The story of Ruddles is a snapshot of craft brewing in Britain over the last century and more, of the survival of good beer in spite of corporate ping-pong with the brewery itself. But sadly it is also the story of the loss of something unique and of its place, perhaps of the soul of the beer.
In fact the story of Ruddles goes back further than Ruddles itself: the brewery that in 1912 became Ruddles was established in Langham, Rutland , in 1858, said to brew particularly excellent beer because of the fine quality of the water there. Ruddles, a family firm until it lost its independence in 1986, was committed to good beer well made even in the dark days of the 1970s, when finding a decent pint without excess carbon dioxide was all too often a fruitless task. The stubby little Ruddles bottles stood out in design terms on supermarket shelves, and once tasted beer aficionados returned to the brew time and again – Ruddles County being the flagship ale.
County was a delightful beer, round and hoppy thanks to the Goldings, Fuggles, Challenger and Bramling Cross whole hops used in making it: the resulting flavour was fruity and dry, a world apart from the industrial horrors dominating the market when real ale was at its lowest ebb.
Watneys, purveyors of some of those industrial brews, bought Ruddles in 1986; it then passed to Grolsch, who kept the brewery in Rutland. But when Morlands took over they moved the production to Abingdon and then more corporate manoeuvrings saw the Abingdon brewery closed and Ruddles shifted to Greene King ’s Suffolk home.
In spite of all these changes Ruddles in its various guises remains a flavoursome brew, though it seems the recipes have not been adhered to in the strictest fashion, and of course the Langham water that made it special in the now distant past is no longer used.
From Tony Davis on 29th October 2009
The Ruddle's story does not finish here. I was Head Brewer / Production Director at Ruddle's Brewery for 16 years having left just prior to its demise in Rutland. During its final years I set up The Grainstore Brewery in Oakham using many of the methods used during the 'Family Owned' era. We tailored a beer known as "Ten Fifty" to match Ruddles County in flavour and strength. Sadly the strength and hence the flavour of County have both been reduced since it moved to being brewed by Greene King in Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk. "Ten Fifty" is the nearest thing to the original beer 'County', that was brewed in Rutland. The Grainstore Brewery in Oakham brewed its first beer in Nov 1994 and has employed ex-Ruddles workers and remained true to the heritage and methods used by the original Langham Brewery. The Grainstore Brewery is open to visitors by appointment and has a Brewery Tap open to the public from 11am to 11pm every day. Check out the web site Grainstorebrewery.com