Monday, 14 November 2011

Reality! The XT Brewery Story Part VIII

Are you the brewer?” – I felt a tap on my back and I turned around, thinking I might need to apologise for my aroma; it had been a long day and I was enjoying a pint in the pub... “This is an excellent beer, well done” he said with a beaming smile. Yes, we had finally done it, our beer was flowing and it was going down well.

You may have followed our story in Beer on Tap over the past several editions. We have now successfully finished building the brewery and the first beers are being delivered to pubs around the area. The new XT Brewery is on the beautiful Notley Farm estate near Thame and we will supply North Oxfordshire with a selection of fine ales. We also have a small and very informal shop at the brewery where we sell fresh beers in carry home bottles and casks in various sizes from 9 pints to 72.

It’s been extremely hard work but a truly a fascinating journey so far. One of the most enjoyable aspects has been meeting all sorts of different people; from the local businesses and farmers who have helped us with free labour and loans of equipment, to local CAMRA groups who have followed our progress and spread the word. We have even had a constant stream of enquiries from people asking to be on the tasting team; all for no financial reward... people are indeed devoted to pushing the cause of real ale!

Life is now rather different from my old office job. Eighteen hour days brewing, learning how to wire up control valves, plumbing in cooling systems, hauling sacks of spent grain onto farmer’s trailers, talking to pub landlords about delivery schedules, wondering if my thumb will ever work properly again after dropping a cask on it... it has been a life changing saga. However, even at 3am lying awake worrying if the heat-exchanger was the right way around (it wasn’t) I can’t think of anything I’d rather be doing.

We have made three beers so far. The first was ‘Four’ a mellow amber 3.8% beer made with five different malts, including a couple of very special Belgian ones; it’s a complex but very drinkable session ale. Then next out of the mash tun was ‘Eight’, the malty chocolate 4.5% dark beer for those winter evenings designed to help you put the world to rights. The most recent has been ‘Two’ a fruity golden 4.2% pale ale made with biscuity malts and some noble hops from Bohemia and a remote little corner of Bavaria.

From the outset the aim was to bring more people into the wonderful world of decent tasty ales by making the beers easy to understand. Our modern colourful and simple labels should stand out on a bar and help bring new drinkers to the cause or guide the hardened real ale aficionado, by showing the style, flavours and how the beers are all part of a wide and fascinating family.

The beers are now gradually appearing in pubs across Oxfordshire as fast as we can get out and about to spread the word. We hope you enjoyed following our story so far and that you will now enjoy drinking the product. Why not come and see our new little brewery or try the beers for yourself?

Sunday, 9 October 2011

A Certain X Factor – A New Brewery.

The moment when reality slapped me square on, I was standing in a queue at the bank. My trousers were soaked in wort and my hands stained green from breaking up a block of hops. I had given up a cosy life in a nice office for early morning starts and constantly wet socks. Brewing is certainly not glamorous. But I smiled to myself and felt an inner glow; I had no regrets.

Beer! It’s Britain’s national drink for a reason. Good quality British Beer is one thing that makes living here so great; there is nothing else quite like it in the world.

I have lived in different countries but the one constant thing throughout it all has been a love of beer. It’s a wonderful creation and people have enjoyed it since the dawn of civilisation. Beer served in a welcoming local pub is the lubricant and glue of a community.

There is such an amazing diversity of beer in this country from a range of wildly different breweries. However there are some very unfortunate people who think real ale is made from twigs and leaves, and much of the beer branding in this country does little to help.

Over the past year I have been researching, working at another excellent local brewery and raiding piggy banks in order to start my own new venture. Gradually that plan is coming together: the brewery site is leased, casks ordered, the brew kit is designed and will be proudly built in Britain. With a good wind from behind, the first brews should flow by autumn this year.

Based at Notley Farm, near Thame, the new XT Brewery will primarily produce a variety of quality cask real ale but we may dabble in the new style of craft keg beers as well. Real Ale is an honest yet sophisticated drink; it should be presented in an unfussy and straight forward way to help widen its appeal and show people what they are missing.

So what’s with the funny name, XT? In today’s directory of brewers there was an obvious empty space between W and Y. Traditionally X was the standard method of naming beers; brewers simply added more Xs as the beer got stronger, and T signified the best ale kept back for the boss’s own table. There is a strong link to tradition but it also has a modern ring to it.

A man and a woman walk into a pub.... how do they choose which beers to drink? How do you squish all the relevant information onto one little pump clip? What do I, and most other beer drinkers, want to learn about each beer in order to help make that all important decision about which one to try? Our labels will seem a bit different when you first see them, but we hope they will answer those questions.

Aren’t there enough breweries in Britain now? Is there ever too much of a good thing? Competition is good; it can drive innovation, encourage better quality and bring a greater product variety. The growing army of enthused owner-operator micro breweries will expand the appeal of this wonderful product. We are not competing with other micro brewers but with the big multinationals that control the vast bulk of the beer market.

There is still a lot to be done before we can mash-in for the first time. We hope you will follow our progress as we dig drains (yes, more glamour), untangle red tape and refurbish our old farm building into a working brewery.

Sunday, 2 October 2011

Ten, nine, eight....

“Your vessels are all nearly ready”

I was on the phone with our equipment fabricators in Burton upon Trent, we had been talking regularly about the designs, but this was the first time I realised that we are getting very close now. Over the past month we have been preparing the floors and drainage needed to get the brewery ready for the equipment to arrive. The big ‘pots’ will be delivered to our new brewery by the end of September and then we will start plumbing them in and hooking up all the electrical wizardry. All the connections and ancillary equipment will turn it into a living, breathing, working brewery.

In the last edition we introduced you to the new XT brewery which is located at Notley Farm near Thame. The brewery is designed so we can produce a wide range of cask conditioned beers using traditional methods but with a modern twist.

We hope that the beers will be popular in local pubs but we also know you like to drink fresh beer at home. In order that you can enjoy our beers direct from the brewery we have been working to get a licence to sell from our very informal little shop on site. Next time you’re in a pub, spare a thought for the landlord who, like us, had to climb a mountain of paperwork just to hand you that pint.

There are so many different things to sort out, many of which I never even thought about in the original plans and more often it’s the smallest things that seem to take up all your time and money. I haven’t even had any time recently to brew! Hopefully we can put that right in the very near future.

As we move closer I will keep taking photos and posting them on the Facebook page so you can follow our progress to the first pint.

Happy drinking, Russ and Gareth, XT Brewing Company.

Sunday, 14 August 2011

The X Factor – Birth of a Micro part VII

Over the past few months I have been sharing with you the ups and downs of starting our new micro brewery in North Oxfordshire. There’s now a slight twist to that story; whilst various processes and formalities are still being worked out at Lower Heyford we have been working on an alternative site.

We have taken on the lease of a farm building on the Notley Estate near Thame. The brewing vessels are now being fabricated in Burton on Trent to our designs and we are preparing the brewery building ready for their installation. The process should take a couple of months and we hope to be brewing by the end of October this year. In addition to the equipment we have also ordered lots of lovely casks and are having them painted in our brewery colours of purple and orange. Next time you see some casks outside a pub note the brewery specific colour banding that they all have painted on them.

So what are we calling the new brewery? We have decided to go for a slightly different name and approach than most and will call the brewery: The XT Brewing Company.

So what’s with the funny name, XT? Well, in today’s directory of brewers there is an obvious empty space between W and Y. Traditionally X was the standard method of naming beers; brewers simply added more Xs as the beer got stronger, and T signified the best ale kept back for the boss’s own table. There is a strong link to tradition but it also has a modern ring to it.

A man and a woman walk into a pub.... how do they choose which beers to drink? How do you squish all the relevant information onto one little pump clip? What do I, and most other beer drinkers, want to learn about each beer in order to help make that all important decision about which one to try? Our labels will seem a bit different when you first see them, but we hope they will answer those questions.

The brewery will have capacity to produce about 5000 pints per batch. The recipes will be based on our numerous trial brews and we hope to bring you a range including refreshing session ales and some rather more adventurous styles. There will be a small and very informal shop attached to the brewery for sales of mini casks, bottles and growlers. We also hope to run a few open days and mini beer festivals on the site.

With the brewery being on a farm we will endeavour to make the brewing process as environmentally friendly as possible. The local cattle are looking forward to sampling our spent grains and we will compost all the used hops. The casks are, of course, refilled so we should generate very little packaging waste as well. Brewing is an excellent example of how to reduce waste and recycle.

There is still a lot to be done before we can mash-in for the first time. We hope you will follow our progress as we dig drains (yes, more glamour), untangle red tape and refurbish our old farm building into a working brewery later this year.

You can follow our progress on Facebook, look for: XTBrewing.

Happy Drinking! Russ and Gareth,

Friday, 15 July 2011

Recipe for a New Brewery


Select a beautiful farm location near Thame.

A good dose of brewing experience.

One lifetime of business and finance knowledge.

A funny name with a historical twist.

A firkin great big passion for beer.


Look at beer from a fresh and new angle.

Create a clean and simple message.

Design a new brew house with British built equipment.

Work like a mad thing until about autumn time.

Serve and enjoy with friends!

You can also follow our progress on Facebook.

The XT Brewing Company,

email: xt /at/

Monday, 16 May 2011

Hop Idol – Birth of a Micro VI

Did you enjoy all those beers at the Banbury Beer Festival? Unfortunately our ales still weren’t there, but the new brewery project is moving along and I have had an interesting and busy couple of months. We are still working behind the scenes and if all goes well we should be up and brewing in a few months time.

There are several brewers now trying out extremely hoppy IPA style beers, influenced in part by the massive levels of hops in some American exports. Following this mid-Atlantic trend, I decided my next extreme brewing test was to see just how many hops I could squeeze into a beer and if there was a limit to this hoppy madness. I brewed up a strong pale ale and loaded it with plenty of bittering hops, then lots and lots of late additions, followed by a few more of the green beauties for luck. The resulting milky green, super IPA went way past 11; a balanced brew it was not. Apart from helping you win a gurning competition or simply to impress your friends for a dare like eating the strongest heart attack curry, there are limits to what makes a reasonable drink. How many little hop symbols, like the chilli levels, would I mark on the bottle? Maybe a slightly more restrained beer next time.

There are an amazingly wide variety of methods used by different brewers to add hop character to their beers. In order to see one of the best examples I travelled north to a leading edge brewery to see their fantastic set up. I saw how they controlled the magic of beer making from what looked like the bridge of the Starship Enterprise. In direct contrast I went along to see a neighbouring brewery whose layout looked rather like an angry tsunami had just come through. Interestingly both made fantastic beer, so it’s not always down to how shiny or big your tools are.

Keg beer is getting more press these days. The bad old days saw some of the most undrinkable chemical fuelled slops pushed out of a tap under gas pressure which even gave rise to a campaign to oppose this method of dispense. However all is not so bad in the brave new world of unpasteurised, unfiltered, modern craft-brewed keg beer. Certain styles of beers, especially the stronger hoppy ones, can take on a whole new dimension when served in this way. Nothing can ever beat the flavours and experience of an exceptional cask ale pulled through a hand pump, but I believe there is room on the bar for top-end keg beers. I have bought a couple of kegs and am trialling a lightly gassed ‘brewery conditioned’ craft beer to see what all the fuss is about. It could well be that we see more of this dispense method for quality beers in the future so it is worth discovering if it is to be a ‘friend or foe’.

Things have taken a little longer than I had hoped on this project, but hopefully the next instalment will be a little less woolly. Until then hoppy drinking.

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Strictly Come Dancing – Birth of a Micro V

“Are we nearly there yet?” At the last update we were waiting for a council decision regarding the planning application for our new brewery site at Lower Heyford. The council has spoken and they have asked for a lot more information regarding possible wildlife on the site, the traffic implications and several other very detailed reports. Feeling like prospective son-in-laws being quizzed about our intentions and future prospects we have been working to compile answers to all these new requests. By mid March we will have re-submitted the application and should hopefully have a clear run to a positive outcome. It has been a long process so far and we still have a long way to go. There are a great many hurdles to jump in order to start a new business these days.

As well as working on the planning process we have been strengthening our business and are delighted to say that the team has been enhanced by the addition of a new member. He has a PhD in bio-chemistry, experience in sales and brewing and an unhealthy level of interest in yeast! We have an excellent team in place now and are very keen to get started.

Meanwhile, in the development brew lab I have been trying out a number of different beer recipes. Many brewers have recently been working on beers to see ‘how strong can you brew’? It is really only possible to ferment up to a maximum of about 20% using specially trained crack teams of super yeast. Those Scottish beers claiming to go higher are actually cheating and using a clever form of distillation by freezing. So, using a huge amount of raw materials I mashed in a very stout beer and fermented it with some of the toughest yeasts. In contrast to the super strength beers, the question begging to be asked is, ‘How low can you go’? With a proposed reduced duty rate for beers below 2.8% you will probably see more beers down at this level in the future. So I have also tried brewing small beer to see if it’s possible to get some taste at this end of the scale. I wait with much anticipation for the first taste of the Super Atrous Stout and Minium Mild.

We recently had the pleasure of spending a ‘scratch and sniff’ day at Charles Faram, one of the country’s leading hop merchants. A veritable smorgasbord of hops was laid out before us and we rubbed and sniffed our way through over forty varieties. The vast palette of aromas and flavours is astonishing: refined English floral and korma spice, through to very potent tropical fruit and vindaloo arrogance. Like the spice trade, many of these exotic hops come from the farthest corners of the world. The flowers of the female hop bines provide brewers with an infinite range of flavours and even different textures. The selection of the hop variety can even influence how the beer feels in the mouth as you drink it.

Over at the Windsor and Eton brewery a whole Commonwealth of hops has been used to create a special Royal Wedding brew which tastes of tropical fruit punch. The flavours are not from additives but from a clever cocktail of hops. This beer will be ready in time for all those bank holidays in April.

Until the next update, happy drinking.

Sunday, 2 January 2011

Grand Designs – Birth of a Micro IV

Over the past months we have been working on creating a new purpose built brewery in North Oxfordshire and telling the story of its development in these updates. One of the big pieces of this adventure in beer was to find a suitable location for the business and after a lot of behind the scenes work we can finally reveal where we hope that will be.

The site is on the edge of the village of Lower Heyford. It is on a former goods yard next to the canal at the wharf and directly adjacent to the Heyford railway station. The brewery will be accessible by: canal boat, Great Western trains direct from Oxford or Banbury, on foot or bike from the tow path, and there is parking for those preferring to drive. We want the brewery to become a craft business within the local community and a part of the other great attractions in Heyford. The Bell pub in the village which is already a venue for expertly kept ales, will also host our beers. The wharf is a place, where holiday makers set off on their canal boat adventures or just come to enjoy the walks along the canal and Cherwell Valley or to the nearby Rousham House. We hope to become a part of this cluster of tourist attractions and add a regional flavour in beer.

However before we can start work on the new building there is the not-insignificant matter of planning permission. After compiling all the many and varied sections of the application for our new building, this huge document was submitted early in October and hopefully by the time you read this, Cherwell Council will have made a decision on our proposal.

You can see from the architect drawing what our future home will look like. It is a barn style building to match its rural setting. The building will house the brewing equipment and a shop / visitor centre with a small meeting room above. The shop will be right in the middle of the building with glazed walls so you can view all the stages in the life cycle of the beers. The shop will develop over time with insights into how beer is made from raw ingredients through to the wonderful finished product, as well as selling our fresh ales direct.

It is important that the building and business respect the area and environment in which they will be built. The site is a brown-field, former goods yard with an industrial heritage which will be sensitively landscaped to enhance the appearance of the location. The building is designed to sit with the rural landscape and is screened by trees, and it is clad in wood. The innovative materials used during the construction will minimise environmental impact and reduce emissions when it is in use. In the operation of the brewery we will use harvested rainwater where possible for cleaning and will process some of the waste water in a bio-digester. We will recycle heat energy generated in the brew process, send used raw materials to agricultural uses and hope to generate no waste that would otherwise go to land fill.

There is still a long way to go, lots to learn about the brewing process and developing our business and of course not least is the actual build which we hope to start in the new year. Until the next update happy drinking!