Well beloved brewers
Almost a century and a half of brewing expertise, and an ongoing thirst to create a truly innovative, forward-thinking beer range, help to set Wells & Co. apart from its peers
Astalwart of the Bedfordshire area for many years, the Wells family have been brewing great beer since 1876. Now it is fifth generation, the family’s legacy stands tall in the form of Wells & Co., an independent, family-owned brewery with an estate of well-loved, award-winning pubs that sit at the heart of their respective communities.
Winding the clock back to 1876, it was then that Charles Wells purchased the Horne Lane brewery, situated on the banks of the River Ouse in Bedford, as well as 36 pubs at auction. For the next 100 years, beer was brewed at Horne Lane, until ultimately the business needed to upscale in order to keep up with rising demand. It achieved this by moving to a more modern site on Havelock Street in Queen’s Park, with the site completed at a cost of £3.6 million in 1976.
Then, in 2017, Havelock Street brewery – along with most of the company’s beer brands – were sold to Marston’s. This signaled a move away from higher volume national sales, and saw a renewed focus on specialty ale and lager brands that appealed to modern consumers. The deal also gave the company the resources needed to begin designing what would come to be its new, state-of-the-art home, Brewpoint.
“The creation of our new home and the growing investment in our managed pubs is reflective of our strategy to meet the changing needs of the next generation of customers,” explains Wells & Co. Managing Director, Peter Wells. “The switch of name in 2019 from Charles Wells to Wells & Co. echoes this. The new name also embodies the change of direction we have taken as a business following the Marston’s deal.”
While Wells & Co. is far from the only longstanding family brewer out there, the extent of its efforts to bring the business into the competitive, contemporary brewing market of today is definitely something that stands out. “With the definition of craft beer being blurred in recent years – as larger corporations continue attempts to cash in on the trend – Wells & Co. represents an authentic, family-orientated brand that is passionate about creating exceptional, progressive beer,” Peter adds. “The sale of the Havelock Street brewery in 2017, gave us the opportunity to really focus on building the best portfolio of quality pubs that we possibly could, and now, with the brewing side of our operations back on home turf in the form of Brewpoint, we truly do possess the complete package.”
Having begun construction during the summer of 2019, Brewpoint is now complete, and officially began brewing during October 2020. Spread across 20,000-square-feet of land, and encompassing a range of facilities including a pub-restaurant, retail shop, coffee roastery, offices, and a visitor center, it is a landmark build for Bedford. “Brewpoint brings each of the aforementioned facilities under one roof, all in the name of creating exceptional beer,” Peter continues. “A special mention has to go to Clegg Food Projects, a national specialist in the construction of food and drink manufacturing facilities, which has overseen the development of the building. It was involved in almost every aspect of the build, from the installation of the site’s electrics through to the fitting of specialist brewing equipment.
“The sheer size of Brewpoint isn’t the only impressive aspect, as there are a number of intricate and state-of-the-art installations that were also brought in. For example, the main brewing plant has been designed with air source heating and cooling, solar cells on the roof, and solar shading, all to ensure that the building is as energy efficient and as future-proofed as possible. Meanwhile, in terms of brewing, the new site will be capable of producing 30,000 hectoliters of beer each year, which is equivalent to a staggering five million pints. In addition, Brewpoint also hosts a smaller 100 liter brewing facility, which will provide a continual stream of new beers to try at the site’s bar every week.”
The first two beers to roll out of Brewpoint and into Wells & Co. pubs were Origin Pale Ale and On Point Pale Ale. “Origin takes Wells & Co. back to their roots as cask brewers. This classic 3.7% ABV session ale will delight fans of real, no-nonsense beer. Malt sweetness balances perfectly with crisp bitterness, all complemented by tropical fruit and citrus late notes,” Peter states. “In On Point, you will find an easy-drinking, character-laden pale ale. This 4.0% ABV keg offering boasts bright tropical and citrus hop flavors on a light malt base with low bitterness.”
Other launch highlights include Viennese Charm, a specialty style brewed to the German Purity Law incorporating premium pilsner and Vienna malts with Noble hops at 4.8% ABV; Alpha, a big, bold 6.7% ABV interpretation of an America IPA with supercharged pine and grapefruit ensuring no shortage of flavor; and Hop & Heart, a modern, juicy 6.2% ABV New England IPA featuring huge bursts of passion fruit, bright citrus and mango; Ink Well, a full-bodied 5.2% ABV stout with subtle hop aroma and rich caramel, nutty flavors; and Wit a Minute, Brewpoint’s 5.0% ABV take on a classic Belgian Wit that weaves layers of orange, subtle banana and warm spice blend with a smooth palate and slightly dry, zesty finish.
Another unique feature of Brewpoint is that it sees Wells & Co. venturing into coffee roasting. “The onsite coffee roasting facility was born out of the idea that Brewpoint needed to be an attraction for all Bedfordians,” Peter enthuses. “Of course, the brewery will be a beer-lovers dream, but Brewpoint needed to offer something so people can enjoy the experience without having a beer. Being located where the site is, just off the A6 outside of Bedford, and with most guests arriving by some form of transport on wheels it was clear that the venue needed to provide something for drivers.
“Adding yet another dynamic to the Brewpoint offering, and appealing to lots of different customers, coffee roasting felt like a natural fit for the premises. Its production celebrates the same craftsmanship as brewing, providing great quality produce right on our doorstep. Also, it is not just on-site visitors that will benefit from the site having its own coffee roastery. It will also provide the opportunity to send coffee beans direct to managed pubs, offering sites consistently good coffee at exceptional value.”
The company’s ongoing success, however, would not be possible without what Peter calls its ‘family of colleagues’, and as such it works hard to promote internal succession and career growth. “Between head office roles at Brewpoint, the fast-track development program, Rising Stars, management roles in pubs, a roster of amazing apprentices, and even the opportunity to serve la biére as part of Wells & Co. France, there are roles to suit a wide variety of backgrounds and interests,” Peter confirms. “Those who go the extra mile are rewarded via Wells & Co’s Values Heroes programme, which sees high flyers nominated by their peers under one or more of five company values: We’re In It Together, Everyone Counts, Learn to Improve, Love What We Do, and Shout About Success.
“To celebrate the outstanding achievements and efforts of our leased and tenanted Pub Partners, we also run an annual awards ceremony in Bedford. It aims to champion the best performing pub partners within our UK estate, as a panel of judges from different areas of the business select winning pubs for each of the ten awards, some of which include Best Premium Food Offer, Best Cellar and Best Traditional Food. The ceremony includes a lavish three-course dinner and drinks for attendees, as well as fundraising opportunities for our corporate charity, Prostate Cancer UK.”
Turning to 2020, and the impact that the Covid-19 pandemic has had on the hospitality trade, it is refreshing to hear from Peter that despite the restrictions placed on the industry, Wells & Co. has weathered the storm remarkably well, and that the current mood within the business is one of resilience and optimism. “It has been an incredibly tough time for the industry, and it has been an unavoidable challenge across the Wells & Co. pub estate too. However, we continue to give our absolute attention to ensuring the wellbeing and security for both our valued employees and customers,” he says.
Wells & Co. was one of the first major pubcos to introduce a rent deferment for its leased and tenanted sites. A full rent credit was given in March, with Pub Partners then charged just ten per cent of their rent (to cover the domestic element) for the following three months. Payment of this ten per cent was then deferred for six months.
“Since re-opening our pubs in July, Wells & Co. has worked tirelessly to ensure the safety of our customers and colleagues, and this message of safety has been constantly reiterated across our estate. Pubs are currently closed during ‘Lockdown 2’, but our teams are ready to hit the ground running as soon as trade is allowed to recommence. The hospitality industry is one made up some of the UK’s most hard-working and innovative people and we remain confident that together we can overcome this,” Peter declares.
Moving forward, Wells & Co. aims to continue being a leading custodian of skill and talent in the industry, utilizing both its heritage and the latest techniques, bringing to market both an exceptional range of classic and innovative beers, and quality, well-loved pubs with local communities at their hearts.
“The creation of our beautifully designed new home is a statement of confidence about our future direction as a company,” Peter concludes. “Brewpoint will be capable of producing a range of beer styles that the business would not have even dreamed of ten years ago, while our new home and the growing investment in our managed pubs is reflective of our plans to meet the changing needs of the next generation of customers.”