Arkell’s is Swindon’s oldest business, and one of just 29 old family breweries left in the UK.
Arkell’s Chairman James Arkell, said: “We were thrilled to welcome The Duchess, who met our family, many of our staff, shareholders and members of the local community. She toured the brewery and helped ‘swing the valentine’.”
Swinging the Valentine controls the flow of wort – liquid extracted from the mashing process during the brewing process – from the mash into the underback. It’s an essential part of the brewing process at Arkell’s, and the Wiltshire brewery is believed to be the only one in the country which still has a swinging valentine (it’s not known why it’s called a swinging valentine!).
The Duchess toured the brewery, met dozens of Arkell’s staff, many of them local families who have had family members working at the brewery as long as the Arkell’s themselves.
She also unveiled a plaque to officially open the brewery’s new shop and heritage centre, The Grape and Grain.
The Duchess Ale, brewed in her honour, has been made using barley (a variety called Plumage Archer) from Prince Charles’ Highgrove Estate near Tetbury. It’s the first time Arkell’s has brewed a beer using Plumage Archer, which gives a dark malty base to the beer. This is balanced by using tropical, fruity hops from America.
The brewery was established in 1843 as an offshoot to the family farm near Swindon, at the same time as Isambard Kingdom Brunel was building his Great Western Railway. Arkell’s beers helped quenched the thirst of workers in the locomotive works.
Swindon’s historic railway works may have closed in the 1980s, but Arkell’s Brewery continues to thrive, with four members of the Arkell’s family currently at the helm: Chairman James Arkell; his cousin Nick Arkell, Head of Wines and Spirits, and James’ sons George and Alex Arkell are Managing Director and Head Brewer respectively.
The brewery is also planning a year-long celebration, including a Beer Festival at its Kingsdown Brewery, on 15th September.
James Arkell added: “Arkell’s pubs sit at the heart of our local communities and they are at the heart of everything we do.”
Arkell’s ales include Award-winning beers such as Wiltshire Gold, 3Bs, Kingsdown and Hoperation. The brewery also brews an award-winning lager: 1843. Special ales are brewed regularly, with head brewer, Alex Arkell, keeping the art of craft ale alive, offering drinkers new tastes and flavours.