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In 1711, W.H. Brakspear bought a brewery on Bell Street, Henley-on-Thames. 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 a Thames-side location on New Street.
In 2002, W.H. Brakspear & Sons licensed the brewing of its beers to Refresh UK, owner of Wychwood Brewery, and the brewery ceased production and closed. The site was sold and part of it converted to a Hotel du Vin boutique hotel.
The now non-brewing Brakspear Pub Company and its estate of 145 pubs was bought in 2006 by pub chain JT Davies for £106 million. After being brewed at Burtonwood, Cheshire, production of Brakspear beers was moved, along with some of the historic Henley brewing vessels, to Refresh's Wychwood Brewery in Witney, Oxfordshire. Refresh UK was subsequently bought out by Marston's. 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, before 'dropping' into a second vessel below. This leaves tired or dead yeast and unwanted solids ('trub') behind and encourages a healthier fermentation. Refresh UK claimed that Brakspear beers possess a butterscotch flavour due to diacetyl produced through this method and their particular long-lived, multi-strain yeast, thought to have originally come from a defunct London brewery, possibly Mann, Crossman & Paulin.
With the opening of The Bell Street Brewery in Henley-on-Thames in spring 2013 a number of beers are brewed including some sold using the Brakspear's beer brand name albeit with point of sale material also showing the brewing provenance as The Bell Street Brewery. Previous Brakspear's beer names Mild, Old Ale and Special have featured at various times, with Special being a regular product.
Brakspear's last head brewer, Peter Scholey, set up The Beer Counter as a "cuckoo brewery", overseeing the production of his own beers and others, including Coniston Bluebird, by hiring 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 and 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, which 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, Hampshire.