I first became familiar with the name of Adnams after reading “The Death of the English Pub”; the excellent, and pioneering exposé of Britain’s big brewers, written in the early 1970’s by Christopher Hutt. Adnams were praised by Hutt for retaining traditional cask beers, brewed to suit local palettes, and for their policy of keeping open many marginal rural pubs. This was in stark contrast to the activities of Watneys, who as well as phasing out traditional beer, had also closed scores of village locals throughout East Anglia.
Several years later, I visited Southwold itself, in order to sample Adnams ales on their home territory. This was not my first visit to the town however. As a child, I had been taken there, on a day’s outing, along with my sister. We had both been spending part of the summer holidays with our grandparents, at their bungalow in Friston; a small Suffolk village not far from Saxmundham. Towards the end of our stay, our grandmother announced that she would be taking us to Southwold, by bus.
|Where's the sand?|
When I returned, nearly twenty years later, it was not sand but some of Southwold’s finest ales that I was after. En route to Southwold, I had stopped in the coastal town of Aldeburgh, famous for its connections with the composer Benjamin Britten. Here, in the unspoilt Cross Keys, my companion and I enjoyed an excellent seafood lunch, washed down with Adnams Bitter, before travelling on to Southwold itself.
Subsequent visits to Southwold, this time in the company of my new wife, allowed more time for exploring this well-preserved Victorian town. On one occasion we enjoyed a superb lunch, plus some excellent Adnams, in the Lord Nelson, overlooking the seafront. Another visit showed just how much the Adnams Brewery had been expanded. Walking back from the seafront, along a side street, we were surprised to notice a gleaming row of fermentation vessels behind the window of what appeared to be an ordinary terraced house. A closer inspection revealed that the whole row of houses had been adapted for brewery purposes. As much of Southwold is a designated conservation area, where redevelopment and new building are subject to strict planning regulations, Adnams had simply bought up the houses, and converted them to the purpose described above; a neat solution to a tricky problem.
Southwold, and since then there have been even more changes at Adnams. For example new fermenting vessels were installed in March 2001 to cope with increased demand, and the brew-house was completely re-equipped in July 2006, making it one of the most energy efficient in Europe. In addition the company opened a brand new, eco-friendly, distribution centre in the nearby village of Reydon, in order to expand its business
The beer range has also been substantially expanded, and now includes a keg beer called Spindrift, alongside a range of seasonal beers, plus a whole host of one-off commemorative and collaborative beers. Unfortunately, Adnams Extra, my favourite of the company’s beers, was inexplicably dropped several years ago. The decision to axe this beer was all the more puzzling in view of the fact that it was awarded the title of Champion Beer of Britain at CAMRA’s annual Great British Beer Festival in 1993. From memory it was a lovely hoppy beer with a tremendous depth of flavour.
In 1999 Adnams introduced its famous "ribbons" logo and successfully relaunched Broadside in award-winning bespoke 500ml bottles, and in 2005 the company refreshed its brand with new-look pump clips and a stylish bespoke pint glass. In 2013 a new range of beers was introduced under the Jack Brand label, including Adnams first ever lager – Dry Hopped. The company have also produced a range of exclusive beers for Marks & Spencer, including both a Summer and a Winter IPA. Both are excellent, but after many samplings I still can’t decide which of the two I prefer.
What I find most fascinating is the company’s decision in 2010, to open their own distillery, which sits in the room where the old brewing coppers once stood. Initially set up to produce gin and vodka, two additional still were added in 2015 to allow whisky to be distilled. This surely is a first for any UK brewery.
So there we have it; Adnams have become one of the country’s most innovative and forward-thinking brewers, whilst at the same time maintaining a fine range of traditional ales and traditional pubs, in which to drink them. They have achieved this by invest heavily both in their future and the people who work for the company, so long may they continue to brew their fine Suffolk Ales!
For a much more detailed look at the company, its history, its philosophy, its beers, its pubs and now its spirits, log on to Adnams excellent and highly informative website.