As breweries go we may be small, but the intention is that our beers won't be! That's easy to say of course, but hopefully they won't disappoint. We're aiming to produce a changing range of full-flavoured beers across a variety of styles, which should be available in pubs and at festivals around the Midlands and North West, and occasionally further afield.
Visit the beers page for details of our current and upcoming beers, including details of venues and events where you might be able to find them. And if you run a pub, bar, shop or festival why not contact us for details if you would like to get hold of any of our beers.
This week sees a "new" beer making its first appearance, at the fantastic Independent Salford Beer Festival.
Back at the start of this year a portion of our Double IPA, Passepartout, was put away in two steel 18 gallon casks, with a helping of funky yeast added to each to hopefully add some "brett" character through a slow secondary fermentation. The result, some 8 months later, has now been transferred into a limited run of 5 kegs, each containing a blend from the two casks and weighing in at 7.4%. One of these will be gracing the bar at Salford in a few days' time.
It's been an interesting experiment, first samples suggest that the ageing has brought more of a fruity character than a markedly funky one, especially to one of the two casks - the final blend will introduce its own subtle character too, so we can but wait to see what the finished result is at the end of this week.
There are four kegs left if anyone should want one, and this will be the last new beer appearing under the Otherton name for a while - quite frankly it is hard to justify starting up at the new premises just yet given the current state of the market, so time to take stock and consider next steps carefully I feel, while paying more attention to other demands that sadly get in the way of pursuing this particular dream for now.
Hope you enjoy "Passepartout Brett-Aged"...
The start of June always seems to arrive with a thump, as the realisation hits home that no matter how busy things have been so far, they are about to get much busier! It's only a few weeks now until Birmingham Beer Bash is upon us once again - for most people that is something to look forward to but naturally when you're organising such an event then it means there's suddenly a whole load of things that need doing in order to make sure it runs successfully, or to be honest that it even happens at all! And of course it *will* happen, but there are always a lot of loose ends to tie up before the doors open to those first eager customers: glassware to order, beer lists to gather together and publish, volunteers to encourage, last minute changes to the brewery list, security, music, bulls, then list goes on!
And it always comes as a shock because there's always something else going on at the same time as the event draws near, something else to be focused on. In recent weeks that something has been a brewery / bar build - not our own of course, but more on that in a moment. As per previous posts here and elsewhere our host brewery Offbeat has been undergoing some changes and we've been very much in the thick of it helping to get everything set up and running. At the time of writing, subject to a last minute fitting being obtained, the first brew on the new kit is imminent, meaning attention can shift to finishing off the bar side of things in time for the anticipated planning permission to come through to allow more regular opening times on a weekly rather than monthly basis.
So once the new Offbeat kit is up and running, and Beer Bash is out of the way, where next for Otherton? Well while the new brewkit going in is going to provide a lot of flexibility and variety for a brewery making beer three times a week, for a once-a-month brewer it really is too small to be viable in the long run. Added to that there isn't any spare fermenter capacity, so the opportunity is also somewhat diminished. All is seemingly not lost however. Various changes in circumstance are finally (fingers crossed) starting to materialise which means a better future plan can start to be firmed up. We've all-but-settled on an aim to get up and running on our own kit that will be about 50% larger than cuckoo option, meaning enough beer can be made in one go to just about be worthwhile commercially; at the same time this is slightly smaller than our aspirations had been, but will make it much more practical to start using a wider range of yeasts which will potentially be a step change in getting to the finished beer we've always been aiming for, as well as making some significant capital cost efficiencies.
This won't all happen at once though, amd so the likely first step is to introduce a dedicated fermenter at Offbeat which will be a little oversized for a few more cuckoo brews there but will then transfer easily into the final new setup. That will be accompanied by some extra kit for propagating the yeast we need so we can bring that change to the process from the outset. In the meantime we'll be gradually preparing our own site at Audley with the intention of moving in there eventually with the rest of the full new brewkit.
So there you have it - a plan, for now, which sees a small scale return in the autumn and if all goes well another step up sometime during 2017. Depending how things go there's also growth capability through a second fermenter (allowing a double brewday once a month, doubling capacity without doubling the time involved). Like all plans it may be subject to change, but it is adaptable enough that we can make those changes if required.
Plans were for the next brew, Gyle 14 to be a rebrew of Jahazi, one of my favourite beers to have made so far, and more notably to be the last beer cuckoo brewed at Offbeat before their planned change onto a smaller brewkit. Sadly, plans don't always work out as intended - in particular, faced with the prospect of ordering full bags of malt and hops in order to use less than half, and with no further brewing opportunity on the horizon, it simply isn't going to be economic. There may be ways to acquire the smaller quantities without paying a premium that cancels out the benefit, but there isn't time because the opportunity to brew is one week away, but the coffee would need commiting to today and that can't be done if the brew is in doubt.
So, sadly, the plan has been cancelled. Pointu, the Farmhouse Mild and (perhaps ironically) Gyle 13, looks like it was the last beer Otherton will be cuckoo brewing at Offbeat. But the story doesn't end there. Further plans to get set up on a new kit of our own aren't progressing at the moment, and so with a heavy heart I have to announce that Otherton Ales is now suspending brewing indefinitely. There's still a few casks and kegs to sell, a bottling run of the last two beers, and (eventually) some limited edition brett-aged DIPA still to come. And Otherton Ales will still continue to be "a thing", just with a different focus now. This isn't a decision taken lightly, and I take no joy from it, but unfortunately this is how it has to be.
At this point I have to say a big thankyou to Offbeat for letting the cuckoo into the nest. In an increasingly crowded brewing world it is a double-edged sword to let the competition use your facilities and I can only hope the disadvantages were outweighed by the benefits.
I'd also like to say a particular thankyou to some of the more active local Camra branch members without whose unparalled support, encouragement, enthusiasm and above all even-handed promotion of all the breweries in their area, the business of making and selling beer would be so much easier.* As I keep hearing us ungrateful brewers being told, we wouldn't be here if it wasn't for them. I look forward to them just as readily acknowledging their part in this brewing endeavour being here no longer...**
Switching the sarcasm back off, to all those who provided the impetus to start on this brewing adventure, or the confidence to carry on, thank you all too. It's been a great journey.
As I said earlier, Otherton Ales will continue, and there have already been discussions about linking up with others to do some beery events in the future. We'll also continue to be the business behind the Birmingham Beer Bash, and who knows there may be collaboration brews or other opportunities beyond that, and maybe more personally a chance to enjoy what's going on in the beer scene around me and consider observing and commenting a bit more. Plus the door isn't completely closed on getting back to brewing in the future, but at things stand that doesn't look likely anytime soon.
So, please take the opportunities to have a try of the last few beers as they appear in some of the usual outlets and a couple of upcoming beer festivals. More importantly, keep drinking good beer, support your local breweries and those doing great things around the country and the world, and above all, enjoy the great experience this magnificent beverage offers!
* there are also countless great people in Camra, and I hope that the good ones will appreciate I'm not talking about them here, and I hope even more that they carry on doing great work in trying to improve what this organisation does!
** I'm under no illusion that they will, and it isn't the main reason, but Crewe & South Cheshire Camra can rest assured they are certainly a part of the reason.
It's something that seems to be causing much confusion of late, so it is perhaps a goo time to clarify things.
Otherton Ales is still cuckoo brewing at Offbeat in Crewe, Cheshire. This will continue until we eventually move into our own premises, hopefully in the second half of 2016 but there are a number of factors to address before that can happen. Output will naturally reduce when Offbeat downsizes the brewing kit in late May 2016 but will continue where possible.
We now have our own premises in Audley, just over the county border into Staffordshire. No brewing takes place here but it will be increasingly used as a postal address, as well as being for storage for now. It is also one of the options for a permanent brew kit of our own. However, the preferred option for now is another site back in Cheshire but it is some way off being able to commit one way or another.
Audley will also end up being the location we are attributed to in the 2017 Good Beer Guide. Listings for next year's guide had to be submitted three months ago, so it was a case of making the best guess as to what would be correct by the time the 2017 is published this autumn. Things have changed a little since then, with new options opening up, and as stated above decisions aren't final yet.
So, Otherton Ales remains the Staffordshire Cuckoo Brewing in Crewe at least for now, whatever anyone else might try and tell you!
It's getting crazy-busy this week and there's no sign of it letting up as we head into November. In between a full week at the "day job" this week is made up of deliveries, festivals and events - today (Monday) our beers are heading off to Birmingham Beer and Cider Festival, the Anchor in Digbeth, and the first couple of kegs will be dropped off at Brewdog Birmingham for the tap takeover there in a few weeks. During the rest of the week the usual Crewe outlets will be getting kegs, casks and bottles and a cask of East Indiaman, our British-Hopped IPA will be headed to the fabulous Redwillow bar in Macclesfield.
Birmingham Beer and Cider Festival opens its doors on Wednesday and there will be casks of Jahazi and Turuma making an appearance, the latter being the first chance anyone (me included - though samples from the fermenter were promising!) will have had to taste the finished product. Then the next day battle commences as the Bridge St Ale House in Newcastle-under-Lyme plays host to both Otherton and Offbeat in what is perhaps the brewing world's biggest ever domestic! Turuma and East Indiaman are lined up against Stoatcake Stout and Disfunctional Functional IPA, personally I'm hoping for a score draw to keep the peace...
Small is often beautiful, and that definitely applies when it comes to the Independent Salford Beer Festival. A worthy cause with a stunning beer list, and one which we're proud to be a part of - the honours here go to Turuma again, so I'm really hoping this one lives up to its initial promise! I'll be along on the Friday night (quality control, naturally!), it's ticket only and tickets are running out fast for most sessions so get hold of them while you still can!
It doesn't stop there - as well as Firsty Friday on 6th November where there should be at least one of our beers lining up on Offbeat's bar, we have coming up on 19th November a hugely exciting Tap Takeover / Meet The Brewer at Brewdog Birmingham. We'll have six beers there (our 5 most recent brews, plus this summer's collaboration with Offbeat). The only potential problem? Well the sixth one has yet to be brewed, but there's a space in the diary and it's just a case of working out how to get it down to Birmingham in time! It'll be a limited-edition reappearance of the hoppy golden ale Kinnear, first brewed earlier this year, thanks to a large bottle order meaning it is the first of our beers to make a repeat appearance since we started brewing in Crewe at the end of 2014. There'll also be Jahazi, Pinta, Turuma and East Indiaman on the taps, the first time so many Otherton beers have been in the same place at once, and the Offbeat collaboration Tripellette Saison completing the lineup.
Next month also sees Otherton reaching further afield than ever before as two of our casks are headed all the way out to a festival in Boston. Getting to Boston in Lincolnshire would be far enough to set a new record for us, but we've gone further than that! East Indiaman and Jahazi have both landed in the USA and should be appearing at Nerax North in a few weeks' time.
That's all going to keep us busy for the next few weeks at least, before the manic rush of Christmas is upon us. In December there'll be a chance to buy bottles for gifts or to treat yourself, while enjoying a beer or two from the bar and browsing the other stalls at the Offbeat Christmas Fayre where we'll have a little stall of our own, and of course there are two Firsty Friday open nights that month (the regular first Friday of the month, and the Crazy Christmas drinks on the third Friday). There are some new beers in store for the end of the year / early 2016, including a big-hitting Imperial IPA hopmonster that's being planned for a rather special birthday party, and hopefully early next year will see the start of some adventurous beery experiments in our new secret hideaway back across the county border in Staffordshire. All I'll say for now is that things can only get Bretter... ;)
After busy times wrapped up in this year's Birmingham Beer Bash, first making sure all the beer that we had committed to sending was brewed in time, then getting stuck in to the actual running of the event, it is finally time to sit back and refocus.
Jahazi (Mocha Stout) and Pinta (Rye Beer) were both brewed in time for BBB but haven't yet made it out any further than that. Jahazi in particular went down well with just about everyone who tried it and the compliments from a number of other brewers were particularly satisfying to hear. Jahazi is based on a milk stout, using around 10% lactose sugar which gives sweetness and body due to yeast being unable to ferment this type of sugar. The selection of dark malts adds some chocolate notes which are then topped up with cocoa late in the boil. Then at the very end of the boil a huge hit of coffee was added: 10kg of beans were steeped for three days to extract a wonderful flavour and aroma. We used Kenya Othaya beans supplied by the excellent HasBean near Stafford. These specially selected beans were prepared using a natural process before shipping to HasBean where they were roasted minutes before I arrived to collect them, still warm. The finished roast, has a distinctive flavour which works well with the blackcurranty Bramling Cross hops used judiciously in the boil. Find out more about the coffee beans at HasBean's website here. To recognise the Kenyan origins in the coffee, Jahazi was named after a type of dhow that plys the trade routes along the Kenyan coast.
Pinta is another step into new territory as it is the first time I've brewed with rye in any quantity. The result is a spicy roggenbier (rye beer) that was single-hopped with Columbus and fermented with a wheat beer yeast strain. The hops add their own spicy bitterness which the yeast rounds off with just a hint of clove and banana, the flavours and aromas seeming to evolve as you work down the cask. Pinta's namesake is no stranger to new territory either, being one of the three ships that Columbus took on his first voyage of discovery to the Americas.
So that's the beers, but where to find them? Well this weekend is Offbeat's fabulous Firsty Friday Festival and they have kindly given over a tap to Jahazi and Pinta. Jahazi is up first, starting from noon on Friday 7th July, and when that's gone Pinta will follow behind. So come along, sample at least one of these two, and enjoy the great range of Offbeat and Guest cask and kegs. The lineup is amazing this year, it shouldn't be missed.
After that, well the beers are starting to make their way to some of the usual outlets in both cask and keg: Crewe, Nottingham, Macclesfield, Penkridge and Birmingham will all be seeing deliveries in the next couple of weeks, and there are still a couple of each left but they won't be waiting around long! If you're waiting for this year's Crewe Beer Festival to try them though you need to rethink, as I elected not to supply due to a failure to properly recognise and give equitable treatment to the sixth brewery in their branch area!