We’ll drink to that: Elgood’s Brewery in Wisbech marks 220 years of tradition

Head brewer Alan Pateman. Picture: Ian Burt

Head brewer Alan Pateman. Picture: Ian Burt - Credit: Archant

Fancy a pint? Fancy two million pints? Fancy several hundred million pints? The Wisbech Standard visits Elgood’s Brewery in Wisbech brewery which has been making beer on the same site for more than 220 years.

Elgood's Brewery, Wisbech. Picture: Ian Burt

Elgood's Brewery, Wisbech. Picture: Ian Burt - Credit: Archant

A job as a beer taster would be living the dream for many, but for the three sisters running one of the country’s oldest breweries, it is nowhere near the top of the list of why they love Elgood’s.

They are proud of their award-winning beers, proud of the history and traditions of their brewery, proud that Wisbech beer is being drunk around the region, country and world, proud of their pubs, and proud of being the latest Elgoods to continue the family brewing business and blend tradition and innovation to ensure its future.

All three are expert beer tasters too. “We have some meetings when we have to come in at 9am and start tasting beer!” said Jenny Everall. Her sister, managing director Belinda Sutton, explained that although morning is when the palette is working best, even being the fifth generation of a brewing family has not given her a love of beer for breakfast.

Around two million pints of beer are made every year at beautiful Elgood’s Brewery on the banks of the Nene.

The building itself is listed, a grand 18th-century façade, stretching along the slow-flowing river.

Inside, in an alchemy of grain and hops and yeast, beer is created and flows through the brewery from mash tuns and giant kettles to vast copper cooling trays, and then into barrels and bottles to be sent out to pubs.

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Black Dog, Golden Newt, Cambridge Bitter, Warrior, Talon Stout, North Brink Porter, apple and vanilla wheat beer, they all begin as sacks of grain and hops stored high in the building. They are mixed with water piped from beneath the low chalk hills of mid-Norfolk, and fermented with the brewery’s special yeast.

Recipes have been handed down through generations of the Elgood family and are still a closely-guarded secret.

Today the chairman is Nigel Elgood, who inherited the brewery from his father, and his three daughters are all directors.

Jenny Everall has her office in the brewery boardroom. A picture of her grandfather hangs behind her desk. “I had to move him because his eyes follow you around!” laughed Jenny.

Many people might worry about what their grandfather would think of the bottles of beer clustered on top of antique furniture, but here beer is the golden, dark or pale, liquid that is the lifeblood of the company.

A brewery was founded here in 1795 and taken over by the Elgood family in 1878. Although equipment and processes have been modernised many times, there is a strong ethos of holding on to the history of the brewery, so that many of vast containers have been re-lined, but are still used in every brew. One tank, re-lined in stainless steel so that it can still be used today, is as old as the brewery and was made just across the river in the Wisbech Foundry. The foundry is long gone, its site now the Asda car park, but the tank is still an essential part of the brewing process. Some have even been brought back into use, with the copper ‘coolship’ trays now a vital part of the new sour beer venture. Up a staircase a spherical copper dome almost fills an upper room. It glows, polished and precious like a majestic steam-punk museum exhibit, linked into the beer-creation by pipes, dials and vents. It is used to heat the liquor for the traditional lambic-style beer Elgood’s now exports to America.

New to them, and hugely popular today, it also links ancient and modern, using the wild yeast in the atmosphere in they way the first brewers would have done, millennia ago. Wild yeasts are encouraged to populate and ferment the beer by placing planks from a 225-year-old tree, blown down in the famous Elgood’s garden, above the coolships.

The building also includes venerable meeting rooms with ornate fireplaces and ceilings, the archway through which heavy horses would once have pulled cartloads of beer to take out to the pubs of Wisbech and surrounding villages and the cellars once used to store port. From here a tunnel runs into the beautiful brewery gardens, which have become a destination in their own right. Once part of the garden of nearby National Trust property Peckover House, they feature specimen trees brought back from across the world, a lake, and a maze planted in the shape of a yard of ale.

Everything leads back to the beer at Elgood’s.

Elgood’s runs regular tours of the brewery, and its museum and gardens, on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays from April to October.

Visitors can buy beer from the brewery all year round and there is also a summer programme of events.

Elgood’s Brewery, North Brink, Wisbech. PE13 1LW. www.elgoods-brewery.co.uk