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W.H. Brakspear & Sons Ltd. was a brewery in Henley-on-Thames, Oxfordshire. Since the closure of its brewery in Henley-on-Thames in 2002, most of its beers have been brewed by Wychwood Brewery in West Oxfordshire. In 1993, beer writer Michael Jackson described its "ordinary" bitter as the best in England.
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 104 pubs was bought in 2006 by pub chain JT Davies for £106 million; the 51 Davies pubs were rebranded as Brakspear. 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. The yeast had "distant origins" at Mann, Crossman & Paulin in Mile End, London.
When beer writer Michael Jackson visited in 1993, the barley was Maris Otter and water came from their own well, described as "chalk-hard". Hops were Goldings from Kent, Hereford Fuggles and "Styrians". Jackson thought the ordinary bitter the best in England, writing "In its delicate, malty sweetness, teasing, yeasty fruitiness, and hoppy bitterness, Brakspear's 'ordinary' is lightly refreshing, gently sociable, more-ish and appetite-arousing; the perfect combination in a bitter. The hoppiness is its salient feature". John Mortimer in 1986 claimed "Brakspear's draft bitter is undoubtedly the best to be had in England".
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.
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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
- Jeff Drew is head brewer at Ringwood Brewery, Hampshire.
- "W.H. BRAKSPEAR & SONS LIMITED - Overview (free company information from Companies House)". beta.companieshouse.gov.uk. Retrieved 24 January 2018.
- "W. H. Brakspear and Sons". www.gracesguide.co.uk. Retrieved 24 January 2018.
- Jackson, Michael (2 July 1993). "A taste of hop fields in an English summer". The Independent.
- "Brakspear agrees 106 million pound sale". Morning Advertiser. 21 November 2006.
- "Marston's buys Refresh UK". Morning Advertiser. 3 April 2008.
- W.H. Brakspear & Sons Limited (2013). "Proud to be brewing in Henley". www.bellstreetbrewery.co.uk. Henley-on-Thames: J.T. Davies & Sons Limited. Retrieved 24 September 2017.
- Mortimer, John (5 October 1986). "That elusive ideal, the perfect pub". The New York Times.