Woodfordes Brewery Interview

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WHERE IS YOUR BREWERY BASED AND WHAT IS YOUR USP?

We are based in a beautiful location at the edge of the Broadland National Park called Woodbastwick. We believe the stress-free environment of our home makes for beautifully relaxed beer, brewed for savouring. We use locally-grown Maris Otter barley to brew our beer as we believe it is the best barley in the world. Yes, it costs more but we are run by brewers who are passionate about beer, not accountants. Our best seller is the famous Woodforde’s Wherry, a Supreme Champion Beer of Britain, which is brewed four times a week ensuring we always have the freshest beer available. We only use the best ingredients and it’s our brewery policy that brewers decide on the recipes and ingredients and only the brewers can sign off the beer as good enough to go into the market. To this day, we are one of the few breweries to achieve the Supreme Champion Beer of Britain prize twice, for Wherry and Nog, our strong Norfolk dark ale.

CAN YOU TAKE US THROUGH THE ORIGINS OF THE BREWERY?

In the late 1970’s Norwich and Norfolk was seen as a desert for brewing until two beer home brew enthusiasts and friends decided to start a small brewery. They named it Woodforde’s in honour of Parson James Woodforde who wrote lovingly in the 18th century about great beer and good food. The brewery quickly took off and outgrew it small premises, it moved to a new site and quickly outgrew that too. 30 years ago we moved to our forever home in Woodbastwick and settled in to growing a reputation for great beer. The highly renowned beer writer Roger Protz still talks about Norfolk being a desert for good beer until Woodforde’s arrived. When we get praise from someone as esteemed in the world of beer as Roger we know we are doing something right and we intend to keep our high standards in every brew.

HAS THE WAY YOU BREW CHANGED OVER THE YEARS?

Yes and no. We still stand by our traditional roots with Wherry, Nelson’s Revenge and Nog still brewed with the same fine ingredients and handcrafted methods. We are immensely proud that these classic British beers are still loved and we hold their recipes, ingredients and brewing methods to our hearts. We still get the special hop variety that makes Wherry unique from the same farmer and the same valley that our brewers selected 40 years ago. However we know times and tastes change so we have developed beers to meet the trend for lighter more hoppy beers, Volt IPA is a heavily hopped American style IPA, Bure Gold (named after the beautiful River Bure at the heart of the Broads) a golden citrusy beer and Reedlighter Pale Ale a lightly balanced hoppy 4% beer that is perfect for those relaxing moments down the pub. Of course with climate change we are working to lower our carbon footprint by reducing water usage, reducing energy consumption and we have also moved all of our operation on site so all of our beer moves a maximum of 30 metres from brewing to final packaging whether its in cask, keg, can, bottle or mini keg. Our water is drawn from Artisan wells and our barley is all grown locally.

WHAT ARE THE CHALLENGES YOU FACE?

The biggest challenge currently is the sheer scale of cost increases. Our electricity bill went from £50,000 a year to £350,000 overnight. We use the finest Maris Otter barley and it is also the most expensive malt in the market, but we believe it is the supreme champion malt so it is a critical part of our recipes. However this comes at a cost, its 40% more expensive than the next best grade. That coupled with a 45% increase in cost puts the P&L under a lot of pressure. However we are brewers not accountants so we brew with the best ingredients and not the cheapest. We also have the same issues as other smaller brewers in a very crowded market. We are confident that in a very full and vibrant market our beer stands up well to the competition. The feedback we get on a regular basis is very satisfying and we aim everyday to produce great beer for the Great British drinker. Great Barley, Full hop flowers, Fine well water and our brewer’s passion for high quality brewing should enable us to overcome the short term challenges.

FUTURE OF BREWING IN BRITAIN?

British brewing is pretty buoyant with lots of small brewers doing their thing. From a drinkers perspective there has never been a better period in our history. However for a brewer it has never been tougher, but we genuinely believe that things will balance themselves out over time. Hopefully the pubs and bars that are proving great beer will weather the current storm. We have recently opened a depot in Mansfield so we can service the East Midlands market place with our fresh beer. This means we are not going through convoluted supply chains and we can service pubs locally with our fine Norfolk ale. We believe the Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire areas are good market for our beer. Drinkers are knowledgeable and discerning and there is a real demand for our beer. People drink Wherry on holiday and would like it at home too. We will also be working with some small local brewers to supply their beer too. This will give them access to more customers and helps keep their costs down by sharing delivery costs etc. We are not trying to squeeze out local brewers (after all they probably use the same Norfolk barley that we do) we want to work with them, support them and help them on their brewing development. We even plan to take their beer to sell in Norfolk to help them with their viability and scale as well as giving them a wider market.

DO YOU THINK PEOPLE ARE BUYING MORE REAL ALE?

Its difficult to say, it certainly has its peaks and troughs. The pandemic hit the category hard in pubs but there was an explosion in Take home cask in mini kegs and poly pins. Some brewers have closed and new ones are opening. Its tough for people at the moment but the pub is still a great place to relax and real ale is the best value category on the bar. High quality, hand crafted beer from small scale producers who care. Consumers get a great deal on cask beer, especially when you see other categories heading alarmingly to £6 a pint. I expect real ale to be a major part of pubs going forward and there is nothing more disappointing than going into a pub and finding no real ale on the bar. As Brewers we need to do everything we can to ensure the quality of our product is perfect every time.

BEST SELLER/PERSONAL FAVOURITE?

Our best seller is Wherry but Nelson’s Revenge and Volt IPA are growing strongly. Voltage IPA and Albion cream stout are also doing well within the keg craft and stout categories. I’m always asked what’s my favourite and its like being ask to name a favourite child. I do tend to go with Wherry on most occasions and its such a lovely pint, easy drinking but with a lovely balanced flavour. However I do enjoy all our beers, especially when I’m in our brewery tap. Nelson’s is a classic premium ale and it a style that is becoming resurgent as ale drinkers tire of some of the more extreme hoppy beers, there is a real comfort to sit a savour a fabulous classic British ale. That being said Volt IPA, Bure Gold and Reedlighter Pale ales are all beautifully balanced hoppy beers, modern and refreshing without overplaying the hops. Nog is our strong dark ale and is another traditional style designed for comfort.

JOE PARKS – CEO – WOODFORDE’S BREWERY LTD

THIS ARTICLE ORIGINALLY FEATURED IN INNSPIRE MAGAZINE.
AUTHOR/INTERVIEW: CHRIS FOX