Ale has had a long history in the United Kingdom. By some accounts, it even predates the Romans as some historians evidence that the Romans often enjoyed a Celtic ale or two during their occupation of Great Britain. By the Medieval period, ale was mostly brewed on the premises of the inns and later taverns in which it was sold. The introduction of hops meant a new drink was offered to the thirsty in the form of beer. Large-scale, off-premises brewing didn’t begin until roughly the 17th Century, and after that, London became home to several of the “big seven” megabreweries. While some of these breweries are no longer in operation in the city, others still are. We’ll explore the history of both in the five breweries we’ve laid out below. Let us know your own favorite London breweries, both new and old, in the comments.
Fuller’s – 1845
The youngest of the five on this list, Fuller’s began in 1845 when John Fuller, Henry Smith, and John Turner formed Fuller, Smith, & Turner. The current Griffin Brewery in Chiswick is actually older than the company itself, having been a place for brewing beer since 1816. Today, Fuller’s has a wide variety of beer, ale, and lager and as one of the larger breweries in the UK, owns and manages many pubs in London and all over the country.
Well before Young’s came into being in 1831, a Ram pub existed on the future brewery site as early as 1550 and brewing began there in 1576. Charles Young and Anthony Bainbridge purchased the Ram in 1831 and converted it to their own use, operating the pub and continuing to brew beer under the Young’s label. The Ram Brewery closed in 2006, and the offices moved in 2007, but the original pub is still in operating, ironically run by a different brewery than the Young’s & Co-owned pubs throughout the United Kingdom.
Courage – 1787
While it no longer has a physical presence in London, Courage Brewery got its start at the Anchor Brewhouse in Bermondsey in 1787 courtesy of John Courage. It went through a handful of mergers with other breweries over the next two hundred years until it finally sold to Wells & Young’s Brewing Co. (the same company as #4) in 2007. Meanwhile, the brewery itself closed shop in 1986, and all production was moved to Reading. While the brewery is gone, its legacy remains as aged bottles of Courage are enjoyed for special occasions by beer lovers across Britain.
Once one of the most famous names in British brewing, Whitbread started in 1742 when Thomas Whitbread joined with Godfrey and Thomas Shewell. The trio acquired a pair of breweries in Islington and by 1780 were one of the biggest breweries in the world. Whitbread continued making beer until 2001 when it sold its brewery interest to Interbrew (which later became InBev, the parent company of Anheuser-Busch). The Whitbread name now exclusively deals in hotels, but the brewery at 52 Chiswell Street still stands, serving as a conference and event venue called “The Brewery”.
Truman’s – 1666
Truman’s began life as another brewery, Black Eagle Brewery, near Brick Lane in 1666, though historians put the brewery’s actual founding anywhere from 1663 to 1669. Joseph Truman took over Black Eagle in the 1680s after being employed in the brewhouse. For Centuries, Truman was arguably the king of British beer, but imports in the 20th Century started eating into its market share. The brewery was purchased in 1971 and effectively run into the ground until it closed completely in 1989. The brand was purchased in 2010 and has experienced a revival since 2013, operating a new brewery on Hackney Wick.