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Adnams' £7m investment provides sufficient capacity for all the company's current kegging requirements, with room to spare, says head brewer Fergus Fitzgerald

Adnams embraces kegged beers

Adnams Brewery is kegging beers on its Southwold site for the first time in its 145-year history.

A Lambrechts kegging line and 16 150-barrel fermentation and conditioning vessels from GEA are being installed to enable the company to begin packaging its own keg beers from this month.

The kit takes up the last of the storage space on site, which means the brewery will be going over to just-in-time production. 

Head brewer Fergus Fitzgerald said the £7m investment will provide “enough capacity for all our kegging with room for growth” with the initial focus on Dry Hop Lager, Mosaic Pale Ale and Earl Grey Lager, which was a hit at the recent Craft Beer Rising event.

Some 16% of Adnams’ production is currently kegged by Marston’s and distributed direct from there. 

Fitzgerald noted that cask ale has shrunk to 60% of Adnams’ production.

“We want cask to continue to be an important part of what we do, and it’s easier to innovate with cask, though smaller margins are an issue and competition is fierce. 

“We used to do four or five cask ales a year, and now there’s a bigger rotation of beers because of the demand for change from the trade – which is a danger for the quality of cask.

“Kegging helps spread the risk for us. When you think of it, in the early 1900s all we did was mild ale. We’re like Madonna, always doing something new.”

Indeed, innovation continues apace at the family brewer, which in April entered the low-alcohol market with the launch of a 0.5% abv beer called Southwold Pale for Marks & Spencer. Adnams is also reducing the strength of its 2.7% brew Sole Star to 0.9%.

Fitzgerald explained, “Sole Star went well at first then sales plateaued because, I think, it’s neither one thing nor the other.”

Following Earl Grey Lager, a clementine-flavoured pale ale will be introduced for the summer, followed by a coffee porter which is also going into Marks & Spencer.

“M&S has been good for us because it’s keen on doing something different,” said Fitzgerald. “We did a Sorachi Saison for them two years ago, which was ahead of its time, really, and have recently done a Grapefruit IPA.”

A new cask ale for summer, Freewheel, is brewed with all English hops – Endeavour, Jester and Ernest, the last “an old hop developed in the 1970s and rejected for having too much grapefruit flavour!”

Collaboration brews are planned, too, with SixoNorth, Magic Rock and Florida’s Cigar City. 

Craft spirits on the up

Meanwhile, the rising popularity of craft spirits means that the Adnams micro-distillery has been put on 24-hour production to keep up with demand. Volumes hit 100,000 litres last year, up 66%, with growth driven by Copper House Gin.

Such is its success that, according to Fitzgerald, “someone at Craft Beer Rising said they didn’t know we did beer as well!”

Diversification is certainly working well for the company as it reported sales records across the business in 2016 with beer volumes increasing by 9%. Overall turnover was up 7% to £70.3m but operating profit was down 3.8% to £3.9m.

“We have witnessed some substantial changes in our business over a short period,” said chairman Jonathan Adnams. “The long-term shift towards beer being bought from supermarkets and other shops, with less being sold in pubs, has continued, and the taste for high quality products from small producers has also grown. 

“We have been closely watching these trends and adapting our business accordingly.

“While we are, and remain committed to being, a major cask ale producer, it was the sale of beer in kegs, bottles and cans that drove our increased production in the last year. These changes emphasise the importance of the new investments in our brewery.”

Adnams’ £7 million capital expenditure not only includes the automated kegging line but also extensions to its beer conditioning and filtration capacities.

Phil Mellows
June 15th, 2017


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