Beer Background
Greene King (Our Heritage, Our Passion. Your IPA)
News

Why Henley is tasting Special again

Added: Thursday, May 2nd 2013

Brakspear Special returns to Henley-on-Thames

Pub operator Brakspear is returning to its brewing roots with the opening of a new microbrewery in Henley-on-Thames. The Bell Street Brewery will brew Brakspear Special, a long-time favourite ale in and around the town, which was brewed at the original Brakspear brewery in New Street.

The brewery sits within Brakspear’s newly-redeveloped Bull on Bell Street pub. Malcolm Mayo, who from 2001 was quality manager at Marston’s Wychwood Brewery where Brakspear beers are brewed, is in charge of the brewing, with help from the Bull team.

The Bell Street Brewery will produce four barrels of Brakspear Special a week, most of it for sale in the Bull, with limited quantities being made available to other pubs in Henley and surrounding areas. 

Brakspear Special, a 4.3% ABV classic bitter, was originally brewed in Henley for over 40 years before production of all Brakspear beers transferred to Witney in 2004, along with much of the original brewing equipment from Henley – including the famous "double drop" fermentation vessels. Brakspear Bitter and Oxford Gold are still brewed by Marston’s at Witney, and Brakspear Special has been brewed there and offered as a seasonal ale to Brakspear pubs -- an arrangement that will remain in place for the rest of the estate.

Tom Davies, Brakspear chief executive, said, “Brewing was as much a part of the Brakspear business as pubs until the sale of the brewery in 2002, and cask ale is still a vital part of our pubs’ appeal.  Brakspear Special achieved near-legendary status in and around Henley, so bringing it back to the town and restoring the link between brewery and pubs seems the right move and one which has been welcomed locally. It feels great for Brakspear to be brewing again.

 “We’re delighted that Malcolm has come on board to brew Brakspear Special for us: there is nobody in the country with a better understanding of the beer and how to brew it. We’re confident that the beer brewed at the Bell Street Brewery is now ready to be enjoyed by the many Brakspear Special enthusiasts in Henley.”

A further seasonal range is also being developed and Brakspear is looking at a programme of collaborative brews with its tenants. Davies added, “We want to bring ale back to the forefront of our publicans’ minds and there is no better way to do this than by involving them in brewing their own beer.”

Malcolm Mayo said, “Having been involved with Brakspear Special for many years, I’ve enjoyed playing a part in its move back to Henley. Recreating it in new surroundings has been a relatively smooth process, with the first trial brew coming out almost spot on.  We’ve done some refining since then and now have a beer that is Brakspear Special as it was meant to be – a classic, well-balanced English bitter.”

He added, “Brakspear have installed high-quality, British made brewery equipment at the Bell Street Brewery, which has been a pleasure to brew with. Although the process is slightly different here, in that there is no whirlpool and the system uses whole hops, the principles are the same.

“At the end of the boil, the hops are retained by a perforated plate at the bottom of the copper and form a filter bed along the lines of a traditional hop back. The yeast used was the original Brakspear strain, provided by Wychwood Brewery.”

Aiding Malcolm in the brewery are a handful of team members from the Bull. Over time, everyone working at the pub, both front of house and in the kitchen, will be trained to brew and will spend time regularly in the brewery. Davies said, “We’re keen to make the brewery an integral part of the pub. With training, everyone at the Bull will understand how Brakspear Special is produced and will take great pride in selling it to their customers.”

Brakspear Special was created as a "special" version of the popular 3.5% ABV Brakspear Bitter, brewed from the same ingredients including Fuggles and Goldings hops but delivering a more intense flavour. 

  • Brakspears brewing heritage dates back to 1711, when William Brakspear founded a brewery at 65 Bell Street, Henley-on-Thames. The brewery then moved to New Street, where it can still be seen today, although it has been converted into residential flats and a hotel. The new microbrewery is situated is in the Bull on Bell Street at 57-59 Bell Street, just over 100ft from where the original Brakspear brewery stood. 
  • The success of Brakspears ales meant that brewing had to be relocated to larger premises several times, but it remained in Henley until 2002, when the Brakspear family exited direct brewing. 
  • Brakspear beers have been brewed at the Wychwood Brewery in Witney, Oxfordshire, since 2004, firstly by Refresh UK and now by MarstonsBetween 2002 and 2004, the beersy were brewed by Burtonwood Brewery. During this time, the Witney brewery was chosen to brew Brakspear beers, and refurbished to accommodate the extra volume and requirements.