Before Christmas we went on a very merry Adnams brewery tour. I briefly mentioned it in The hotspots in East and Coastal Suffolk. Part 1 and after loads of recommendations, finally got to try it for myself…
We booked the tour about 3 weeks in advance, tours get booked up reaaaally quickly – especially in summer. The brewery tour and tasting lasted about 1hr 30mins in total and cost £15 per person – great value for money in my opinion!
So, on the day of our tour we were shuffling around waiting outside when we heard our original guide wouldn’t be able to make it due to a family bereavement. We ended up being shown around the brewery by a lady who usually does all the distillery side. Probably a bit flustered by the short notice and change in plans, she was totally undeterred and incredibly knowledgeable. Nevertheless, it was a fantastic tour and I’d never have guessed it wasn’t her usual role – going to show how committed the Adnams staff are, they know their stuff through & through!
After mulling around the small show room packed with old Adnams bottles and artefacts of its history…
…we settled down on bar stools to watch (in our guide’s words), the “50 shades of adnams” film. Showing some fantastic coastal shots, it gave a brief explanation about who Adnams are and what they do.
I had no idea that Adams is one of the most eco friendly breweries in the country, all by-products are reused between the brewery and distillery (even steam! And they sell on acetone to nail varnish companies).
The distribution centre has a green grassy roof, harvests rain water and even has hemp walls; super energy efficient. Adnams also owns a stretch of beach where they have dedicated volunteers to help with cleanup projects, and even look after their own Adnams honey bees. Unsurprisingly, Adnams is the beer of choice for many hippies and eco-warriors.
Adnams only brews during the week from Monday to Friday, as the council complained about the beer smell (lame). In total it employs around 400 people, with 20 people working in the brewery and distillery.
They daily produce around 1800 bottles of spirit, with the first brew of the day starting at 4.45am (ouch!) – ale in a day’s work!
The produce is taken away in huge lorries that hold around the same amount as the tanks: 35,000-ish pints. As bottling plants are so expensive, the beer is labelled and bottled in Nottingham (the only not-so-green part of the Adnams operation).
Before the brewery in Southwold existed, in medieval times around 1345, Johanna de Corby and 17 other ‘ale wives’ of Southwold were charged by the manorial court with breaking the assize of ale. This is the earliest record of beer being brewed on the Adnams site. Some more history here.
Then, when Sole Bray Brewery got going, it was bought by two brothers in 1972: George and Ernest. The brotherly-business partnership went well for two years, before they fell out. Ernest went to South Africa to focus on wine, and tragically later on in life, fell into river and was eaten by a crocodile. However, George’s descendant carries on the family business who are all very much involved – Jonathan Adnams has a farm growing rye which is used at the brewery.
The ‘Jack brand’ on the Adnams beers has been trademark since 1912. He was a 14th century, War of the Roses sailor brought in to rid southwold of smuggling, known by his prominent bulging eyes (there are plenty of Jack statues dotted throughout the town). There’s even a Jack in the church who rings the bell when bride walks down the aisle and also rings every hour on hour.
The brewing equipment is all fairly new (in 2008 they bough new brewery from Huffman in Germany) and keep it in shipshape condition! Completely spotless and incredibly clean, they have as many pipes as poss installed underground. Currently there are 19 fermentation tanks with 12 new tanks arriving in 2017, so that the tanks can hold a beer each and don’t need to be constantly cleaned in between brews.
There are 3 things needed to make beer – water, yeast and grains. Hard water is ideal for making beer and soft water is perfect for spirits. Adnams used to have a water table at the end of the pier, but due to erosion and whatnot, the brewery now uses tap water. Burton Upon Trent is known for having the best water in country and Adnams tweak theirs to ‘Burtonise’ it/make it as similar as they can.
As Adnams is super eco-friendly it used to be that 8 pints of water were needed to make 1 pint of beer, nowadays it’s 3:1.
Adnams almost had their own strain of yeast, but that sadly died.. #RIPyeast So, in 1943 they went to Morgan’s Brewery in Norwich (2 years before it was burnt down during an air raid) to use some of their yeast, it’s said the history of Morgan’s lives on through Adnams.
Ghost ship is by far their biggest seller, originally it was supposed to be a one-off limited brew for Halloween about 5 years ago, but spookily has been resurrected!
Look out for the Oxford Cambridge boat race in April – Adnams have won a 6 year sponsorship deal!
After a tour around the village greens, through the brewery and different rooms, it stopped off with a tasting in a private bar above the starting point.
Huge jugs were poured out and you could drink pretty much whatever and however much you fancied! If there was something you wanted to try that wasn’t on tap, you were allowed a fresh bottle from the backroom. The tasting was very generous, ghost ship galore!
Eventually the (now slightly tipsy) tour finished in the shop with even more tasters of ginger wine, a couple of gins and more beer. Yum.
So all in all, a very merry and lively tour! I’d definitely recommend it as one of the better tours I’ve been to, I loved the modern graphics throughout and learnt a lot about Adnams. It was great to see how such a big brand is still sticking to it’s routes and plays a solid part in the local community.
Next time I’m hoping to go back for a make your own gin experience, yes purrrlease!