Adnams' real ale 'showrooms': committment to quality ale

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The Cask Marque initiative to defend the quality of real ale originated in Southwold, the home of Adnams. We examine the brewer's success with real...

The Cask Marque initiative to defend the quality of real ale originated in Southwold, the home of Adnams. We examine the brewer's success with real ale in its own pubs.

Adnams is one of the founders of the Cask Marque ale scheme - and when you see the emphasis it places on quality it's not difficult to understand why.

Adnams is committed to producing top cask ales and has invested heavily in making sure its products are served in tip-top condition.

Its 96 tenanted pubs act as "showrooms" for the beers and all have ale python drivers fitted to ensure the products are served at the correct temperature - in winter or summer.

The company strongly supports the Cask Marque initiative which was dreamed up by itself and three other brewers and is now being co-ordinated on a full-time basis by Adnams' former board member Paul Nunny.

The scheme aims to ensure cask ale standards in all pubs across the country by recognising licensees who pass quality control tests.

Based in the small Suffolk town of Southwold, the brewer is proud of the fact that it has maintained beer volumes in a "shrinking market".

"Everything we do at Adnams is of quality and for this reason we have been able to hold on to beer volumes," said joint managing director Jonathan Adnams.

The company is currently brewing about 58,000 barrels out of a capacity of around 100,000. It has freetrade accounts in Anglia and London and beers are available nationwide through distributors. Fifty-five per cent of beers are supplied outside Anglia.

Jonathan Adnams sees the company continuing to brew well into the next century, and although the regionals are cutting down on their brewing to concentrate on retailing, this is not considered an option.

Jonathan Adnams said: "By the year 2010, we will still be producing ales, we may have a slightly enlarged tenanted estate and we may have expanded our managed house division (currently at three) should the opportunity arise."

To fulfil the company's aims, there have been a number of changes at the 110-year-old brewer.

Last year saw a shake-up in structure with Jonathan Adnams taking on shared managing directorship with Hugh Robert, and Bernard Seagrave-Daly appointed deputy chairman from his former position of MD.

Recently the company has re-organised its distribution arrangements, announcing plans to close both its Cambridge and Heathrow sites. The move will result in a small number of redundancies but aims to make distribution "faster, more flexible and cost effective".

Away from brewing, the company is not making any huge effort to expand its estate and has remained fairly static over the past few years.

However, it is investing in individual houses and is also looking at re-defining some of its pubs to meet the needs of today's customers.

Chairman Simon Loftus said it was looking at categorising its traditional pubs which offer accommodation and consistent standards into the Adnams Inns division.

Concepts and theming is something the company is not interested in looking at, believing there will always be a need for its traditional tenancies.

"We are firm believers in the tenanted system," said Jonathan Adnams.

"It is what this industry is built on and small companies like ours needs a tied estate to survive."

The company actively involves itself in campaigns if it feel it will boost trade at its houses. It is fighting for duty harmonisation and is strongly opposed to plans to reduce the drink-drive limits.

On this matter it has been in contact with several MPs. "This will be a death-knell for rural pubs," said Jonathan Adnams.

With an annual turnover of £36m, £4m of that comes from its wine division. The Wine Merchants has grown from a small department to one which is renowned and sells nationwide.

It imports a large range of wine from around the world which is available to the trade and individuals through its Cellar and Kitchen store in Southwold.

The wine interest is an added bonus but at the end of the day, Adnams is a brewer and proud of it. It is moving to meet the ever-changing demands of customers but refuses to let go of its tradition and heritage.

If you visit the brewery, complete with horse-drawn drays, you will understand why.

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