It’s hard to imagine a destination where F&B is more integral to the offering than The Swan, the flagship hotel of one of the UK’s largest independent breweries, Adnams.

Based in the sleepy Suffolk town of Southwold about two hours north east of London, The Swan is at the very heart of the local community not least because of its central position overlooking the quaint market place. The earliest record of brewing at the site was back in 1345, though it wasn’t until 1872 that Adnams bought the hotel along with the brewery and since then, the fate of The Swan and the business has been intertwined. So much so, in fact, that when The Swan closed for a refurbishment in early 2017, the £70m-turnover company warned investors that the temporary closure would have a material impact on its annual results.

During Supper’s visit, however, it quickly becomes apparent that Adnams is playing the long game here, seizing what it viewed as “a once-in-a-generation opportunity” to transform the hotel and create a gateway to the brand. The modern-day Adnams sells its products around the world. This includes beers such as Ghost Ship and Southwold Bitter made in its brewery; spirits such as East Coast Vodka, Copper House Dry Gin and Single Malt Whisky made in its distillery; but also a bewildering array of other F&B products that carry the Adnams name, from sloe gin, limoncello and prosecco to tomato ketchup, crisps and even Christmas puddings. Adnams is evidently moving with the times, and The Swan is doing the same.

“The brief was for a redesign of the hotel that respects the building’s heritage whilst updating it with a fresh contemporary edge that reflects the core values of the Adnams brand and embodies the quintessence of Southwold and the Suffolk coast,” explains Christopher Ash, co-founder of London-based interior design firm Project Orange. “We prepared an initial concept pitch that related the stories of future imagined visitors to the renovated Swan, describing in both words and imagery what they would see, touch, experience and how the culture and products of Adnams would permeate this experience.”

It was clear from the outset that F&B had to sit at the core of the project. “Food and beverage is very important to The Swan, both for our local customers and our overnight guests,” says General Manager Craig Ripley. “The Swan is all about relaxation and switching off, and food and drink play a key part in that. Plus ‘drink’ is what Adnams is in the business of, so we pride ourselves on delivering a great drinks experience.”

Hotel lounge for guests of The Swan in Southwold

The Swan has an ace up its sleeve to help realise this vision – it occupies the same site as Adnams’ brewery and distillery. Guests staying at the hotel are encouraged to book onto brewery or distillery tours next door followed by tutored tastings. More unusual is the Adnams Make Your Own Gin Experience, in which guests are paired with a gin maker and guided through the process of selecting around six to 12 botanicals from a choice of more than 30, then taken through the distillation process to create a 70cl bottle of gin to take home.

For many guests, immersive experiences such as these are the sole reason that they’ve come to Southwold in the first place. Adnams has cleverly recognised the value of this growing market by offering experiential packages such as A Taste of Adnams, which combines accommodation, a tour and the optional Make Your Own Gin Experience upgrade at a discounted price.

Adnams’ presence can also be felt inside the walls of the hotel. “Our concept placed themes of brewing and distilling, Suffolk and the seaside at its core,” explains Ash. “We were also mindful to respect the heritage of The Swan and therefore proposed designs that mixed the old with the new, retaining and celebrating much of the original antique furniture and art and combining these with new quirky bespoke pieces.”

This approach manifests itself most clearly in The Swan’s two restaurants, named The Still Room and The Tap Room to reflect Adnams’ brewing and distilling traditions.

The Still Room, open for lunch and dinner daily, is The Swan’s signature restaurant. The 54-seat space is dominated by a spectacular centrepiece copper bar that positively glows in the soft light of the room, an effect amplified by the extensive use of glass in the back bar, and bespoke feature bottle lights that run the length of the restaurant. The largely modern British fare created by Head Chef Ross Bott, formerly of One Canada Square, champions local produce and wastes no opportunity to showcase the Adnams’ brand with thoughfully presented dishes such as 56-day aged ribeye, Adnams Blackshore Stout shallot, bone marrow crème fraiche; Adnams Copper House Gin-cured salmon served with beetroot gel, and squid ink cracker; and Adnams Ghost Ship mussels. Plates by G&G Goodfellows reflect the elegance of the space and let the food do the talking, while the glassware and cutlery by Utopia bring a reassuringly classic feel to the contemporary styling.

The bustling Tap Room, meanwhile, has a more informal and pub-like atmosphere with six Adnams’ beers on cask and more on keg, alongside an extensive food menu served daily. It’s effectively split into three distinct sections partitioned by internal walls and windows but brought together by the deep-blue-and-white colour scheme and wooden flooring, as well as the quirky bric-a-brac, seafaring and brewing paraphernalia artfully placed in every available nook and cranny.

Dining room of The Swan's signature restaurant The Still Room

The Swan also has a drawing room catering to the effervescent afternoon tea market. Ash picks this out as his favourite space in the hotel, hailing its “transformation from dowdy lounge to a bright, fresh and quirky room that is both modern and traditional, formal yet utterly relaxed”. And there are two private dining rooms; the daylight-filled Reading Room seats 20 on the first floor and is licensed for civil ceremonies, while the intimate Juniper Room seats eight just off The Still Room.

The Swan’s general manager is in no doubt that the revamp has helped the property to up its focus on F&B. “Previously The Swan was very much focused on being a hotel and delivering a hotel experience”, says Ripley. “The old restaurant really just serviced the hotel guests. Our ambition for the new Swan F&B offer is to appeal as much to passing trade as to our hotel guests.”

The early signs are promising if Supper’s visit is anything to go by. Even in midweek, both The Still Room and The Tap Room are doing a good trade with the latter in particular proving popular among locals thanks to its extensive real ale offering, while the drawing room is also pulling in a steady stream of coffee and tea drinkers who are able to watch the world go by from its large bay windows. Doubtless many customers will then be inspired to move onto one of the other five Adnams’ pubs that lie within a 15-minute walk, creating a halo effect that benefits all.

“Undertaking a thorough refurb has enabled us to question every detail and ensure that it is a true representation of the Adnams brand,” concludes Ripley. “Just as the Adnams brand is fun, friendly and innovative, we hope those values come through in The Swan too, through our staff and atmosphere, in the interior design and in our food and drink menus.”

On this evidence, the Adnams brand is in safe hands.

Covers: 54 (The Still Room), 50 (The Tap Room), 20 (The Reading Room), 8 (The Juniper Room)
Owner/Operator: Adnams
Architect and Interior Design: Project Orange
Executive Chef: Ross Bott
Head Bartender: Callum Palmer
Tableware: G&G Goodfellows
Glassware and Cutlery: Utopia
Menu Design: Adnams
Uniform: Uniform Studio
Words: Richard Frost
Photography: Courtesy of The Swan
Magazine: Supper 10