This weekend we headed to Wychwood Brewery in Witney, Oxfordshire, the home of the UK’s second best selling premium bottle beer, Hobgoblin and also the traditional Brakspear. Tucked behind one of Witney’s main arterial roads, the brewery has had a central role in the town which has over thirty watering holes servicing the local populace.
Unlike Hook Norton Brewery (also in Oxfordshire) which has the old school Victorian charm which is both a blessing to marketing and a hinderance to production, Wychwood is a more modern outfit. Recently bought by Marstons, Wychwood produces over 50,000 casks of ale a year and is the UK’s largest brewer of organic ales.
In 1990 Eagle Brewery was renamed after the local mythical wood, Wychwood, an area that young owner Chris Moss was deeply fascinated with. As Graham, our tour guide explained, the brewery started a tradition of highly original decorative labels for the brewery’s ale – a huge contrast to most contemporary labels.
As the story goes (recounted by Graham, the man in the know) a local landlord requested a speciality brew to celebrate the wedding of his daughter. Chris brewed the ruby ale which went down a storm with wedding guests and locals at the pub. On collection of his casks Chris noticed that someone had scrawled a goblin across the barrel, and so the brewery’s legendary Hobgoblin was born. By 1997 the brewery had a full calendar of seasonal beers as well as 40 pubs nationwide.
Brakspear’s new home
In 2002 Brakspear’s brewery in Henley on Thames closed its doors and following £1.5million redevelopment, Wychwood installed most of Brakspears original equipment including their ‘double drop fermenting’ method. Graham recalls that several of the Brakspear brewers accompanied the installation and remained on hand to official certify the brewery that they were able to produce the same quality and taste of Brakspear.
After several days of brewing, arguments and trials the team were close to giving in, it didn’t matter what combination they used – the same taste couldn’t be achieved. Until one intelligent brewer suggested ‘triple drop fermentation’ – the last fermentation triggered as the beer is bottled. Finally Brakspears brewers could leave safe in the knowledge that taste for the punters was assured.
Get the Knack
- Booking in advance is essential, tours for 10-14 people only run at the weekend and include an hour’s tour and tasting session. http://www.wychwood.co.uk/
- Do ask to try the lesser known beers, otherwise they might not necessarily be proffered.
- Sensible footwear is a must, it’s a working manufacturing site the rest of the week.
- The Denshams Butchers at 49 High Street sell award winning Hobgoblin sausages, well worth the walk through town – currently not on sale in the gift shop (missing a trick there!)