15 June 2013

Wadworth 6X 1923-2013

It was a rare privilege to be invited to attend the 90th anniversary event for Wadworth 6X at Coopers' Hall on Friday 24 May 2013. Located in Devonshire Square, near Liverpool Street station, Coopers' Hall is the home of the Worshipful Company of Coopers, one of 108 livery companies in the City of London. A cooper is someone who makes wooden casks usually for beer in England and for whisky in Scotland.
Coopers' Hall, London on a wet day in May.
The Wadworth brewery is in Devizes, Wiltshire. Alastair Simms, a Master Cooper, was employed there by Wadworth & Co Ltd for 18 years until he left recently to set up his own cooperage company in his native Yorkshire. Alastair was at the event and explained that he would continue to do occasional contract work for Wadworth.
Alastair Simms, Master Cooper
It was interesting to learn from him that the only other breweries in the country with coopers are Marston's, Theakston's and Samuel Smith. Wooden beer casks are made from cut down whisky or red wine casks. Alastair works with traditional hand tools and uses no glue to make oak beer casks. He mentioned that making a pin (4.5 gallons) is harder than making a firkin (9 gallons)
On arrival we were able to sample a glass of Wadworth 6X (4.3% ABV) in preparation for a later opportunity to compare its flavours with those of a special 90th anniversary version of 6X (6% ABV) which had also featured as one of the beers in the recent JD Wetherspoon real ale festival.

Head Brewer, Brian Yorston, with Wadworth brewery book.
Once gathered in the basement museum of Coopers' Hall, we heard from Wadworth Head Brewer, Brian Yorston, about the naming of 6X and the ingredients for the 90th anniversary version of 6X. He showed us some of the old brewing record books that are still used for recording brewing and for reference purposes.
The term X originated in the Middle Ages when the monks who brewed beer marked the casks with X, XX, XXX or XXXX to indicate the strength.
After the first world war, the Wadworth XXXX beer was brewed at two strength levels with a lighter 'Harvest Ale' version for the summer months. In 1923, the brewery decided to rename the stronger beer 6X, probably to reflect its original strength of 6% ABV. Beer strengths were reduced during the second world war and since 1943 6X has been brewed at 4.3% ABV.
In 2013, the original 1923 brew recipe was used to recreate a 6% ABV version of 6X for the 90th anniversary. The old brewing books showed the ingredients used but not the hop varieties, just the farms the hops were sourced from. Brian and Second Brewer, Colin Oke, used Fuggles and Goldings hops for the special 6X but in different proportions than for the modern 6X.

Chairman, Charles Bartholomew, with anniversary cake and 6X beer.
In preparation for toasting the cutting of an anniversary cake, our glasses were filled with the special anniversary 6X. The 6% ABV version had an estery fruitiness with hints of tropical fruit, as well as a fuller body.
Charles Bartholomew, Wadworth Chairman, whose great great uncle Henry Wadworth designed and built the tower brewery at Devizes in 1885, now invited us to toast 6X.
There were examples of colourful handpainted pub signs from the brewery's sign shop to see but a trip to Devizes on a weekday is needed in order to see the Wadworth shire horses either in action with a brewery dray or else in their stables.

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