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Katie Wiles

Fuller’s brewer: quality is paramount

Added: Tuesday, April 24th 2018

Georgina Young

By Katie Wiles 

For Fuller’s head brewer, quality is paramount. With a scientific background in biotechnology and a passion for good beer, it is no surprise that Georgina Young has made her way to the top of one of Britain’s best-known breweries.

It is clear that Georgina Young, known as George, did not become Fullers’ head brewer by an accident of fate. A graduate of King’s College in London, she studied biotechnology before undertaking the prestigious Masters degree in Brewing and Distilling at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh. 

Her brewing career began at Smiles Brewery in Bristol, where she worked in the laboratory before progressing to brewing. She then spent five years at the Brewing Research International (now Camden BRI) pilot brewery, where she trialled hundreds of different beers including testing new barley and hop varieties.

She tells me that she was “always keeping an eye out for the next big thing,” and when John Keeling was promoted to head brewer at Fuller's she quickly queued up to make her pitch. She soon landed herself the position of production brewer at Fuller’s in April 1999. In between maternity leaves and a break from brewing to work as a science teacher, Georgina made her way up the ladder, finally becoming John Keeling’s number two before taking on the head brewer role herself in January 2017.

Speaking to Georgina, it is abundantly clear why Fullers has been a good fit for her over the better half of two decades. The brewery has built a reputation for quality, consistency and using the very best ingredients -- all of which is incredibly important to their head brewer.

“The brewing industry has changed significantly in recent years," she says. "There has been a real shift from the classically trained brewer completing a degree before entering the field to learning on the job by making mistakes. With over 2,000 brewers across the country there needs to be a greater emphasis on education.”

 She adds, “To really understand how to make a quality beer you have to be able to combine practical knowledge of biology, chemistry and engineering, and put them all together with some experience of public speaking.”

It’s obvious that education is important to Georgina. As well as making sure her own brewers are properly trained, she works closely with the Institute of Brewing to improve access to education and qualifications.

“Education is vital to keeping people safe,” she explains. “While it is great to see innovation in new flavours, there are some very unusual ingredients being added to beers these days. You have to have a good understanding about why and how certain reactions take place. We don’t want a food scandal or a string of product recalls taking place in the beer industry.”

Yet just because Georgina is a stickler for quality doesn’t mean that she’s not open to innovation.  She tells me that Fuller's is a very different place than it was when John Keeling took over. More than 48 different beers were produced last year and the brewery is busy adding a huge keg portfolio and rotating seasonal cask beers to its range. In addition, she is constantly on the lookout for how to make improvements, such as by introducing a new filtration system and reviewing practices and best before dates.

Even more radical has been the introduction of collaborative beers. Last year, the Fuller's and Friends range saw George’s team work with six brewers from across the UK to develop unique recipes and share technical knowledge with each of the partner brewers for a new Waitrose six pack. 

Georgina sees a lot of potential in collaborative brewing, telling me that it gives the opportunity to try new materials in small batches of less than 160 barrels and learn new techniques. “Alongside sharing ideas, your strain of hops might behave very differently in someone else’s brewery than your own, which can make for some fascinating results,” she says.

Before Christmas she travelled to Gipsy Hill in Norwood, South London, to make a new collaborative beer that should be out later this month, and plans are in the making for more collaborative brews. While she refuses to give away her favourite beer, she does admit that it is all about trying a huge range when she’s out, and relying on a good London Pride the rest of the time.

Georgina seems optimistic about the future of the industry, explaining that access to beer has improved dramatically in recent years. “Things are changing – back in the day beer was traditionally brewed for the porters in London, but today it has a very wide appeal. There is so much more about beer in the press and on social media, and tap rooms and bars are bringing quality beer to people like never before. Even supermarkets have a huge role to play in turning people on to beer.”

So what’s next for Georgina?  It is a safe bet that we will continue to see the same quality and consistency from Fuller's brewery, but perhaps with a splash of new flavours and styles sprinkled in.

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