The Duchess ‘swings the valentine’ in the brewery, watched by head brewer, Alex Arkell
Arkell’s Brewery today welcomed HRH The Duchess of Cornwall to help celebrate the Swindon business’s 175th anniversary year.
Brewery 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 how the name came to be).
The Duchess toured the brewery, met dozens of Arkell’s staff, many of them local families who have had members working at the brewery as long as the Arkells 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 limited edition, bottled beer will have an ABV of 4.2% and will be available at Arkell’s Brewery’s Grape and Grain Warehouse from around the second week of February.
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, who are managing director and head brewer respectively.
The Arkell family work at the brewery alongside generations of other local families, brewing real ale and looking after nearly 100 pubs across Wiltshire, Gloucestershire, Oxfordshire, Berkshire and Hampshire.
The brewery is planning a year-long anniversary celebration, including a beer festival at its Kingsdown Brewery on September 15.
James Arkell added: “Arkell’s pubs sit at the heart of our local communities and they are at the heart of everything we do.”