft, it incorporates element from Fuller’s and the collaborating breweries - had been finalised and approved. Label copy was ready. Launch events were planned. Beer lovers were straining at the leash.
Keeling, though, was thinking ahead. During his regular lunchtime trips to the Mawson Arms, the brewery tap, he had begun pondering how Fuller’s should build on this first effort. “I think it’s been a big success,” he says. “I’ve got lots of ideas about what we should do next. Henry wrote a paper about why we should do the next six with six London brewers, which is interesting.”
How about collaborating with breweries a little further afield - in California, Australia and the south of France, say? “These are in my travel plans! Well, there’s plenty to learn from foreign breweries.”
Whatever next year brings, though, it’s hard to imagine a more satisfactory experience for Marlor than her time spent collaborating with Kemp and Marble. “JK was a joy to work with; he was so knowledgeable and passionate about getting everything perfect,” she says. “I'd love to do it again: it's the first time I've worked on a brew from conception to completion. I'd even clean out the mash tun!”