When good friends Ray Ashworth and Dr David Crease got tired of the same old beers, they were determined to change things up a level. With a passion for homebrewing and creating authentic flavours, they became part of a new-wave revolution, handcrafting their own beers in the 1960s.
Established in 1981 the brewery was first located in the village of Drayton and moved to our forever home, just outside Norwich, in the village of Woodbastwick. Our company name derives in honour of Parson James Woodforde, a notable eighteenth Century Norfolk clergyman who wrote in his diaries about the fondness of good food and good beer.
Constantly improving, they raised the bar for good quality beer year after year. With great taste comes great demand and Woodforde’s grew at record speeds. Through trial and error, energy and ingenuity and by using local barley and water from our own boreholes, these brewing pioneers took CAMRA’s 1990 ‘New Breweries Champion Beer of Britain’ award for the Wherry pint – one we’re still famous for today.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
1995With 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.
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.
David Crease, who was involved in the original setup of Woodforde's became Head Brewer, bringing back the original essence to the beers.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 win's Gold at the International Brewing Awards in the cask ale category. One of the most highly recognised awards in the industry.
Reaching international territories, ‘Volt’ and ‘The Perfect Finnish’ land in Finland and launch in supermarkets.