Friday, 1 October 2010

The Apprentice – Birth of a Micro Part III

by XT Brewing on Friday, 27 August 2010 at 10:25

Do you get used to the early starts? A day in the life of a brewer begins early in the morning, as I have been finding since working with the Windsor and Eton Brewery. Willie and Paddy, of this great new brewery serving the environs of the famous castle, have been amazingly helpful and supportive of our new venture. Through them I have been learning the ways of the modern brewer and how to make tasty ales such as ‘Guardsman’ and ‘Knight of the Garter’. Unfortunately I also discovered the importance of good gloves when working as a drayman; the scars will remind me that those pesky casks can fight back if you don’t show them who is boss.

It’s interesting how much time is spent actually brewing in a brewery, vs. cleaning, racking, cleaning, delivering, cleaning, tours, book keeping and more cleaning. Brewing is not a glamorous undertaking and I’m preparing myself for a life spent in wellies.

The development of our new build site for the brewery is moving along; we are hoping to get our beer to you as soon as possible. However there are a lot of formalities and practical issues to work through before we can get to that stage, but we should be able to reveal the location and design ideas by the next edition of this magazine. Please feel free to drop us an email if you have any ideas or indeed any other comments on the project.

As part of creating our business plan we have been discussing our ideas with various government agencies to see if financial help is available. You can get as lost working through all the different government agencies as I did trying to find a specific brewery in the new random GBBF layout. However, as you may have found when asking for that well deserved pay rise, it’s never quite the right time and the budget is already as stretched as your favourite 1985 Beer Festival T-Shirt. So we may need to dig a little deeper down the back of the sofa and play ‘Every One’s a Winner’ a few more times.

The local fruit trees and bushes are giving up their annual harvest and I have been wondering if I can turn my little brew lab to making a fruit beer. I have had mixed feelings about some of the overly sweet cherry beers I have tried in the past, but have enjoyed beers made with raisins, so it might be interesting to try a plum or blackberry dark beer. Friends and neighbours have been acting as guinea pigs on some of my prototype work and the fact that they volunteer again suggests the beer isn’t too bad after all. I am sure there is a beer for everyone and have managed to find ales to suit even the most entrenched wine drinkers.

In the name of research I recently headed out west to visit some of the breweries and cider makers there. For example the Ludlow Brewery, Shropshire, makes some mighty fine beers. They are outgrowing their existing site and moving up the road to a beautiful, restored railway shed with three times the production capacity. Near the picturesque village of Pembridge, Herefordshire, Mr Dunkerton’s Cider Mill is in a lovely old farm. His shop, which is housed in a barn so ancient it looks like it was there from when Adam hadn’t tried cider yet, was actually rescued and moved to the site in the ‘70s. Such gems make you realise how lucky we are in this country to have such a diverse choice of regional drinks.

Hope you are enjoying your beer, and if you want something different, I would suggest you sample a fine cask ale or two from Windsor and Eton if you get the chance. So until the next instalment of our story, Happy Drinking!

Sunday, 12 September 2010

Location, Location, Location – Birth of a Micro Part II

by XT Brewing on Monday, 23 August 2010 at 18:31

"Two hours! I've never had to wait that long for a beer festival." I replied to the CAMRA steward at the Reading Beer Festival. We had arrived in good time hoping to conduct some important 'research' on the local competition, but it seemed we were out of luck. Out of luck personally, but it was certainly good news from a business perspective as it showed that the interest in real beer has taken something of an upward turn over the last few years. As we walked past the lines of festival goers it was interesting how the range of people attending has changed from how I remembered these events from days of yore. OK, so there were still plenty of Oliver Reed T-Shirts straining over well filled stomachs, and members of the old guard standing hopefully with drinking horns in hand, but the groups of younger people and notably women drinkers were very much in evidence. Things have moved on, and a wider range of people are enjoying the pleasure of a decent pint.

As the big multinationals move out of the real beer market place, like great trees falling in the forest, several new small players have moved in to take the space, and one region that has seen a huge growth in micro-breweries is Cumbria. There are over thirty six, at the last count, in that one county alone. I spent some time up there last week with a local brewer who operates in a similar volume to that which we are hoping to achieve, and to research the beers typical to the area. Notable was the popularity of the hoppy golden beers at less than four percent. I previously had a bit of a phobia of this style but was amazed at how tasty they can be.

At the other end of the taste scale, I spent some time brewing with a start-up micro from America. There are some incredible new styles of beers being developed over the pond that rarely get a look in over here. They are not afraid to try different combinations of ingredients or even new ones. There are new strains of hops and new styles of malts being developed all the time, for example we made a beer using Simcoe hops which became available only a few years ago.

With all these opportunities in the market we are working towards the start of our own business and the location for the brewery is critical to this. We have a great potential opportunity for a new build brewery in North Oxfordshire, with rail links to Oxford and Banbury, in a fantastic tourist spot. With an onsite shop which will hopefully provide an interactive feel to the brewing process we hope to create something a little bit different for the discerning Oxfordshire drinker. Real ale is a great product and the more that people can see and understand the brewing process the better. They can learn how it only uses natural products and can easily surpass other drinks in terms of flavours and styles.

The big ecological issues in brewing are the use of water and energy. Both are used in large quantities; in fact about four and half pints of water can be used to make just one pint of beer, and that must be heated up and cooled down throughout the process. We are looking at ways of limiting the use of both of these resources in the design of the new brewery. Some of you may have read about the new Otter brewery in Devon or seen the green-roof on Adnams distribution centre, these are good examples of the brewing industry looking at new ways to reduce the environmental impact of making beer. Our ambitions are a little more modest at this stage, but we hope to include as many water and energy saving features as we possibly can in the new brewery, without altering the fundamental process to making quality cask conditioned real ale.

Hopefully by the next instalment of our story I can reveal the potential location, pending our moving forward with planning permissions and finalising designs. It will be something you would all definitely vote for.

Monday, 23 August 2010

Birth of a Micro - Part I

by XT Brewing on Monday, 23 August 2010 at 18:29

After 'I really love you' one of the most commonly heard phrases among friends, maybe after one too many ales, is probably: 'I'm going to set up a brewery'. It could be considered the middle aged rock and roll by many of you. And for us, about 12 months ago, that is exactly where we were.

With the advantage of having some money to invest, combined with our real desire to create a different sort of business with a product we had an enormous passion for, the future seemed obvious.

But where do you start on this kind of adventure? Well, luckily brewing has the advantage that it is one industry that can be replicated to some degree at home in miniature. So we began brewing full mash beers as often as humanly possible to try, and hopefully begin to understand, the chemistry and methods of the commercial brewers. Our 'Burco Brewery' was working at full steam around the clock to experiment with every combination of recipes and ingredients we could find. Amazingly the results seemed to vanish with as much velocity as we could create them, so cross referencing was very tricky; the ones that didn't pass the 'drunk within two days' test, were immediately considered rejects. We worked at length with the main component of the real ale you are hopefully enjoying while reading this: pale malt. From the palest of golden beers to the darkest Baltic stout, the bulk of the grain used will be a type of pale malt. What becomes an amazing art of the brew is the careful use of dark malts from browns through chocolate to black, which create an incredible range of flavours beyond the wildest dreams of any wine buff. And that is without even starting on the amazing variety of hops.

Alongside the chemistry, we started researching the actual business we hoped to one day break into and, of course, our research took on many forms. From 'how many beer festivals can one person reasonably attend' to how does this industry actually operate in this day and age? After all the huge changes that have occurred in recent years how would we, as a total new comer, fit into the massive growth in the number of new micro-brewers? Astonishingly, there are now around seven hundred independent brewers in the UK; that's the highest proportion anywhere in the world. There are also only a limited number of pubs who are free of tie when it comes to buying your product.

The brewing industry is a very closely knit family and we quickly found that everyone seems to know everyone else and everyone's business. All those involved are very passionate about their products. If you share that passion, then most brewers will happily open up and readily entertain you with tales of their experiences and knowledge. However, being a profession that reaches back to the earliest days of human civilisation, with many different methods and folklores, we found that if you ask ten brewers for their opinions you will get at least eleven different answers back. We travelled the length and breadth of our own, and other foreign lands, talking and drinking with as many brewers as would let us through their doors. It is possible to make a small fortune in this business, but only if you start off with a large one.

Along the way we encountered some odd reactions from the people we met. It's hard to imagine for us and probably to you, our fellow beer aficionados, that when you have spent all your drinking life enjoying the best liquid known to man or woman, that there are actually deprived people out there who do not understand our passion. "So, what exactly is beer?" or "Why aren't there any micro breweries in Britain?"... Strangely, large numbers of people are put off our favourite tipple and they are not helped by some very out dated attitudes and misconceptions. Much of the current marketing does little to alleviate these misconceptions.

As the passion grew we started to look for the components to build our dream, it became apparent that the range of equipment available to a new rooky brewer is mind boggling. As with many things in life, the kit list, and all the optional extras, caters to every budget and esoteric whim. In the search for exactly the right equipment for us, it became increasingly apparent how true the opening line of this story was. Kit manufacturers will tell you that they get over 40 calls a day with 'I want to start a brewery', so they take a bit of persuading that you really do mean business and are not just yet another Friday afternoon hopeful.

The search for exactly the right specification and mix of equipment continues, but the biggest hurdle, both from an operational model and financial factor any new business encounters, is where to locate. This will be the biggest make or break decision for our fledgling company. After spending time looking over several potential locations we are now fortunate enough to have the fantastic opportunity of creating a new brewery within North Oxfordshire in a popular tourist site close to transport links. If all goes well, we hope to create a distinctive type of brewery that provides an inclusive experience for all our visitors and customers in to the beer making process.

Beer is a fantastic product and we believe it is enjoying a renaissance. People want something more than bland, mass-produced products from a handful of big global players. Over the coming months you can join in with our journey of learning, discovery, location development, equipment and business plans.

Sunday, 13 June 2010

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New Day - New Web Site

Finally up and running with the web site,
much work on the brewery site to do.