This year sees West Berkshire Brewery celebrating its 20th anniversary, a notable achievement in anyone’s book. As new entrants continue to stream into the market on the back of the growing popularity of real ales, the Thatcham-based company’s longevity stems from its reputation for consistency and quality that has seen it pick up numerous awards since its creation.
Beginning life as a five-barrel brewery, it quickly attracted acclaim for its Good Old Boy beer, which remains its flagship product. After a couple of relocations the company has now settled at its current brewery producing 30 barrels per batch, which equates to around 120 barrels a week, although the site has a potential capacity of 210 barrels.
“From Day One the business has been based on providing the finest quality beers we can produce, whilst at the same time offering high levels of personal service,” explains Will Twomey, Head Brewer. “We’ve also always looked to produce premium products at a fair price.
“In the last year or so the bottle sales have been increasing significantly, which I attribute to changing consumer habits with people drinking less in pubs and more at home, which has driven up sales in supermarkets and farm shops. With beer consumption falling, people are opting to have a couple of high quality beers rather than opting for the cheaper, mass-produced beers. This is something that has played into our hands rather nicely.”
The core of the business has developed by supplying local freehouses, which has been built up over the years to the extent that West Berkshire Brewery now supplies around 250 outlets, the majority of which are within a 40-mile radius allowing direct deliveries in the majority of cases.
“From Day One the business has been based on providing the finest quality beers we can produce, whilst at the same time offering high levels of personal service. We’ve also always looked to produce premium products at a fair price.”
Will Twomey, Head Brewer
To maximise its standing within the marketplace West Berkshire Brewery has a proactive approach to new product development with new beers being launched on a monthly basis for limited periods. “We tend to use our customers as guinea pigs,” adds Mr Twomey. “We have a core of eight permanent beers but we also do a monthly special so we have 12 unique beers every year. Typically I’ll start with style guidelines, so I’ll look at the type of beer I want to produce, whether it’s an IPA, a bitter or a stout. I then work backwards from there before doing a 5,000-litre brew and putting it on as a monthly special.
“We like to plan in advance to help with the marketing side of things and give customers a heads-up about what’s coming through in the months ahead. If anything proves particularly popular we’ll usually bring it back as a bottled beer. For example the Maharaja IPA that we do was originally a monthly special, as was the Swift Pale Ale we also do. It’s a nice test bed for us.
“With something like 140 new breweries created in England in 2013 alone, the sector is hugely populated. This level of competition is great from a quality perspective, as it drives everyone to produce ever better beers because that’s the best way to stand out.
“The heritage we have is definitely another key differentiator for ourselves and this longevity has only been achieved thanks to the consistency and reputation for quality that we have been able to build. Our beers are very drinkable and we strive to produce moreish products rather than developing extremely strong flavoured beers, although there’s nothing wrong with that either. Innovation is always a good thing but we prefer to develop session beers rather than beers that you would have half a pint of before moving onto something else.”
Although 2015 is a notable landmark in West Berkshire Brewery’s development, the company is already looking further ahead as it strives to write the next chapter in its history. “The aim over the next two to three years is to fill the capacity of the brewery to 210 barrels a year,” concludes Mr Twomey. “This will represent quite a challenge from a sales perspective and will require additional staff but with our experience and the continuing demand in the marketplace we’re confident we’ll achieve this objective.”