Horses, Barrels and Beer
There are brewery tours and brewery tours. Some involve a quick skip around the mash tun and copper, dodging sacks of malt and buckets of yeast, before a busy couple of hours in the hospitality room, where the real flavour of the business can be sampled.
In other cases, the tour is a much more satisfying affair, with plenty to digest over and above the taste of the brewery’s wares.
The tour of Wadworth in Devizes falls very much into the latter category.
Wadworth has been offering tours for years, but generally only for organised groups.
Things changed, however, three years ago when a new visitor centre opened alongside the red-brick, Victorian tower brewhouse in the centre of this West Country market town.
Now twice a day, guided tours leave from the centre and take in the wonders of a most traditional brewery.
It’s surprising that Wadworth took so long to maximise all it has going for it in terms of visitor interest. Not only is the company one of just a handful of brewers that still delivers beer by horse-drawn dray (to local pubs), but it is also just one of four brewers in the UK to still employ a full-time cooper, making casks for selected ‘beer from the wood’ pubs.
The tour gives you a full insight into these blasts from the past. You get to meet the shire horses, the gentle giants that slow down the pace of life as they clop their way around the Wiltshire town.
You also get to meet Alastair Simms, master cooper and one of these hugely talented craftsmen who can take a few sticks of wood and shape them into a watertight barrel without the use of nails, glue or any other modern artifice. I’ve yet to meet anyone who is not blown away by the skills involved in making wooden casks.
Another rare feature of the Wadworth operation is the retention of its own sign-writing department, where the brewery’s artists laboriously hand paint the colourful signs that adorn most of the company’s appealing pubs, tempting you inside to sample Wiltshire ales at their best.
Not All History
All of these attractions complement a privileged look inside the brewhouse itself, which dates back to 1885. It’s not all history in here, though. Wadworth, in recent years, has installed a new copper room, spick, span and aesthetically striking in a modern stainless-steel and wood-cladding sort of way.
But you also get a peek into the old, far less energy-efficient brewhouse and see how things have changed, as needs must in these evolving, ecological times.
At the end of the tour, the thirst generated by climbing the many steps, and following the brewing process from top to bottom, can be assuaged by a taste of the company’s fine ales.
Sample the likes of Henry’s IPA; the quenching golden ale, Horizon; The Bishop’s Tipple, a beer rescued from the debris of Gibbs Mew in Salisbury; and the nationally-famous 6X.
At £10 for a two-hour trip, including a beer tasting, a tour looks like money well spent to me, but if time is short, and a full tour is out of the question, then at least pop into the visitor centre.
Entrance is free and you can browse the exhibits, learning how beer is made, what the life of a dray horse entails and other curious pieces of trivia.
Did you know that brewery founder Henry Wadworth was the first man to cycle from London to Bath? Neither did I, but it’s just one of the many things you’ll discover on this excellent brewery visit.
For further details see the Wadworth website.
Note: Since this feature was first posted, Alastair Simms has left Wadworth. The brewery no longer employs its own cooper.