Wadworth Brewery Tour, Devizes   Leave a comment

wadworth brewery

My local brewery, Arkell’s, had an open house Saturday to celebrate 170 years in business; however, the brewery tours were all booked up well in advance and the open house sounded like a drag without the tour, so we went to Devizes where the Wadworth Brewery puts on a brilliant, two-hour tour twice a day, six days per week.

wadworth brewery 01 breaks

That’s the breaks: an old-style sedimentation test of the quality of the boil

Our chirpy but professional and well-informed guide took our cast of Cocoon (we were by far the youngest members of the party) up the steep, Victorian stairs of this Grade 2 listed building to the very top.

wadworth brewery 02 custom and excise office

The hard part over, we could then, like the brewing process described here, let gravity do most of the remaining work.  We stopped briefly for a description of the ingredients in front of the tiny office of the Customs and Excise manager.  This could have been brief as the entire content is water, malted barley, and hops but a thorough but pleasant lecture on malting ensued (and we got to smell and taste a few varieties, some sweet and breakfast cereal-like and others smoky like a savoury snack).  She also covered hops and we sniffed a few samples of different strains.

wadworth brewery 03 mash tun

Next was a stop by the mash tuns, where the malted barley is mixed to a cereal mash releasing maltases, enzymes that break the long-chain carbohydrates down into simpler sugars so that yeasts can access them as carbon sources (and, in anaerobic ferments, as an oxygen source).  There are also loads of micronutrients available and much of the required nitrogen will be supplied by the hops.  The older tun shown here is more than a hundred years old and still in near constant use.

wadworth brewery 04 copper

The wort, the mash tun contents, is then dropped to a copper which is what they call the enormous kettles.  The one shown here is open and quite old (and part of the Grade 2 Listing here) but still gets used once a year for an end-of-summer beer that uses leafy hops and, mostly, the old processes.  In the coppers, the mash is brought to a boil with the hops (in the modern processes, pelletized hops are used) for a period and, in some cases, brought to a second boil after a short cooling period.

The coils in the copper carry steam that provides the heat, but at the bottom of this old pot you can still see the outlines of the old coal ovens used in the dark past:

wadworth brewery 07 ovens under copper

From the copper, the solids are filtered out by sedimentation in what is known as a whirlpool which does essentially the same job as the hopback shown here…the liquor is pulled through the hops and remaining barley solids to extract the last bits of soluble oils, proteins and other flavouring agents:

wadworth brewery 06 sieve

Now, the yeast is added and the fun begins.  When we walked through the open tank brewing rooms I was surprised at how small the tanks seemed although looking into an empty demonstrated they are fairly deep (holding something like 90,000 litres).  The ferment is vigorous with geysers of CO2 occasionally spewing forth.  They smell is grand.

wadworth brewery 12 beer fermenting

Next, we went to the cooperage where the wooden barrels are made.  These are done by hand and except for complying with the finished sizes and capacities (hogshead, barrel, kilderkin, and firkin), measuring tools are largely shunned in the process.  The staves are cut to length by machine, sure, but the curves on the sides and interiors of each are done by hand tools and the master cooper’s experience–to a precision of 0.001 inch: un-fucking-believable.

wadworth brewery 09 cooperage  wadworth brewery 10 cooperage

Jackie’s favourite part of the tour was next: the sign painting shop.  This was almost as impressive as the cooperage since every sign in the Wadworth estate of 260 pubs is done by hand without template–even the lettering is all free hand.  Gorgeous work.

wadworth brewery 14 sign  wadworth brewery 15 sign

(The old guy that is memorialised as the Jolly Miller above was a former co-worker who loved beer but hated kitties–the sign painters did this one to take the mickey.)

More tradition lay around the corner at the stables.  Unlike the ones at a St. Louis based brewery I toured nearly 30 years ago, the shire horses are more than symbolic (although they are still a bit of a gimmick): they deliver all the local casks to the pubs in Devizes and for a few miles around.  Fantastic beasts (and at the annual open house they receive a portion of beer each…my kind of horses).

wadworth brewery 17 shire horse  wadworth brewery 16 delivery wagons

At long last, we went to the tasting bar back at the visitor centre (open to non-tours, one pound for a 1/3 pint taster, under three quid for a pint).  Expecting a sip or two from each tap or, alternatively, a pint of our choice we were instead treated to the full lecture on each beer on offer (there were 6) in 1/3 pint measures.  We got one each of

Horizon (the hoppy-bitter blond),

Red White and Brew (still yellow, but a bit tamer on the hops),

6X (their warhorse, dark but not too challenging–Jackie even liked this one),

Farmer’s Glory (formerly known as JCB and kind of splitting the difference between Horizon and Red White & Brew),

Swordfish (which is essentially 6X with a shot of rum in it–a tribute to the naval traditions), and

Corvus (their wonderful, chocolatey stout).  

By the way, 6X is shortly to celebrate its 90th anniversary and the brewery is releasing a 6% ABV version which might well be a delight.

wadworth brewery 20 tasting lecture

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