Our Story

Great tasting beer, brewed with passion & pride for almost four decades.

Founded in 1981, Woodforde’s is home to a wide range of beers & ales including two Supreme Champion Beers of Britain, and the FIFTYTWO° NORTH collection of craft beers. Named in honor of Parson James Woodforde, an 18th Century clergyman who wrote lovingly in his diaries of of a love for good food & great beer, our story starts in the 1960’s during the new-wave revolution of home brewers creating authentic flavours & crafting their own beers.

We’ve always stayed true to our values by using the best locally grown malt, carefully selected fresh whole hop flowers & water from the ancient aquifer below us. You’ll find us at the heart of the Norfolk Broads on the rural estate of Woodbastwick where we’ve been for the last 30 years, and we care about our community, our traditions and helping as many people as possible to discover & experience great tasting beer.

After many years of home-brewing, good friends Ray Ashworth & Dr David Crease founded the brewery in Drayton, to the east of Norwich. Equipment was used from around the region including the Bass Experimental Brewery in Burton-on-Trent, and lemon juice vessels from Colman’s of Norwich converted to fermenting tanks. The first brew of 4 barrels took place on 5th April, and Wherry Bitter was born.
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We soon outgrew our first home and moved to a converted stable block at “The Spread Eagle” public house in Erpingham. Working with local coppersmiths F W Hall of Norwich, a new wort Copper was installed. After only a few months, fire struck, and production temporarily moved to Mauldon’s Brewery in Suffolk. On returning to the site we launched a new beer, “Phoenix XXX”, to celebrate.
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With increased demand came a need for more space, as Wherry Bitter became the region’s most popular cask ale. We moved to our forever home at the heart of the Norfolk Broads in a set of thatched farm buildings on the Woodbastwick Estate. The very first brew at the newly named “Broadland Brewery” was Nelson’s in the October of 1989.
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As Wherry increased its popularity around the region, it soon gained the attention of CAMRA, winning the “New Breweries Champion Beer of Britain. Perhaps a sign of awards to come…
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We won the highest accolade in British Beer from CAMRA at the Great British Beer Festival, as Norfolk Nog won the “Champion Old Ale of Britain”, and went on to be awarded “Supreme Champion Beer of Britain.
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With our award-winning beers, we needed great pubs to sell it in and we now had 3 pubs of our own. Added to the Freemason’s Arms in Norwich and The Fur & Feather Inn at the brewery in Woodbastwick was The Ingham Swan, near Stalham. More awards came our way too, with Mardlers Mild winning “Champion Mild Ale of Britain” and Headcracker becoming “Champion Barley Wine of Britain”.
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On invitation from the Royal Norfolk Agricultural Association we opened “The Mardler Pub” as the official beer tent of the prestigious Royal Norfolk Show.
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Wherry was awarded “Supreme Champion Beer of Britain”, and we entered a tiny super league of just four British breweries to have won the title twice over. This led to increased demand once again and annual production exceeded 5,000 barrels for the first time, as well as launching our own range of Home Brew Kits, with Wherry still being the best-selling beer kit in the UK today.
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Only 2 years after Dr David Crease had returned the brewery full time as Head Brewer, founder and very first head brewer Ray Ashworth retires with new owners Mike Betts & Dennis Nudd becoming joint MD’s, and renewed our lease with the Woodbastwick Estate securing our future.
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Reaching record sales, the brewery once again needed more space, and this time we didn’t need to move! An expansion of the current site began with the steel framed extension you see today housing new fermentation and new racking tanks to support the growing demand for our award-winning cask ales.
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Taking our ales to new audiences we were awarded a five year contract as the main cask ale supplier to Glastonbury Festival, starting a tour of the Woodforde’s Bar over the coming years to places such as O2 Music Festival in Hyde Park, the GBBF at Olympia and other CAMRA beer festivals around the country including being the first brewery to host a bar at the Cambridge Beer Festival in 2005.
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With sales now at over 13,000 barrels, Woodforde’s was selected to be the first supplier of bottle conditioned ales to Marks & Spencer, where you will still find our beers today. The last of our founders retired as David Crease hang up his brewer’s coat, but he’s still involved with the brewery today as part of our tour guide team.
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As investment in the brewery site exceeded £2.5m and a new 60 barrel brewhouse from Briggs Engineering was installed, we appointed Neil Bain as Head Brewer, a Master Brewer who has since gone on to become the most influential person in Woodforde’s modern history and is the custodian of our current range.
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After production exceeded 20,000 barrels in the previous year, and having won Champion Brewery of East Anglia by readers of The Morning Advertiser, we were honoured to win the Eastern Daily Press “The Pride of Norfolk” award, reflecting our commitment to be born & brewed in Norfolk.
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As well as winning the Morning Advertiser readers award for Champion Brewery of East Anglia again in 2013, we went on to achieve one of the most coveted awards for a brewery in 2015. The Good Pub Guide named us Brewery of the Year, which is an acknowledgement of the passion & pride that goes into every beer we brew.
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We entered new territory with new owners investing in the brewery enabling us to start projects such as installing our own bottling & canning line, as well as launching our own keg range of lager and pale ales over the next few years.
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Highlighting our commitment to our home county, we began a 5 year sponsorship of Norwich City Football club and the famous Barclay Stand, bringing our famous Wherry and our newest keg beer Norada to the clubs bars & kiosks. In what turned out to be a good year, coming back where he belongs Neil Bain returned as Head Brewer after a couple of years away to steer the brewery through the next stage of growth.
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Perhaps one of the most prestigious awards available in brewing around the world, our new IPA Volt, wins Gold at the International Brewing Awards. As a result, Volt launched in bottles the following year becoming part of our core range.
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Alongside the opening of our very own bottling & canning line and an increased demand for our beers in Supermarkets, we brought all packing in house meaning the quality is second to none and handled with the same care by the same people who brewed it. We’ve launched our Norfolk Adder Cyder, introduced the FIFTYTWO° NORTH brand as a new home for our craft can range and introduced our award-winning amber ale Wherry in a 440ml can for the very first time. In a strange year for everyone, our brewery continues to grow.
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  • Woodfordes.com

    1981

    We begin our journey at Bidewell Close, Drayton, some 3 miles west of Norwich. Equipment such as the 4 x barrel Mash Tun came from the Bass Experimental Brewery in Burton-on-Trent, the wort Copper was a converted and up-ended 750 gallon stainless steel tank, and fermenters were old 300 gallon black plastic lemon juice vessels from Colman's of Norwich. One of our founders, a Mr Ray Ashworth, was the first MD and Head Brewer. The first ever brew took place on 5th April 1981 and was 4  barrels of our beloved Wherry Bitter.

  • 1983

    The cost of renting an oversized industrial unit, large temperature variations, and mains water supply of varying quality prompted the search for a more suitable site. Ray  formed a new partnership with John Marjoram, landlord of 'The Spread Eagle' at Erpingham.

    A new brewery site was created in a disused stable block (formerly the site of John Browne’s Brewery in 1830’s) next to 'The Spread Eagle' pub in Erpingham, near Aylsham. The Mash Tun came from Drayton, a new wort Copper, (actually made from copper) was manufactured by F W Hall Coppersmiths of Norwich, and fermenters were 3 x 12-barrel stainless steel tanks purchased from Colman's of Norwich.

  • 1988

    Demand was increasing for Ray's ales, in particular during  the years between 1984 and 1988. A new beer called Nelson's Revenge was created, initially as a house beer for 'The Limes Hotel' in Fakenham, while Wherry Bitter was becoming one of the most popular cask ales in Norfolk.

    The Spread-Eagle premises was now running at maximum capacity, so the search commenced for larger premises. Ray located some disused farm-buildings and land in the beautiful village of Woodbastwick, some 6 miles east of Norwich. Finally a place to call the home of Woodforde's. 

  • 1989

    A new 30 x barrel brewery was built in the partly thatched disused farm buildings, and a borehole drilled by Pages of Frettenham to supply high quality water for brewing; a water pressure tank and an iron filter were also installed. The boreholes are still used in our brewing process today. 

    The Mash Tun came from Tanks and Vessels Industries near Doncaster, and a tilting mechanism from an old laundry was ingeniously added. The wort Copper was an inverted stainless-steel tank with propane burners beneath, and 4 x 35-barrel polypropylene plastic fermenters were supplied by Forbes Plastics of Downham Market.

    The new premises were named 'Broadland Brewery', and the first brew was Nelson’s Revenge in October 1989.

  • 1992

    In May 1992, our first public house under was purchased under the Woodforde's brand, it was 'The Freemasons Arms' in Hall Road, Norwich.

    Our next pub came from a quintessential row of farm cottages, next to the brewery itself, the houses were converted into a public house and restaurant named 'The Fur and Feather Inn'. The pub opened on 2nd December 1992, and John and Jean Marjoram  from the formerly mentioned Spread Eagle pub, became the first landlords.   

    In August, at the Great British Beer Festival, Woodforde's Norfolk Nog became CAMRA's 'Champion Old Ale of Britain'!  and went on to become 'Supreme Champion Beer of Britain'!!

    David Winter was appointed Head Brewer to bring newness into the business.

  • Woodforde's Festival at Woodfordes.com

    1994

    The brewery were invited by the Royal Norfolk Agricultural Association, to run the official beer tent at the prestigious Royal Norfolk Show, called 'The Mardler Pub'.

    Headcracker was honoured as CAMRA 'Champion Barley Wine of Britain' for the second time, and once again went on to become 'Highly Commended' in the Supreme finals.

  • 1995

    With visitors making their way to Woodbastwick to sample our brews for themselves, we knew they would want samples to take home. So we opened The Woodforde’s Brewery Shop and Visitor Centre. Today, its shelves still brim with our delicious brews, plus our top pick of the region’s finest food and drink.

  • 1996

    A very special, and very rare, accolade for a session beer: Woodforde’s Wherry, was named CAMRA ‘Supreme Champion Beer of Britain’ in 1996. And when the Nog won the same award, we found ourselves in good company – one of a ‘tiny super league’ of just four British brewers to have won the title twice over.

  • Woodfordes.com

    1997

    David Crease, who was involved in the original setup of Woodforde's became Head Brewer, bringing back the original essence to the beers.

  • 1999

    After nearly two successful decades, our founder, Ray Ashworth decided to retire, putting the brewery and three pubs up for sale.  On 21st July 1999 the brewery was purchased by Mike Betts and Dennis Nudd. Ray still has a keen interest in the business and our recipes to this day. 

  • 2001

    The 'Woodforde's Club' - was established, and the first Woodforde's website launched, including online shopping. Bottle labels were re-branded, together with new-design pump-clips with gold frames.

  • Woodfordes.com

    2002/2003

    As demand rose so did a need for a revamp of the brewery to accommodate. T Gill & Sons were appointed to start the expansion project, demolishing the farm isolation unit, sand-blasting part of the main thatched building beside the road, and constructing the new brewery shop with offices and Boardroom above.

    The large new steel-framed brewery building that you see today was constructed with a walking-beam cask washer a computer-controlled CIP cleaning system, an automated cask filling machine, along with a 4 x 60 barrel and 2 x 120 barrel stainless steel square fermenters, 2 x external water storage tanks and 2 x racking tanks installed on the mezzanine. A new malt room was created where the original shop had been, also a new Alan Ruddock 4 x roller grain mill, together with new conveyor system and outside grain silo were added.

    On 20th July 2003, a large fire broke out in the Dutch barn behind the brewery, the fire-brigade saving it from spreading to the brewery buildings and becoming a major disaster.

  • Woodfordes.com

    2004

    Woodforde's was awarded a five-year contract as main supplier of cask ale to one of the most notable festivals in the world: Glastonbury Music Festival.

    A new restaurant and function-room called the Hop Room was added to 'The Fur and Feather Inn' to fulfil all the visitors coming to the brewery.

  • Wherry at Woodfordes.com

    2005

    We were honoured to be the first brewery to have a bar at CAMRA’s Cambridge Beer Festival.

    Lord Admiral Nelson turned 200, the anniversary coincided with Nelson's Revenge winning a silver at the 'International Brewing Awards'.

    Our prestigious Wherry Bitter still winning awards, became CAMRA 'Champion Bitter of Britain' for the second time!

  • 2007

    Due to our great tasting ales, we were chosen to be one of the first suppliers of a new range of bottle-conditioned beers for Marks & Spencer.

    Two temperature-controlled hop stores installed on the mezzanine floor to secure supply after hops destroyed by flooding in Worcestershire.  A second water bore-hole installed.

    John Palmer appointed Head Brewer.

  • Neil Bain on Woodfordes.com

    2008

    Fourth and final year at Glastonbury was a roaring success; all the marketing objectives had been achieved. Woodforde’s had transformed the cask beer scene at this international event which helped to put Wherry on the national map.

    Neil Bain appointed Master Brewer, bringing expert craftsmanship to the brewery.  

  • Woodfordes.com

    2012

    We were honoured to win the Eastern Daily Press prestigious award of: 'Pride of Norfolk', at the county Food and Drink Awards. Reflecting our passion and pride to be born and brewed for Norfolk.

  • Woodforde's Awards on Woodfordes.com

    2015

    Named ‘Brewery of the Year’ by the Good Pub Guide, we celebrated, not only this prestigious title, but an acknowledgement of the hard work and passion of our people – who have made Woodforde’s what it is today.

    Belinda Jennings appointed Head Brewer, introducing new recipes. 

     

  • Woodfordes.com

    2018

    We took the opportunity to sponsor the Barclay Stand at Norwich City Football Club, bringing our famous Wherry and newer beer Norada to the local club’s bars and kiosks.

    Master Brewer, Neil Bain re-joins the team, ensuring our recipes stay true and creating exciting new additions.

  • Volt Award Winning at Woodfordes.com

    2019

    Volt win's Gold at the International Brewing Awards in the cask ale category. One of the most highly recognised awards in the industry.

  • Pukky on Woodfordes.com

    2020

    Reaching international territories, ‘Volt’ and ‘The Perfect Finnish’ land in Finland and launch in supermarkets.

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