Many microbreweries grow from the enthusiasm of home brewers whose interest in ales develops from interest, through obsession, to career.
The brewery was founded in 1981 by two enthusiastic home brewers, Ray Ashworth and Dr David Crease. They named their brewery after Parson Woodforde, an eighteenth century Norfolk clergyman who had a reputation for enjoying fine ale, often brewing it himself.
Their first brew, a 3.8% session bitter called “Woodforde’s Wherry” (a ‘wherry’ is a medium sized river boat that forms the basis of the Woodforde’s logo) remains their best seller, and was voted champion beer of Britain in 1996.
The early years of the brewery sound like a plot for a TV series – within a couple of years of starting to brew, the demand for their ales necessitated a move to larger premises, and the brewery moved to the stables of the ‘Spread Eagle’ pub in the village of Erpingham. Unfortunately the new brewery was gutted by fire within a month of its opening and that would have been it – but for the assistance of Peter Mauldon (brewer of BlackAdder) who provided temporary brewing facilities in his nearby brewery.
The reconstruction of the Woodforde’s brewery took three months and their first brew – a 4.7% ale called Phoenix – quickly caught the imagination of the drinkers of East Anglia.
And the story doesn’t end there. The brewery moved again in 1989 to the specially constructed ‘Broadland Brewery’ (which boasts its own artesian water source) near the village of Woodbastwick. 1992 saw the opening of ‘The Fur & Feathers’ – the ‘brewery tap’ – and then the brewery was further expanded – doubling its brewing capacity – in 2003. The Broadland Brewery campus now boasts a visitors’ centre and gift shop as well as the brewery tap.
And, in an unusual move, back in 1996 the brewery was invited to produce high quality home brew kits for the UK retail chain ‘Boots’. While Boots no longer carry home brewing products, the Woodfordes range of home brew kits is widely available through the specialist outlets – hopefully starting a whole new cycle of interest and obsession that might lead to still more microbreweries in the future. What goes around…
So, that’s the Woodforde’s story, and recently the brewery was kind enough to send me samples of some of their range, so how do the brews stand up?
Woodfordes Wherry 3.8% ABV
I thought I’d start with the flagship brew, no pun intended. As I mentioned previously, this was voted Champion Beer of Britain in 1996 (it also took the bronze in 2005) – quite an achievement for a session ale, going up against heavier hitters. It’s also just been announced as “Regional Cask Ale of the Year (East)” at the Great British Pub Suppliers Awards 2010.
It pours a mid gold colour, not too pale, not too dark, there’s a bright white head that disperses quite quickly.
There’s a fruity nose with subtle hints of citrus. And it’s bright and zingy on the tongue, with a floral, citrus tang. The heavier hops aren’t far behind giving a really well balanced session beer.
It’s quite easy to see why this has won so many awards, it’s refreshing, flavoursome and not too strong. After some deliberation I’ll give this a worthy three and a half stars.
Woodfordes Sundew 4.1% ABV
This is undeniably a summer ale, even if it’s somewhat bizarrely named after a carnivorous plant – Feed Me Seymour!
It pours very pale, and with very little head; it’s bottle conditioned so I poured it very carefully. The nose is really delicate, I detected hints of Elderflower, and the Elderflower came through in the flavour, along with a tangy hit of Grapefruit and some pleasing maltiness lurking in the background.
I’ve reported in the past that I’m a latecomer to the whole summer ale thing, and I admit that it might be even more appealing on a hot summer’s day, but I’d rate Sundew a solid 3 stars.
Stay tuned… I still have four more Woodfordes’ brews on my shelf. 🙂