Welcome to the first of my ‘beer moments’, a series of blog posts charting my journey through the world of beer. These will rarely be long tomes (hit ‘The blog’ if you want that), especially as an objective is to improve my writing. Rather, these will usually be short pieces on my thoughts, observations and encounters with breweries and beer. I will also chuck in odd bits of brewing history I find. So where to start?
Taking advantage of having [Good] Friday off, a friend and I decided that strolling by the canal from Little Venice, occasionally stopping at hostelries, would make for a pleasant afternoon. We went the wrong way, clearly. In my mind beforehand was my frequent walks up regents canal from Kings Cross, where one can enjoy the surroundings, rest frequently, and perhaps end up at the Howling Hops tank room. But as we walked along the Grand Union towards Ladbroke Grove the feeling of an emerging dystopia increasingly set in, something not helped by the concrete edifice of the underside of the A40.
Salvation came in the form of the recently refurbished Union Tavern, perched on the canal near Westbourne Park. Initially we were unclear about who owned it. The ‘ghost sign’ proclaiming Fuller’s, Smith and Turner might simply have been a relic of times past. Unless one was a devotee of the Chiswick brewery the plethora of local beer offerings might also suggest independent ownership. It even had emblazoned on the side ‘Support Craft Beer’, not a phrase traditionally associated with established brewers. But we soon confirmed the pub was a ‘Fuller’s’, and one that reflects the company’s astute fashioning of pubs to meet the markets they serve.
The pub is excellent: relaxed, spacious, has a river-side seating area and, most importantly, modern. I don’t know much about the area, but avoiding all the ‘classic’ signs Fuller’s ownership, and clearly sitting on the trendy/craft end of it’s offerings, effectively taps the local market of professionals and families, which were in evidence. But this pub’s design is part of a broader pattern of behaviour by Fuller’s. Paying attention to their markets, the quality of pub environments, and shifts in beer consumption, has over the last ten years kept the company relevant to users, who keep coming back. This is a skill in an era of the informed, discriminating and, perhaps, progressively picky consumers.