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|Headquarters||Witney (Brewing), Henley (Head Office), UK|
WH Brakspear & Sons Ltd is the name of a brand of English beers and pubs, based in Henley on Thames, Oxfordshire. While the beer brewing and pub management sides of the business were originally unified, the brewing has since been sold to Wychwood Brewery owners Refresh UK.
The Brakspear brewery dated back to 1711, when W.H. Brakspear bought a brewery on Bell Street, Henley. The Brakspear family was distantly related to Nicholas Breakspear, who became Pope Adrian IV in 1154 — the only Englishman to become Pope. In 1812, the brewery moved to the Thames-side location on New Street.
It is understood that in 2002, the original company 'WH Brakspear & Sons Ltd' while retaining ownership of the Brakspear beer brands, licensed the brewing of the beers to Refresh UK, also the owner of Wychwood. On 17 October 2002 the original brewery ceased production and closed. The site was then sold and part of it converted to become one of the "Hotel du Vin" chain of boutique hotels.
The now non-brewing Brakspear Pub Company concentrates on maintaining and expanding its growing pub estate (145 pubs) in November 2006 the company was bought by pub chain JT Davies for £106million. It has been announced that JT Davies' pubs will be rebranded as Brakspear.
After months of looking for a suitable site near Henley (during which time much of the beer was brewed at Burtonwood, Cheshire) production was moved, along with some of the original historic Henley brewing vessels, to Refresh's Wychwood Brewery, Witney, West Oxfordshire, also home to Prince Charles' Organic Duchy range and Wychwood's Hobgoblin & Fiddler's Elbow beers. Subsequently, Refresh UK was bought out by the much larger Marston's group. reportedly for c.£10-11 million.
Brakspear's beer is brewed using the traditional double drop fermentation method. This involves allowing fermentation to start in vessels on an upper floor, then the following morning 'dropping' the fermenting beer into a second vessel below. This leaves tired or dead yeast & unwanted solids ('trub') behind and encourages a healthier fermentation. Refresh UK claims all Brakspear beers possess a butterscotch flavour due to a natural compound — diacetyl produced through this method & their particular long-lived, multi-strain yeast, thought to have originally come from a defunct London brewery — possibly Mann, Crossman & Paulin. Oddly, elsewhere in the world & in other beer styles, such as German lagers, this same compound is seen as a brewing fault.
Brakspear's last head-brewer, Peter Scholey has set up his own company The Beer Counter as a "cuckoo brewery" overseeing the production of his own brands & others including the famous "Coniston Bluebird", by hiring out capacity at breweries such as The Beer Station/Hepworth's in Horsham, Sussex. Other former Brakspear brewing staff are involved in a number of craft breweries, Justin Grant became head brewer of the Breconshire Brewery; Chris Hearn & Steve Brown are now at Loddon Brewery near Henley, Mike McGuigan is brewing at Brimstage Brewery, Wirral; Adrian Redgrove is head brewer at Castle Rock Brewery - Nottingham they won CAMRA's 2010 Champion Beer of Britain Award for their Harvest Pale ; Stuart Howe is head brewer at Sharp's Brewery, Cornwall; and Jeff Drew is head brewer at Ringwood Brewery, Hants
Refresh UK was set up in 2000 as a contract-brewing, marketing & beer import business by some of the former managers of the closed Ushers Brewery (Trowbridge, Wiltshire). Refresh UK now have one brewhouse using some of beautiful old Brakspear vessels & 2 fermentation rooms at their Witney site — one largely for their Wychwood beers & the other with the famous Brakspear 'dropping vessels'.