Friday 3 April 2015

A visit to Charles Wells brewery

Last week I was at the Charles Wells brewery to do a talk on yeast. Sadly when it came to my turn to speak I forgot to do a Graham Stewart impression. Nobody can say "yeast" like that man. Still, this minor hiccup aside it all went OK, and we got to have a quick tour of be brewery:

They have two brewing streams of about the same size

There's always one

It's big

really big

The brewery's capacity is a million barrels a year, not sure how much they're doing at the moment. I know they used to make more lager than ales but with the loss of the contract to brew Cobra I don't know if that's still the case.

They have the facilities to make cask, bottled, kegged and canned beer - so the full range from the virtuous to the morally bankrupt. I only had a half when I was there, and I went for  DNA, the beer they make in conjunction with Dogfish head. I was keen to try this as despite Dogfish head being a very interesting brewery it's arrival was greeted with universal derision by my fellow beer nerds. I was expecting something a bit underpowered, but the my surprise the American hops were clearly there in strength, and being reassuringly brown and with some body to it I suspect I could have happily sunk a few pints. Chatting to one of the brewers I found that after seeing the feedback they'd upped the dry hopping. Not having tried the original version I don't know how they compare, but it certainly worked for me.


  1. Having tried Dna at the launch and then a pint last week.They have definitely upped the hopping.Surprisingly good pint last week.

  2. The interesting thing about Charles Wells is that they moved out from their former cramped brewery, right in the centre of Bedford, to a new, purpose-built brewery on the edge of town. This, I believed, occurred sometime in the early 1970’s, but the decision to make the move must have been made several years earlier, and is therefore surprising when one considers that most of the remaining family brewers at the time were in the doldrums, with many lacking the capital to invest in and modernise their businesses. Many were even resigned to being bought out by larger concerns, and closed down.

    This move by Wells shows a remarkable degree of forward thinking, which has obviously served them well and paid dividends in terms of turnover and plant utilisation. Contrast this with Daniel Thwaites who also built a new brewery, but slightly earlier in 1966. Unlike Wells they built the new plant on their existing site, which has obviously caused them problems in later years, but it’s worth remembering their new brew house was, at the time one of the most up to date in the country.

    It’s somewhat ironic then to learn that half a century on, Thwaites consider this brewery obsolete, and have now taken the decision to leave brewing altogether; whereas Charles Wells are obviously going from strength to strength.

    Two breweries, built less than a decade apart, but what a contrast.