Thursday, 16 December 2010

Oldershaw Brewery Visit.

Left to right - Co-owner Kathy Britton, Head Brewer Colin Church, and Sales Chief Gary Gooch

On balance, Oldershaw's Brewery is not the easiest of businesses to find, but then again, neither was Tutankhamen's tomb, or the gold of El Dorado – and those still searching for Atlantis have yet to agree on where to look.

When I eventually did find it, I soon realised that this growing craft-ale enterprise was a find of great significance, and nestled as it is just off the A52 a little north of Grantham – I admit it's somewhat easier to locate than certain sites I just mentioned.

On arrival there yesterday, the very warm welcome I received was only outdone by the mouthwatering fragrance which washed over me with a force so overwhelming that I almost began licking the interior walls before I'd even engaged in a handshake.

Those of you who've been lucky enough to tour a brewery will already be familiar with that smell, and that childlike feeling which gets the better of you the minute you step foot in these places.

By any standards though, the whiff of Oldershaw's is quite exceptional.

Aside from the air and it's warm, heavy deliciousness, one thing that really struck me yesterday was the palpable sense that this company is going places. Oldershaw's boutique-scale brewery was sold on last year to new owners Kathy and Tim Britton, and their intense passion for ale along with their considerable business expertise (some of which was honed in the world of finance in London) has seen the enterprise step up a gear, and the signs of growth were there in evidence yesterday. Their output is at maximum week on week, and the recent addition of a shiny new batch of casks has ensured that the optimum three brews per week can continue, allowing their ever growing portfolio of beers to reach their ever growing list of eager clients.

The attention to detail I observed was both impressive and heartening. Right from the off, there was something inherently comforting about seeing an 'actual human being' diligently stirring the barley in the mash tun. The human in this case was Head Brewer Colin Church, and there's something wonderfully gratifying to have identified the very individual that would have stirred the barley responsible for my own bottle of Old Boy – the review of which had triggered my visit in the first place.

Taking me through the process from the grain store to the bottling line, was head of the sales department Gary Gooch. For a man who is usually responsible for getting the good stuff where it needs to be and revealing the Oldershaw secret to those who don't yet know it, it was pretty clear that Gary's heart was actually back here among the raw ingredients and the polished metals – his tour of the brewing process was nothing short of a master class – and it left me with the horribly misguided sense that I could give it a shot myself. (That sense soon wore off as I drove away).

Without revealing any secrets about how each brew is crafted, it was incredible to hear about the narrow margins and precision in terms of amounts of ingredients and the sequencing and timing of the various processes. I was reminded that brewing beer is really just a magnificent clash between science and artistry. The initial idea for a new beer, the choice and sourcing of it's various ingredients and the experimentation with the balance of flavours, textures and colours – it's as much of a creative process as any piece of artwork.

The results in this case, are some very fine English ales. Not that 'English' means entirely local. Oldershaw incorporate an exciting variety overseas hops in their brews, and Gary was at his most animated when explaining about their constant search for new hop varieties - grabbing lovingly at great handfuls of the stuff as he spoke. From what I was allowed to inhale (was was pretty much all of them) they have some seriously delicious secret weapons in the hop store at Oldershaw's.

Over the next few months, I'll be sampling and reviewing these further examples from their range, which Kathy so very generously offloaded onto me as I left.

So, a big thank you to all at Olderhaw for a fascinating glimpse into the world of fine ale production.  

This is a big name in the future of British beer.

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