John Keeling joined the brewing industry as a laboratory technician for Wilson’s Brewery in Newton Heath, Manchester in 1974 and, inspired by what he saw, left in 1977 to study for a degree in Brewing and Distilling at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh. January, 1981 saw him join Fuller’s as a Junior Brewer. He has since held various positions at Fuller’s culminating in his promotion to Brewing Director in April 1999. During his time as Director, over £60 million has been invested in developing the brewery. In January 2017, he handed over the reins to Georgina Young, Fuller’s first ever female Head Brewer, but remains a Global Ambassador for the company.John is an acclaimed judge and speaker at many beer competitions around the world including several Beer World Cups and the Australian International Beer Awards.
Kommt in unsere Facebook-Gruppe und diskutiert mit: https://www.facebook.com/groups/bierakademie
Link für Apple/iTunes: https://podcasts.apple.com/de/podcast/biertalk/id1505720750
Link für Spotify: https://open.spotify.com/show/7FWgPXstFr1zR9Fm2G0UJS
Markus Raupach: Hello and welcome to our podcast BierTalk. Today we have another English episode and we talk to John Keeling. John was head brewer and is now global ambassador at Fuller’s brewery in Chiswick, London. He joined the brewing industry as a laboratory technician for Wilson’s brewery in Newton Heath, Manchester in 1974 and inspired by what he saw, left in 1977 to study for a degree in Brewing and Distilling at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh. In January 1981, he joined Fuller’s as a junior brewer. He has since had various positions at Fuller’s culminating in his promotion to brewing director in April 1999. During his time as director, over 60 million pounds has been invested in developing the brewery. In January of 2017, he handed over the reins to Georgina Young, Fuller’s first ever female head brewer, but remains a global ambassador for the company. John is an acclaimed judge and speaker for many beer competitions around the world. I met him after our judging at the World Beer Awards 2022 in one of his favourite pubs, The Tap On The Line at Kew Garden station. So hello, John, thanks for talking to me. Let’s start with your personal beer history. How did you get into brewing?
John Keeling: I started brewing in ‘74, at Wilson’s brewery. I left school when I was 17 and I joined, and because of that, I got really interested in making beer. I hated school. I didn’t want to go back to school, I didn’t want to do anything to do with education. And my mom said, if you don’t go back to school, you’ve got to get a job. And by the way, they’re interviewing for people at a local brewery. So I went to that, and I got the job. And I got more and more interested in making beer. And more as my career has gone on, I’ve gotten more and more interested in the world of beer. The change over the last 40-odd years in my career has been quite profound. I think it’s been one of the biggest changes in brewing industry ever. Most changes in the brewing industry happen over a longer period. What you’ve had changing, and we were just talking about the influence of German brewing on the world. When I started brewing at Fuller’s in ‘81, everybody around the world was influenced by German brewing. Very, very few people were at all influenced by British brewing, or even Belgian brewing. And you could say those are the three schools of brewing. Czech as well. Or the Czech and German are very similar. I found that everywhere you went in, say the States, had a German-type brewing system and made German-type beers. Not as well as the Germans, might I say, and not as tasty as the German beers or the Czech beers. Czech and German, like British versions of lager were awful and by and large, within the big companies, still are awful. They’re not as good as German brewers make their style of beer and Czech brewers make their style of beer. But since the craft beer revolution was based on IPA, which is essentially a British-style beer.
Markus Raupach: Yes.
John Keeling: And if you notice, most of the breweries now around the world do predominantly British-style beers. So I have noticed again, it’s going full circle, is now they’re much more interested in making lagers as well. And you will have people like Utopian in England, Lost and Grounded in Bristol, and they make their name on making lager. And I also, if you go even further back to when Meantime started, Alastair Hook, the founder of Meantime, studied in Germany, how to make beer. He was a friend of mine. I haven’t seen him for years and years because he’s made lots of money and gone playing golf, I think he’s gone. He was a great brewer, and very strongly influenced by the German tradition. But he was a British brewer and he still had this fondness for British-style beers. Everybody’s wanted to make an IPA in Britain and modern styles of beer. And now they’re going back to look at mild and bitter which is the traditional beer that I grew up on. So in when I first joined Wilson’s way back in ‘74, I drank bitter, because that was the most popular beer and cask bitter, and I still drink cask bitter. And then as the craft beer revolution came about, I started drinking more and more wider styles. Since I’ve been retired, I’ve gone back to only drinking cask bitter and less and less of the wider styles. So I’ve gone back to my 18-year-old self.
Markus Raupach: Back to your drinking roots.
John Keeling: Back to my drinking roots and cask beer is still my favourite beer. Even in hot weather, it’s my favourite beer. I think it is the best beer you can buy in Britain. It is also the worst beer you can buy in Britain too and that’s purely because of its quality problems. It is a beer that only has maximum six-week shelf life. And once opened, really, you should have sold it within three days. And I think the unfortunate thing for cask beer is that a lot of cask beer is sold for five and six days old and it’s nowhere near its best. This is superb. It’s really good. And we just got a pint of London Pride, which is fresh.
Markus Raupach: Which is fantastic and one of my most favourite beers. And to be honest, I sometimes simply compare it with our kellerbeer at home.
John Keeling: Yes.
Markus Raupach: Because it’s an easy drinking beer. You sit at big tables, you chat with your friends, you have it the whole evening, it’s just nice.
John Keeling: And some people say about these beers that are really incredibly drinkable, sessionable, they’re simple beers. They are not simple beers. What makes them sessionable is their complexity, not their simplicity. You might think, oh yes, this is really easy drinking and whatever. But it’s easy drinking, because it’s keeping you interested. And that’s the complexity, not just the flavour, but of the texture, of everything that goes with the beer. And these beers, I think I define great beers of having four main qualities. One of those is quality itself, which I defined as that is how it hits the specification. How it is brewed through the process. So it’s very consistent, and quality. Then you have to have flavour and character. And character in the beer is how it varies within its specification. But it varies in a way that you still recognize it. So the first two sips of the beer, you say, well, that’s London Pride. And then you say, oh, it’s a little bit more fruity than the last time I drank it. And then it reveals something else of itself later on. And it’s like having a conversation with a friend, rather than having just a drink of beer. And if you think about it, you know, if you go and see your friend at the bar, and they’ve had a haircut, they’re still your friend. Just because the London Pride is more fruity today, doesn’t mean it’s not a London Pride. It still is London Pride. I’m telling you something I told you four months ago, if you remember. This is a biological product. It’s not a chemical product. And why would we expect one field of barley to grow identical to the field next door? Why do we expect the field of hops to grow identical every year? The answer is they don’t. So why do you think the beer is going to be identical every year, every season? And hops only crop once a year. So why will it taste the same in July as it does in December? And again, you’re not the same. Every time you turn at the pub, you’re not the same. You could have just had a round with your missus and you’re in a bad mood. So you’re tasting, the way you feel affects the taste, how you taste beer. And all great drinks have character, whether they’re wine or whiskey, or beer, great drinks have character. But as they become more and more consistent, they drive character and flavour out. Because it’s not about having one without the other. It’s about how do you achieve the balance of the elements that go in. It’s the balance that counts, not that you favor consistency above flavour. And the more you drive flavour out, the easier it is to make consistency. If you want to drink the world’s most consistent drink, have a vodka and tonic. If that’s all you want, then that’s fine by me. But if you want drinks of character, then you have to explore them. And by and large, the bigger companies don’t make the drinks of character. It is the smaller companies that do that. Because it is their calling card. It is a reason to exist. And I don’t know producers like Heineken and Carlsberg because what they produce is a usually refreshing consistent drink, which many people enjoy, many, many people enjoy. But the same thing is true of wine and whiskey. There are whiskies that are less character, but still, people buy them and enjoy them because they supply what they want. So who am I? I am one person. I have my own taste. I know what I like, I know what I’m interested in. I know what art I like to look at. I know what films I like and I know what music. Why am I the same as you? I am not the same as you. And I might go for obscure jazz bands from the United States and you might prefer Beethoven.
Markus Raupach: Yeah, maybe.
John Keeling: Maybe, yeah. Or we might both like Beethoven.
Markus Raupach: Maybe.
John Keeling: So, in the end, it doesn’t matter. As long as you can get a beer that you like. And I like sitting here on a summer’s day drinking a pint of London Pride. It suits me.
Markus Raupach: What is really a wonderful situation. Some of your words brought me to a maybe challenging question. Do you think that the craft IPAs and pale ales are still more or less British beers? Or isn’t it also something the American movement turned it around and made it different?
John Keeling: They did. But you’ve got to understand how influence works. So what happened is, you have this bunch of people way back in the 80s, John Hoffand, Ken Grossman, Garrett Oliver, and they were influenced by British. Well, they did something special. They put an American influence onto that. Then what happened is those American influenced beers, they became American. And they came back to Britain. And the British person says, oh I like that. I want to copy that. So influenced when it’s out, and then when it’s back, and I bet you now there are American brewers thinking, oh, you know, this mild style is quite nice. Let’s make it mild. But when I travel around the world, and I go to countries like Brazil, or Australia, or whatever, which I used to do as part of my job at Fuller’s as an ambassadorial role, I used to say to the Brazilian brewers, don’t just copy American style, don’t just copy a British style. Make it Brazilian. Your influence is British, your influence is America, but you’re Brazilian brewers. And put an ingredient you can only find in Brazil in it. Follow that effect. Do it the way you like to make it. I still think English IPA is better than American IPA, because that is my taste. And I prefer a heavily hopped IPA from England, but I like the golding hop to be predominant in IPAs, not cascade. It makes a different beer when you use cascade. I think cascade is a very fine hop and I think there’s many fine American hops, and I’ve used them. I use them in my brewery. But I didn’t use them in making an English IPA. I used them in making an American IPA.
Markus Raupach: For me also, maybe the main difference today is that the British beers have more the multicharacter also and the modern Americans are more or less so pale, and just like a canvas for hops, but nothing in them.
John Keeling: There is a thought in brewing around the world and I’ve heard this from craft brewers, that you want no influence of the yeast. You want no influence of the malt. All you want is pure hop flavour. To me that makes boring beer. And I think a lot of IPAs, it’s not boring in their flavour as standard lagers are around the world. And because, it’s not because they’re not powerful in flavour. It’s because they’re boring in flavour. They have nothing behind those big hop flavours to keep you interested to drink more than one pint. And so I think the best American IPAs pay heed to the yeast and pay heed to the malt. Personally speaking, as a brewer, I think my most important ingredient was yeast and I think the important, most important relationship in brewing is a relationship between a brewery and their yeast.
Markus Raupach: How did you do that when you started? So how did British brewing look in the 80s? And how was the role of the different raw materials at this time?
John Keeling: Well, way back in the 80s, you had the big six of brewing, which was Watney’s, Whitbread, Guinness even, Allied Brewing, Scottish & Newcastle, etc. And they were largely dominated by, I would call them chemists, scientists, people who were very precise in what they wanted, and accountants. And their entire reason was to make more money. That’s why they existed, was to increase profits of beer. And you can increase profits by selling more beer, or by cutting your costs. They liked to cut costs. And they did this by thinking of ways of cutting costs. So they would develop, say, what we call barley brewing, which was to replace parts of the malt with pure barley and enzymes, because it’s cheaper. So they would go down these routes of trying to make the most profit out of a pint they could by cutting the cost. They weren’t that interesting, like, one of my jobs as a young lab technician was to test the shelf life of beer. We tested the shelf life by doing a head retention, and a haze measure. We never tasted it because the taste didn’t matter. If it looks nice, that’s what mattered more than what its flavour was. And they used, we used to put 55 to 60 PUs in that beer. So it was well oxidized by the time it reached six months. It was well oxidized by the time it reached four weeks, to be honest. The predominant flavour at shelf life was oxidized beer. But they didn’t seem to care about that, because they weren’t as interested in flavour. They were interested in the things that the chemists could measure very simply, which proved that it was good for you. So if the beer was hazy, it was bad. If it was cloudy, it was bad. Now that’s almost the reverse of craft beer. If its hazy and cloudy that doesn’t matter, it’s the flavour that counts. So that’s changed as well. So these companies were pursuing that line. The problem that they had was they couldn’t sell more beer in a saturated market. And the only way they sold beer by and large, huge percentage of it was to sell them through their own pubs, right? Which was, unless they could buy new pubs, nowhere to expand. And they couldn’t buy new pubs because all the pubs were owned by other big companies who didn’t want to sell their pub. You had a limited free trade where people who’d own the pub and everybody would try and get into that free trade. That was very competitive as well. So your beer sales were fairly static. Then we had a series of changes, which put that model basically out of operation. We had the beer auditors, which meant the brewery could not own so many, I think the maximum they could own was two thousand of nine thousand pubs. So they had to dispose of seven thousand pubs. And you could have a guest beer, which CAMRA fought to get into the beer audit and that had a dramatic effect on the British beer industry. And then you have the rise of CAMRA, protection of cask beer, and you have the rise of craft beer. All those merged together into a movement, which now is where we have beer now. And what the big companies by and large decided to do is well, we can either own the pubs or own the brewery. The pubs make more money, we’re going to have pubs, we’ll sell the brewery. That’s why Coors Bar, Bass Brewing, et cetera. But the trouble with Britain for international investment is the duty. We pay far more duty than most countries with the exception of Ireland, I think. And so companies, big companies have always found it difficult to invest in purely the production side, because there is wafer thin margins. And America has got much bigger margins because less duty. We used to pay an absolute fortune in duty to the government. We paid more to the government that we made in profit, a lot more, three times as much. So I wasn’t really working for Mr. Fuller. I was working for Her Majesty, the court, because I made far more money for her than I ever did for Mr. Fuller.
Markus Raupach: Did she ever thank you for that?
John Keeling: No, she never did. And I even got no beer. But yeah, but that belies the truth and I think that’s why British brewing is long to get new investment, because the rate of return on investment is so poor compared to the rest of it. So I think that explains a lot of what goes on in British breweries and why some craft breweries fail very easily, because there’s no margin for them. They find it very difficult to exist. Certainly when they go over the duty, small brewers duty relief, which some of them get. To go beyond that is very difficult.
Markus Raupach: So it’s better to stay small.
John Keeling: Yes, apart from what your ambitions are. You know, if your ambitions like, supplying a couple of pubs, two or three pubs, wherever and making a small living out of the sale, then that is fine. But if your ambition is to be a little bit bigger than that and make a more comfortable living for yourself, then it is very, it is harder, it is harder. It is harder for British beers.
Markus Raupach: Maybe back to the first half of my question, how did the brewing process look like in the 80s? How did you work with the different raw materials?
John Keeling: Again, what was happening was the big companies were looking at how to improve the process. So they would do some innovative things. But they also looked at Europe, and mash cooker system could produce more beer per day than a British style master.
Markus Raupach: How did the British style look?
John Keeling: Well, the British style was a single temperature mash, and you would mix the grist with the liquor, and then you would let it stand for an hour in which it would flow and then you would spray hot water on top and let the wort run off the bottom. That process, you never ranked the bad, you never did serve the bad. You didn’t try to speed it up, you did it, and that produced superb cask beer because it produced very bright wort, which meant that you produced very bright cask beer. No filtration. And it was ideal for producing cask beer. But the big companies wanted to produce keg beer and they wanted to produce it fast. And they also thought, you know, lager beer is very interesting too. Not that we want to make the same lager beers they do in Germany. What we want to do is make a three, 3.1% version of this and sell it at a higher price than we’re currently selling our cask beer. And they could do this because the further you go back in time, all lager was imported. Because of that, it paid a tariff on the import, which meant that the lager beer you bought in the pub was always slightly more expensive. If they produced that in England, they still kept the price. So it was a double whammy for them. They got rid of this cask beer which was hard to look after, you needed more training to do it. So you didn’t have to invest in that training. Keg beer was easier to look after and you could charge more money for it if it was lager. And if you brought the duty down to 3.1%, London Pride in cask was 4.1%, you paid less duty as well. So the accountants were rubbing their hands together and saying the way forward is to produce 3.1% lager, probably in them days, two weeks. They were one condition, and now it’s down to a week for a lot of British lagers. ESB, when I joined Fuller’s, was matured for three weeks before it went to China. So ESB is actually matured longer than almost all British lagers.
Markus Raupach: Is it true that most of these lagers weren’t even real lagers because they used the ale yeast?
John Keeling: So some of them did. Some of the companies did. But a lot of the big companies used lager yeast and they also brewed Heineken and Carlsberg, Cronenberg, other companies. What they did was Fosters. And what they would do is say we want to sell that, Fosters could not sell their beer, Heineken could not really sell their beer in Britain, right? Or we’ve got to make a different version of it at 3%, not at your 4%. And, you know, something like Heineken were approved by Whitbread, Watney’s made Carlsberg, so they could piggyback the marketing and the European feel. And but they would not, very few companies actually produced their own lager from scratch. I think one of the few was Guinness. Or Whitbread, Bass, Allied, Watney’s, who were the big producers, Scottish & Newcastle, who were the big producers of ale, all their lagers came from overseas and they would pay a royalty to that company. But they would make far more money brewing Carlsberg than they did after making Watney’s special bitter, or Watney Red Barrel even. So gradually, they would promote more and more lagers. So when you go out where there are people drinking lager, it’s a classic case of if you put, the more marketing spend you put behind something, the more you’re going to sell. If you turn that marketing spend off, the sales go down. So they were locked into this cycle. All the money they would save on production costs they would have to spend in marketing to prop the beer up. And that’s how they would approach it. But ‘89, when the beer auditors changed who could be in the pubs and who owned the pubs, pub owners then viewed it in a different way. They didn’t have a brewery too. So they would say, well, what is the best beer for our pubs to make us the most money? They started looking at rate per sale and who, and they became more and more competitive as pubs who, what beer would attract people into the pubs, etc. And as you know, around most of the first world, less than less people go to pubs and bars now than they did 30, 40 years ago. So the markets are squeezed, and pubs have to do other things like food, whatever and it’s a different game. And in reality, it’s been ever thus, you know? Nothing stays still. Nothing is the same. If you think as a marketer, by doing the same, you get the same result, then you’re an idiot as a marketer. And we’ve had some idiot marketers.
Markus Raupach: There are lots of them, wrong. I visited some of the smaller craft breweries in the last days and what I saw is that quite a lot of them have a brewing system that has on one side a mash tun which is also working as a water tun, and then the brewing kettle, which was also working as a whirlpool. So this is totally different from everything I saw in Germany. Is that more or less based on the original British system?
John Keeling: Well and what has happened is there have been some innovation. And that’s because cost of brewing plans is expensive. So if you have a dual purpose vessel, for instance, you take some of the expense out. So if you look around the family brewers, a lot of family brewers, it’s still very traditional, and probably have kit that was built and put in in the 1900s. And when we were at Fuller’s, we completely redid our brew house and we put combined a couple of whirlpools, because we switched to pellet hops. But the last major development we did was in 1993 in the brew house, when we put new mash tuns in. We were one of the last brewers probably put new mash tuns in of any size. And we still referred to that brew house as a new brew house. It was put in in 1993, final cleared. But the previous brew house was put in in 1863, finalized. So, you know, we got more than 100 years use out of the old brew house. And that’s what family brewers look at. Whereas the bigger brewers change their brew houses much more, because they’re brewing 24 hours a day, seven days a week. They wear them out quicker and also, the payback on new plans is quicker because you’re utilizing them. So you can just define a new plan easier if you’re brewing 24 hours a day. At Fuller’s, we brewed five days a week between the hours of five o’clock and eight o’clock. Sometimes we’d only brew four days.
Markus Raupach: But that reminds me very much on our small family brewers in Germany, where it’s also that maybe a brew house is split every other generation. So something, it has to keep, it has to be kept and it has to be very well used.
John Keeling: And partly, one of the reasons why Fuller’s needed new brewing equipment was we were growing. So when I joined Fuller’s, we were only 70,000 pounds. When I left Fuller’s, we were 220,000 pounds. So we needed bigger equipment to make that. And my old boss went out when I got the job, he said when I became brewing director, which was 1981 when I joined, and he worked from ‘81 to 1999 as brewing director, I said I’ve changed the kegging plan, changed the bottling plan, changed the cask line, changed the brew house, changed fermenting. I don’t want to do it again, John. It’s now your job to do that. So I changed kegging line. I changed the bottling line. In my time we added to the brew house, and we added more fermenters and we added more maturation conditioning vessels. We kept the same principles. We didn’t change the principles, we just added more. So when he left the brewery I think we were making 130,000 and then when I left we were making 220,000. We got new filters, we spent, we spent a lot of money. New casks, new … it all adds up. I thought I probably spent about something in the region of 70 million pounds as a director of brewing during that period.
Markus Raupach: A lot of money.
John Keeling: A lot of money.
Markus Raupach: So we are drinking –
John Keeling: And only half of it went on my house.
Markus Raupach: It’s the castle over there. Yeah, we are drinking London Pride. That brings it to another topic, which is for me quite closely related to Fuller’s, it’s the Parti-Gyle system. The idea of brewing, as far as I knew, it was like three beers. The Chiswick bitter, the London Pride and the ESB which was, how did that process work? And how did it develop during your association?
John Keeling: By the way, it was developed by the Victorians based around the invention of sparging. Up until sparging, people had flooded the master, then drained it, then flooded it and drained it to get different beers, different strengths of beer. It would be the same recipe, but it would be different strengths of beer. And that was time consuming to the Victorians. And then they invented the sparge, which means that while you were draining, you could spray. So that speeded up the mashing process. So what they thought was we could mash it and we could start running off and we could sparge at the same time. But we could do it, Fuller’s then adapted that to have two master, both running at the same time, sparging. And it first was going to be super strong and you will put them in copper number one, boil them, then in copper number two, your work would be a lot weaker, you’d put the hops in, barley, and to make your different beers you would blend the two together going into fermenting vessel. And that gives you different strengths of beer.
Markus Raupach: And the hop was only given in copper number two?
John Keeling: No, the hop was put in copper one and copper two. In fact more hops were put in copper number one than copper number two. You would get a better utilization of hop if you only put it in copper number one, in number two, sorry, the weaker one. But that would mean that your weaker beer would be far hoppier and bitter than your stronger beer which was wrong. So we put 70% of the hops in the first copper, 30% in the second copper and then blend it. So you not only blend it for strength, you blend it for bitterness as well. And that’s how we made ESB, London Pride and Chiswick bitter. They were all basically the same recipe. They were all different because they got the different strengths and different rates of hop. Also Chiswick and ESB were dry hops in cask as well and in tank. So that gives them more hop character than the London Pride. Plus the yeast would ferment differently and produce different flavours because it was different strengths. The ESB was a much slower fermentation than the London Pride or the Chiswick. So we would only ever use for repitching yeasts we put from London Pride because we thought that was the best fermentation that gave us the best and most consistent yeast. Plus London Pride is our biggest seller, so we always have plenty of London Pride yeast every day.
Markus Raupach: Are they used for the other two beers? Or you use the different strengths?
John Keeling: No, they all got, there were no different yeast strains. They all originated from a London Pride fermentation.
Markus Raupach: Ah okay.
John Keeling: It was the same yeast, but it would be slightly knackered, tired having been in a stronger beer.
Markus Raupach: Ah okay.
John Keeling: So we preferred it to come out of London Pride, which is an average gravity and the yeast were fighting fit when they come out of it. And also, the two blendings, if you slightly changed the formula and made the second copper a full volume, but the first copper two thirds volume, you ended up getting a first wort of about 85 gravity, which meant you could also make a barleywine out of it. So we made Golden Pride as well out of it, which is a fantastic beer, by the way. And Vintage is made the same way. So we had to change the balance of the worts in order to get a strong enough wort. If we just do it 50/50 then the wort came out about 74/75, something like that. Okay? So that meant we couldn’t make an 80 gravity beer. So we just changed the percentage. So we did, we only filled the first copper two thirds.
Markus Raupach: So that means that all these beers are blends in different methods.
John Keeling: Yes, I mean, Golden Pride would take virtually 95% of the first wort. And then you just put 5% of the second wort, just to bring it down to the gravity you want.
Markus Raupach: Was it something you invented, the Golden Pride?
John Keeling: No, it was already there. It was already there. All these, Vintage was 1997 and I became brewing director in 1999. But I was the brewer that brewed it because I was in charge of the brew house. So I mashed it and whatever, but we’ve formulated the recipe. We decided how to make it as a team. And that’s why I did, so in my era, Honeydew, Wild River, Red Fox and other beers we developed. But they all developed as tea and ESB was developed in 1971 before my predecessor became head brewer. So he took that over as ESB and he brewed ESB from ‘81 to ‘99. I brewed ESB from ‘99 to ‘18. So I was in charge of the ESB brewing. And like everything else, ESB, London Pride, Chiswick bitter changed slightly over a period of time. Because originally ESB, London Pride, Parti-Gyle hops were Goldings. But everybody in the 70s and still to this day, are saying, oh Fuggles and Goldings won’t exist in ten years’ time. They’re too prone to disease, they’re too difficult to grow. We need to have new. So in the 60s, new hops, new British hops would be developed: Target, Northdown, Challenger. And the head brewer at the time, it was Graham Yore and he’s two away from me. Reg had already became dex and I became head brewer. Graham Yore said, well if these hops are going to grow and die out, we have to put an eye on it. So he changed the hops to Target for bitterness, which go in the copper at the beginning, and then Northdown and Challenger. And he changed that in 1976 and Reg kept that exactly the same. And then in 1999, when I took over, I thought to myself, well Goldings are not dying out. And in actual fact, Northdown and Challenger were being underplanted and they were beginning to decline. So I said to myself, oh, let’s put Goldings back into the recipe. So I reintroduced Golding back in. I didn’t take anything out, I just reduced the percentage of malt down with Challenger. So what we did, it was one-third Northdown, one-third Golding and one-third Challenger. And that’s how you respond to these differences. And again, we changed barley variety on a reasonably regular basis. We never stayed the same. And we blended new barley varieties in. We never had anybody say there was a difference, never with barley variety. I think also, to me, barley varieties do have an effect on the flavour. But that effect is much less than the change of hops or change of yeast or a change of processing even. And I think as long as you get good consistent malt from a malt which over the years malten has become better and better. And now that malt is very good of course barley grows and you can have bad seasons or a good season, you know? And so there’s always something to be done. But I wasn’t one of these brewers that thought barley variety was sacrosanct. And I would change it. Probably I changed it four times in my career because I found no need to chase something like barley. It was, you know, 60/70 pounds a ton more expensive and I just didn’t think that justified the change, the effect they had add on the flavour. And when we made Vintage, we would often change the barley variety for the Vintage. But because it was brewed on a Parti-Gyle, we also brewed 480 barrels of one barley, at the same time with a different barley varieties. And more often than not, we would just straight release that London Pride. So we would have London Pride, and Golden Promise alongside the more modern ones and nobody would say it was different. It was definitely within the parameters of the flavour of London Pride. We had one brewer who said there was a difference. I’m not sure he ever spotted it in a blind tasting.
Markus Raupach: And I think that’s also a little bit the art of a brewer to make these changes so it cannot be recognized.
John Keeling: I think what a lot of people, and particularly the counters, don’t realize the art of making consistent beer is not to do everything consistently. It is to manage change. So that’s what you do and that’s what you’re totally used to doing. So if I go back and change the recipe, back to pre-1976 recipe, that would probably be more noticeable. Because you can’t go back and get exactly the same malt and exactly the same hops. You could only get this year’s version of that. And we have seen over the past 20/30 years, that Goldings has increased in bitterness during that period. So Goldings itself as a hop has not stayed the same. It has changed. So how can you make the beer identically? The only way I have reasons you could do that is to get a TARDIS and go back with Doctor Who get the same materials. And that is the only way you can do it. And I used to say every brewer in the world, and also plant wears out you have to replace it. The way you make beer in the process, you try to make it exactly the same, but that is extraordinarily difficult to make it exactly the same. So beer changes throughout a period of time. The art of the brewer is to manage those changes, so that people do not notice. And any changes are viewed in a positive way, not a negative. And again, it is down to perception. If you have said you’ve changed something, people notice it. You don’t say you’ve changed anything people don’t notice it. And it’s the same as when I do, tutor beer tastings in pubs. If I say I am the brewing director or the head brewer at Fuller’s, this is a really good beer, everybody in that room before they taste it think it’s a good beer. If I tell them, I am the marketing director at Fuller’s and this beer is a good beer, half the people in that room disbelieve me from the moment I’ve said marketing director. Others say, no it’s not very good, actually. And it’s the same beer. It absolutely is perception. How you perceive beer. And I think that’s a good thing. I mean, one of the things I learned very early on is firstly, I’m just a custodian of the beer. And secondly, there are people drinking that beer who have been drinking it longer than I have. No matter the fact that when I become brewing director, I’ve been drinking it for 18 years. I looked around the table of senior managers at Fuller’s, there’s a quality manager, the engineer, the head of brewing, myself, I was in actual fact along with the least service. And there are people you could go to any Fuller’s pub and find somebody who’s been drinking London Pride longer than you. So why don’t they have a vote? Why do you know better than that? And I always made it part of my job to stay in touch with those people. To go to the pubs, to drink beer, not as the head brewer, but just as a punter and hear what people were saying. And I encouraged all my brewing staff to do the same and bring feedback back. Tell me what people are saying about our beer in pubs. Let’s not rely on marketing. Let’s, and we were the best interpreters of marketing data, the marketing, because we were drinkers. Because we’d like drinking the beer. Some of the marketing people have never drank beer. But they should not keep the data to themselves. They should go to the brewers with the data and say, how do we interpret this? And that’s by and large what they did at Fuller’s with me. So I had a good relationship both with brewing sales and marketing. And only working as a team together can you produce the best for your company, and the best for the drinker. One of the great things of being a brewer is you’re not going to be as well paid as maybe some of the accountants. But you will get greater satisfaction. You can have really bad meetings all day, done nothing. On your way home all you have to do is open the door to the Fuller’s pub and see everybody enjoying your beer. And that’s satisfaction. That’s a satisfaction the accountants can’t get.
Markus Raupach: Perfect, that’s very perfect final words. So thanks a lot for your time. Thanks a lot for the interview and maybe we do another one next year.
John Keeling: Maybe so.
Markus Raupach: Yeah, so thanks. Thanks for the beer, no, perfect and thank you that you did so much for the beer and Fuller’s beer which I really like and we have it in every course. So thank you and nice to see you, and hope to meet you again soon.
John Keeling: Yep.
Announcer: Bier Talk. Der Podcast rund ums Bier. Alle Folgen unter www.biertalk.de.