Many, many years ago Mr & Mrs Fueled by Beer toured the original Budweiser brewery in St Louis, Missouri. Nothing happened that day to change our opinion about AB-InBev’s crappy beer but their brewery tour did set the bar for all others. With this dim memory in our minds we traveled recently to another relic of Victorian brewing in the English Wiltshire town of Devizes: the Wadworth brewery. We were pleasantly surprised…
The Wadworth Northgate brewery is one of the UK’s few remaining Victorian tower breweries in which steam power and gravity originally transformed raw ingredients fed in at the top of the tower into finished beer in wooden casks at the bottom. Depending on your views regarding temperance it was either one of the crowning glories of the industrial revolution or one of its darkest evils.
Today the best of old and new combine in a state of the art brewery housed in the original 1885 brick brewhouse, a grade II listed building. The brewery tour, which starts and ends at the Wadworth Visitor Centre, currently costs £10 for adults (60+ £8.50). Advance reservations are recommended and may be made online here.
The two hour tour takes in every floor of the original 1885 tower brewhouse and includes the new 2009 copper house as well as the cooperage which still produces wooden casks for delivery to some of Wadworth’s Devizes pubs. The tour then moves across the street to visit the sign shop and the dray horses before returning to the visitor centre for a tutored beer tasting, a fitting end to a superb tour.
Based on our experience the tour should have something for everyone. Our guide talked about the Wadworth brewing process in an enthusiastic, non-technical style that was informative and often entertaining. At the same time he was knowledgeable enough to explain concisely the different uses for the 1885 brewhouse gear versus the 2009 equipment. Different Wadworth brews are best suited to one or the other but never did our guide dwell on the geeky stuff. All in all this was about as good as a brewery tour can be – highly recommended and well worth making the trip to Devizes.
We decided to drive to Devizes and found the town centre has several pay & display car parks providing plenty of parking. Once in town you’ll find the central area around Market Place and The Brittox is very walkable. As a Fueled by Beer destination Devizes does present some challenges: it has no train station however buses connect to national rail at Chippenham (route 33/X33) and Swindon (route 49). Note that these bus services do not run on Sundays or holidays. However you decide to get to Devizes it makes sense to fill as much of the day as possible by incorporating something besides the brewery tour.
In our case we skipped eating at home and drove down for a mid-morning breakfast in Devizes. If you’re as sick of Reading’s soulless chain restaurants as we are then you’ll love Brogans, an independently owned greasy spoon located in the centre of town on The Brittox. We burned off the calories of our hearty full English breakfast with a walk along the Kennet & Avon Canal to the Caen Hill Locks before taking the brewery tour.
Although spelt the same as the town in Normandy that is pronounced “Cahn” the Wiltshire folks pronounce it as “Cane.” Anyway, this more than 200 year old engineering marvel, completed in 1810, is worth the walk down to the bottom of the flight of 16 locks to see the ingenious way they solved the problem of raising the canal up the steep hill to Devizes.
The following photo gallery provides a brief pictorial record of our visit to the Wadworth Brewery. I think it’s fair to say that in the Wadworth brewery tour we have found at least an equal to that day in St Louis so long ago. 🙂