A Woodforde's Winter Wonderland
Woodforde’s brewery, based in Woodbastwick, in The Broads, really comes into its own in winter. The brewery’s open weekend, traditionally the first weekend of December, has become a firm fixture on the calendar, and gets bigger and better every year, with up to 5000 people visiting and making the most of the fact that the brewery will be open for free tours.

This year it has been renamed as a Magical Christmas Market, with more than 30 food producers expected to attend. Meanwhile, the brewery shop will be full of hampers, Norfolk Nog Christmas Puddings, and seasonal brew Tinsel Toes. It’s a customer favourite released every year, but this year the ruby ale has been rebranded. In fact, Woodforde’s underwent a massive rebranding in early autumn. Under the directorship of Chief Executive James Hughes and Chief Operating Officer Nick Dolan, Norfolk’s biggest brewer has linked with the legacy and identity of Norfolk’s favourite son, and one of Britain’s greatest military heroes, Admiral Lord Horatio Nelson.

James says: ‘The new branding this year has been a huge change for us. We launched in September at Norwich Castle Museum - where we sponsored the Nelson and Norfolk exhibition, complete with limited edition bottles of Nelson’s Revenge beer - and it has been very well received. We love Norfolk and we’ve taken on board Nelson’s values, particularly his famous quote ‘I am a Norfolk man and glory in being so’.’

The adjoining Fur and Feather pub has also seen a big change, in that it’s been acquired by Woodforde’s. James adds: ‘The other big step this year is that it is now in-house and our brewery tap, so this is a complete site now: with a brewery, a brewery shop, and a pub.’

At the helm of the Fur and Feather is new Executive Head Chef, and Feast Norfolk’s very own columnist, Charlie Hodson. He sounds happy at his new home: ‘We’ve got an amazing brewery with amazing ale and then we have this beautiful pub that sits in front of it.’ The location, next to cows grazing in the fields, is ‘stunning on a wintry day.’ Just a 10-minute walk away from The Broads, it has been a destination pub for tourists for years. Although he makes the point: ‘We want it to be the hub of the village, like it used to be, as well.’ Besides, as he says: ‘It has to be a local pub, because we depend on locals in the winter.’

Charlie is a well-known Norfolk food hero, and in-house designer Adam Livingstone has drawn up two food maps, meaning diners know exactly where their food has come from, and has taken photos of the likes of Tim Allen and his pigs, Coxfords Butchers; Archer’s Butchers; The Fruit Pig Company, Candi’s Chutneys, and Crush Foods. ‘All the food comes from within a 32 mile radius,’ says Charlie, who adds: ‘There are three stages I need to develop: the food, the bar offering, and events. Firstly, there’s a completely new menu, offering “really good, local food, cooked and served simply. When Woodforde’s Brewery changed all its branding, we thought ‘we need to do it now’.’

The Christmas menu, available until December 23, offers mains such as Roast Norfolk Turkey from Norton Farms, Herb Roasted Norfolk Beef, and Baked Haddock (with Norfolk Saffron Hollandaise). There’s even cranberry ketchup, a collaboration between Charlie’s Food Heroes and Woodforde’s. Charlie says: ‘We want to make Christmas all about family, with no separate children’s menu – just smaller versions.’

And if you work in the hospitality industry and are unable to get time off before Christmas, celebrate in January instead, invites Charlie (there’ll even be a discount in it for you!). As for the bar, the Fur and Feather stocks the full range of Woodforde’s beers, which are just as locally sourced, as James says: ‘We use water from our own borehole and grain supplied by Crisp Malting, based out in Great Ryburgh.’

Wild Knight Vodka, Nelson’s Gold and Norfolk Gin are very much in evidence behind the bar (and also on the menu), plus last month there was a staff tasting of wines from local vineyards, and spirits from local distilleries – so watch this space.

These days, Woodforde’s is much more visible as a brand, sponsoring events such as the inaugural Festive Food Fair at Holkham Hall this month, to give just one example. Then, in January, a team from Woodforde’s will accompany Archer’s Butchers, as they compete in the Great Sausage Roll Off, held at The Red Lion in Barnes, London, with the aim of returning to Norfolk victorious. Charlie, last year’s winner, says: ‘We’ve got a special ingredient going in from the brewery!’

By the end of this year, former head brewer Neil Bain will make his return to Woodforde’s. And there are exciting times ahead, as James says: ‘There will be extra investment in the brewery, with extra plant machinery, to keep up with supply and demand, with new staff as well. And you’ll start to see us more nationally.’ Sounds like Woodforde’s is about to become a British brewing hero.

Visit www.woodfordes.co.uk

Copyright © 2015 Feast Norfolk Magazine