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Fuller's And BJ's Trade Brewers
By Jay Sheveck

Call it the first-ever “Brewer Exchange Program.” In an unprecedented display of good will, BJ’s Restaurant and Brewery of Southern California, and Fuller’s Brewery of London, England, recently traded their top brewers. In January, BJ’s–West Covina brewer Scott Manning was sent across the Atlantic Ocean to Fuller’s Griffin Brewery. He was assigned to work alongside Fuller’s brewing manager, Georgina Young, for seven days. The following week, in February, Georgina flew to California to work with Scott to absorb BJ’s methods of brewing and business practices. It wasn’t all work and no play, however, for each “exchange brewer” was treated to the best pub and brewpub experiences the respective hosting company could furnish.

Georgina and Scott’s working tour of England took them to the finest beer establishments, both Fuller’s tied houses and independent public houses. Their subsequent California tour was comprised of eclectic destinations, including visiting more than 20 British-style pubs throughout the Los Angeles area, co-hosting a Fuller’s Beer Dinner at BJ’s Restaurant and Brewery in Laguna Hills, and brewing at Scotty’s supervised BJ’s brewhouse in West Covina.

The two wrapped up their tours by ceremoniously collaborating on a custom batch of beer at BJ’s Restaurant and Brewery in Woodland Hills, along with BJ’s Head Brewer Derreck Bourdon and BJ’s Director of Brewing Operations Michael Ferguson.

Each “exchange brewer” was treated to the best pub and brewpub experiences the respective hosting company could furnish.

During that ceremonial brew, the Celebrator Beer News was able to sit down with Georgina and Scott for a few moments to discuss the “Brewer Exchange Program” and to hear about their trans-Atlantic brewery adventures. Frankly, the brewers’ own words show how good, if not great, this experimental program turned out to be.

Celebrator Beer News: So what is the “Brewer Exchange Program"?

Georgina Young: It’s like a reward. The original concept was started by the brewing director at Fuller’s, John Keeling, and Alex Puchner [senior vice president of brewing operations] at BJ’s. They met up in San Diego last year at the World Beer Cup conference and sowed the seed of this idea, because there is a lot of synergy between our two companies. Scotty has been over with us for a week, and he’s worked in all aspects of the brewery. He has seen how we make our beers, and he learned about Fuller’s. Now I’m here in California working with BJ’s for the week. It’s very hands-on. They are sampling me with all of the great beers that they’ve made.

CBN: Why do you think the two companies have arranged the program?

GY: The benefit has really been to us, the individuals: to see how other people brew and the constraints that one is up against and how you find solutions, and also to really learn about the other’s beer styles. Obviously, it’s about the companies themselves too, but I think the real winners in this are the two of us.

Scott Manning: I’ll agree with that. For me, it was a competition that I did not really know about. [BJ’s upper management] had secretly conceived of a "Brewmaster of the Year" competition for all of the BJ’s brewers. I worked very hard last year, and luckily, they deemed me worthy enough to go to London. The program will probably the continue into 2006. Hopefully, the "Brewmaster of the Year" will become a permanent thing for BJ’s. There has been talk about sending brewers to other breweries or possibly to Fuller’s again. It’s a new thing for us. It’s a nice reward system for someone who puts in the extra effort.

CBN: So what have each of you learned from your exchange?

GY: Oh my, lots. Well, there are some excellent beers now being produced here in America. I am getting some ideas and learning about using alternative ingredients and methods. The scale is much smaller and very hands-on here, which I’m not frightened of, because I started off in a microbrewery (Smiles Brewing Company). For me, this is very much going back to my roots. On this smaller scale you are able to push the boundaries a lot more than we are able to on the big scale. At Fuller’s, we need to be very firm about those ideas before we start. Just to give you some scale, our brewery makes 250,000 U.S. barrels a year. Our brew size in one day is one-quarter of a million pints! So we don’t really do experimental work on that scale. You have to have a lot of planning before that.

SM: Of course, BJ’s is smaller, and we can do all kinds of experimental things if we want to, but it was amazing to work on such a grand scale. You can just imagine that there is a lot more sophisticated instrumentation. I spent lots of time in Fuller’s computer room looking at a panel. I was marveling at the entire process — all lined up on the screen right there in front of me. You press a button, walk out into the brewery and see the process happen. That’s a lot different from BJ’s brewing process, where we’re opening valves and mixing things by hand. Still, it’s the same process. It’s great to see that even though BJ’s is a much different scale, Fuller’s has the same attention to detail, if not more.

CBN: Was there any aspect that you particularly enjoyed there?

SM: I was lucky enough to be involved with an ESB for export at Fuller’s. It was destined for us in California. I gave them some very small BJ’s stickers to put on the casks, so we’ll know which of those kegs I am partially to blame for. [He laughs.]

CBN: That’s a nice lead to what you are both brewing today. Please tell me more about this beer.

GY: It’s a traditional English India pale ale that we're making here on BJ’s seven-barrel plant in Woodland Hills. Scotty and Derreck brought in the raw materials, like that which we would use at Fuller’s, like a two-row spring barley variety called "Optic" and Crystal malts. We’ve mashed in following our mashing regime at Fuller’s. Accordingly, we boiled it with English Goldings hops. I’m going to give Derreck a rigorous fermentation profile to follow before I leave. Apparently, the yeast has been advertised as a Fuller’s-style yeast. We guard our yeast very, very secretly. It’s even DNA fingerprinted, and I don’t believe this is the same yeast. It’s a cloned yeast. It will be interesting to see what flavors it produces in this beer. But yes, it’s going to be as authentic as possible.

SM: We’ve tried to get the most authentic ingredients possible to try to make something that Georgina would be proud to put her name on. We will serve "Georgina’s IPA" as part of the collaboration of our two brewing companies.

GY: Unfortunately, I’ll be back in England when the beer is ready for drinking. I’m sure they’ll send me a bottle or two.

SM: You bet!

As of press time, Georgina’s English IPA is on tap and is expected to be on tap every year at this time at BJ’s Restaurant and Brewery in Woodland Hills.

Jay Sheveck, aka "the Beer Guppy, is the author of the destination guidebook The Beer Guppy’s Guide to Southern California. Preview it at BeerGuppy.com.


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