Early morning in Southwold and a massive plume of white steam pours from a tall chimney at Adnams. The first brew of the day is underway, supervised by head brewer Mike Powell-Evans and assistant Fergus Fitzgerald.
The sweetish aroma of gristy maltiness hangs in the air. Elsewhere in the brewery yard, lorries have been loaded with casks and the clang of metal has rung through the air since 7am. So starts another day at one of England’s best-loved breweries.
Adnams’ beers have always enjoyed the sort of princely reputation lesser breweries would sell their chairman for. The eyes of ale connoisseurs light up at the mention of their stupendous Best
Bitter (3.7%) with its distinctive dry-hopped character and the magnificently complex Broadside (4.7%), while the cold winters of Suffolk are warmed by nips of its rare and noble barley wine, Tally Ho.
The fact that Adnams still resides in the middle of the community also catches the imagination of the discerning drinker.
An image of Southwold Jack, a copy of the popular clock-striking medieval soldier found in the town’s church, keeps watch from an alcove in the brewery wall.
Meanwhile, certain days see hefty carthorses pulling drays around the town where all the pubs serve the beers in sparkling form. So far so romantic, but brewing is not just about the romance of burnished copper, papal-like white steam and wood-lined mash tuns. There is change in the air here.
For a start, managing director Jonathan Adnams becomes chairman in 2006, while the evocative ‘Beer From The Coast’ ad campaign has given the brewery much recognition and a cool and hip image. Further signs of progress include a new state-of-the-art brewery due to be installed by 2007.
Advances in brewing are such that by then the sight of white steam escaping into the air will be a thing of the past (apparently, that sort of thing is very wasteful on the energy front). Working along with his young team, Jonathan Adnams is preparing to hit the future.
“It’s a tough trading environment at the moment,” admits the latest member of the brewing family to step up to the plate. “However, we are investing in our infrastructure and looking to the long-term.”
Managing director-elect Andy Wood takes up the theme: “we feel that there is a vibrant market for cask beer.
“There are short-term difficulties, but in the long term the future is sunnier.”
That confidence is why Adnams has commissioned the German firm Huppmann’s to produce a completely new brewery. This process of change kicked off four years ago when they invested a couple of million in a new fermenting room.
Visit it and you encounter a symphony in gleaming stainless steel — pipes, ladders, railings and the metal vessels where Adnams’ beers undergo that alchemical change courtesy of its yeast.