Wiltshire. Home to the world-famous 5000 year old Stonehenge, 8-century old Salisbury Cathedral…and this little gem. At the very heart of this little county is the quaint little market town of Devizes, best known for the massive Victorian-era Wadworth Brewery. You’d think 2 centuries is a mighty long time to be brewing beer, no? As the local saying goes – Old cool is the new cool! Have a 6X and you’ll know what I’m on about.
Getting here by road is easy – get to the A361 and you won’t miss Devizes. By bus, hop on the Stagecoach 49 and voila! Point is, if you’re about and not doing much, it’s worth a pop-in and it’s easy, too. Even if you are doing anything, it’s still probably worth a visit anyway.
No matter where you are in the town centre, you’re likely to spot at least the tip of the brewery. As you walk closer, you’re able to fully appreciate how massive the brewery really is. The entrance is right next to the main structure and once in, you can purchase tickets to their brewery tour which is followed by a tasting session – the best part of the deal! 😉
Tours are timed, so one can take a few minutes to savor the museum-esque decor if you’re early.
There’s also an actual Penny Farthing on display which used to be driven around by Henry Alfred Wadworth himself as he did the rounds of local pubs selling his ware, to *ehm* ‘quality-check the beer’. I’m not entirely sure how he managed getting back up on that thing after he’d ‘sampled’ beer from twenty pubs!
Right…On to the entrée, then.
The £12 tour lasts about 2 hours give or take and starts on the upper floor where we’re introduced to the most fundamental ingredients of beer – Malts and Hops. The most commonly used Malts are Barley and they constitute the sugar, colour, and flavour components of the beer, whereas the hops provide the aroma and bitterness. The hops also serve as a natural preservative.
(Fun fact – the name ‘India Pale Ale’, or IPA came about when strongly hopped beer was shipped overseas to the East India Company with the high hop-content serving as a natural preservative and just like that, a style was born! The more you know).
Malts are germinated and roasted before they’re milled, to expose the sugars inside the malt. The nature of the roasting determines whether a malt is pale (hardly roasted), crystal(pretty roasted), black (seriously roasted) and so on. The more it’s roasted, the more coffee-ish the flavor of the ale, the darker it is, and paler malts provide for more sweeter, light-coloured beer. Most ales use a combination of malts to achieve that unique characteristic which makes it different from other ales. The hops used here are ‘Cascade’, ‘Fuggles’, ‘Golding’, to name a few. The next process is mashing, where hot water, the grist (powdered malts with a short shelf life) and hops are mixed to produce a sugary solution called ‘wort’. Wadworth’s Victorian heritage means they still have a working Copper Mash Tun from 1885 running side by side a modern Stainless Steel Mash Tun which I thought was pretty darn amazing!
The wort is ‘brewed’ in the likes of an Open Copper (used seasonally, now) which used to be heated by fire kept alive by the one person with the worst job in the world. It was only in 1938 that a steam coil was added to heat the wort instead of the fire below. The hood you see was added in the 1960s, which did the public service of funnelling the steam from the wort out of the building to the nearby schools and factories, early in the morning. I know I’d have loved to wake up to the smell of that!
Next in the process is the hopback, which separates the wort from the hops; and the leftovers are given away to local farmers as food for their cattle. Lucky cattle.
Next in line is the pièce de résistance – the fermentation vessel. Wort is basically food for the brewer’s yeast which converts the sugar to alcohol and Carbon Dioxide; the most fundamental brewing process. The end result is the final product – what you enjoy every Friday and Shaturday and Shundayy…*hic*
Commercially, Wadworth now produce most of their beer in a more modern facility (under the same roof) using more efficient and eco-friendly machinery manufactured by Steinecker.
That doesn’t mean that the quality is any different from what they used to make back in the day. Or so we’re told. I wasn’t around back in the day so I’m just happy for the present-day 6X, Swordfish, Bishop’s Tipple and the rest of their ales.
The tour ended for us with a round of their most loved ales –
Wadworth IPA – easy drinking, hoppy, light pale ale
Wadworth 6X – the traditionally brewed, well balanced amber ale
Dirty Rucker (to celebrate the seasonal Rugby games) – Deep golden hoppy-bitter ale
Wadworth Swordfish – absolutely loved the light sweet taste from the infused rum
Wadworth Horizon – a crisp, citrus-ey light ale that went down easy
Wadworth Corvus – deep black with very evident coffee and roasted malt notes. I’m used to thicker, creamier heads than what the Corvus had to offer, though. Still, I enjoyed that it was different.
The icing on the cake were Monty, Max and ‘the silent one’ (I forgot her name!), the shire horses that, to this day, transport kegs to local pubs that bear their famously famous hand-made signs.
In the vicinity of the brewery, there’s also Reeve, the famous sourdough-bread baker nearby should you be interested and plenty of restaurants nearby for a quick bite, too.
We also visited the famous Cain Hill Locks that sport the two-mile long canal system up the Avon and it’s quite the sight!
It’s a great little stretch for a casual stroll after lunch. There’s also a pretty little afternoon-tea cafe for those who suffer from those classic British ‘urges’! 😉