On January 31st we had been brewing for exactly two years. Our first barrel of Colchester No 1 was racked off on that date in 2012, and we have never looked back. In round numbers we have brewed in the intervening two years 7600 firkins, and have built up production to around 100 firkins a week. Not bad for a start-up microbrewery! Brewing is all about the people and the beers they brew. We are very lucky in the Colchester Brewery to have two of the most experienced people in the business running the show. Head brewer is Tom Knox, who has been brewing prize-winning beers for nigh on 30 years, whilst Roger Clark must be one of the best known men in the retail trade in our part of the world, having been knocking on doors since 1976. In the team we find also Dominic Skeet, our assistant brewer, whilst Dean Elmer travels the highways and byways, (and the East End of London, not to mention the City), delivering our beer, with Carol Hill running the office sales. All have worked together over many years, and are as good a team as one could hope to find.
We started with just four different beers, but this quickly grew to double figures. Each month sees a new or reintroduced seasonal beer, whilst underpinning sales are the original beers, headed by Colchester No 1, Red Diesel, Metropolis and AK Pale. Added to these we should note that our 4.6% porter Colchester Brazilian has become our prize beer (see below).Our adherence to the double-drop brewing process means the quality of our beers is unimpeachable, which is something much appreciated by publicans who can rack a barrel and four hours later draw a crystal clear pint, (it normally takes 24 hours). The real test however is what the public think of the beers, and where better to test this than at the many beer festivals that are held each year by CAMRA. Winning prizes at beer festivals are important milestones for any new brewery, and in that respect we have been very successful. Whilst we were pleased to receive silver medals at the Norwich Beer Festival for our Colchester Mild and for Brazilian, with Brazilian winning a bronze in the overall best beer category, not to mention Brazilian winning the Beer of the Festival award at the Clacton Beer Festival, it was our success at the December “Pigs Ear” Festival in London that has been our marquee success. The Pigs Ear (rhymes with beer, geddit?) is the second largest beer festival in London, the biggest being the National Beer Festival held at Olympia. It is staged in Hackney with over 300 beers on offer. 32 London breweries participated, plus others from round and about. And the overall Best Beer? Colchester Brazilian.
With production growing apace we will be extending the brewery to give us more productive area. We will use this space in particular to develop our bottled beer sales, where we have received much demand that we have not as yet been able to satisfy. A bottling plant will be installed and the beer will flow soon after. It is interesting to see that real ale sales have been increasing as a percentage of all beer drunk, this being at the expense of lagers and cider. It seems the younger generation is taking to real ales, which is very good news for the industry. The Chancellor too seems to be less interested in crippling the industry, which is a pleasant change. So all in all we have much to look forward to in the coming year.
We have given our Website a quick makeover. A useful new addition is the ability to download pumpclips for printing.
Our Brazilian won Beer of the Festival award at the Colchester Winter Beer Festival held last week.
At the 2013 Colchester Brewery filled the Shunters Arms with a wide variety of brews that sold like hotcakes.
Our Brazilian, a beautifully balanced coffee and vanilla porter, was surely talk of the festival!
We have now been selling our beer for exactly one year, and are very pleased with the way things have gone. Visitors to this site will remember that from the outset we planned to "double-drop" brew all our beers, and that policy is now firmly entrenched in everything we do. Click here for a full explanation of the advantages of double-drop brewing.
The heart of any brewery are the beers on offer, and to this end at the Colchester Brewery we now offer four permanent beers, these being available at all times, backed up by seasonal beers and speciality beers. Our permanent beers are the original Colchester No 1, with Diesel, Red Diesel and Metropolis completing the foursome.
Given our traditional double-drop brewing stance we have also decided to offer a series of retro beers, brewed in the style of yesteryear. These include
It was noticeable that at the Peterborough Beer Festival, where we had a number of beers racked, a lot of drinkers were ordering "brown and mild", which was a real trip down memory lane, and none the worse for that.
We are also brewing at regular intervals a 4.4% beer, Anne Downes, complimented by Trinovantes, named after the tribe who roamed the Essex and Suffolk countryside at the time of the Roman occupation. The pump clip shows a golden coin from that period. Elsewhere on this website you will find full details of all these beers. I should add that during the winter months we are brewing Brass Monkey at 3.8% and Winter Nights, a dark ruby ale.
The autumn saw our second major award, this being the Silver Medal awarded to Colchester Metropolis at the very prestigious SIBA blind tasting competition held near Peterborough in the late summer. There were 49 beers in the standard bitter section, so a 2nd place was a commendable achievement after just six months of trading. In an earlier blog I have mentioned that we were also judged to be equal first for our range of beers in the CAMRA organised Colchester Beer Festival held last summer.
We now have 150 pub accounts, ranging geographically from The City of London in the West to Southend in the East, from the Thames up to Cambridge. A list of the pubs that offer our beer at (almost) all times, as opposed to being a guest beer from time to time, can be accessed by clicking here.
Many customers of the brewery have asked us to produce bottled beers, so in addition to pins (35 pints), and demi-pins (17 pints), we are now offering 500cl bottles, including three as a gift-pack. Full details will be found elsewhere in the website.
Whilst blogs rarely discuss matters financial, given the difficult times in which we launched our new brewery it should be noted that we have managed to show a modest profit by the end of our first financial year. For a start-up company in a highly competitive market this is quite an achievement. The brewery has been entirely funded by friends and relations of the three founders, with no requirement for bank borrowings. Most investors in the business have brought skills to the company that have been given without charge, which is perhaps the model that other start-ups should note.
We wish all our website visitors a prosperous 2013, preferably helped along with a drop or two of Colchester beers.
For our first anniversary all the staff in the brewery, mostly with their partners, enjoyed a meal at the Victoria in Colchester. Twenty of us sat down, and a very enjoyable evening it was. It should be noted that two of the guys were more interested in sneaking a top-up from the barrel than having their pics taken!
Here too is a picture of Trevor Johnson, our graphics king:
"It is a universally accepted truth that a gentleman
with a bushy beard is in need of a Colchester beer."
Christmas is nearly upon us. The Colchester Brewery would be keen to help you enjoy the festivties with some traditional ales. We have a selection of gift bottle packs or, for the thirstier amongst you, beer in a box.
View the Christmas Beer Orders flyer here!
Colchester Brewery hosted the Chappel Beer Festival Thankyou Party which was held here on the 24th November. 105 souls braved the cold for what was a thoroughly good session. Some snaps below by Mr Glyn J.H. Baker.
Two Dozy Brewers Alan Barker Pontificating (again) Graham Darby in charge of the cider
Brewers left to right: Paul of Harwich Town Brewery, Nigel of Shalford Brewery, Tom of Colchester Brewery, Mark of Bartrams Brewery, Phil of Wibblers Brewery, Nev of the Mighty Oak Brewery. Each of them brews the best beer in the world.
Roger Clarke and Denise Byrne Spanish Doug
It was exactly twelve months ago that Tom, Roger and I sat by the River Stour at my home in Clare and mooted the possibility of creating a new brewery. In my previous blog I set out the objectives we then set ourselves, and how by and large these had been achieved. It had taken the best part of six months to set up the brewery from nothing, to raise the finance, all of which was from friends and relations, and to start the brewing processes. So where are we now? In a good place, under the circumstances.
When one starts a new brewery one naturally starts with no customers, the main challenge therefore being to establish as many customers as are necessary to match your brewing capacity. This we quickly did, and indeed elsewhere on this site there is a list of pubs that take our beers on a permanent basis. In fact, so successful have we been in acquiring pub customers we have had to invest in another 300 casks to take the increased volume of beer that we need to brew to meet the ever-expanding sales outlets. So this is all good.
All is not totally rosy however, as the whole beer trade has been hit by the double-whammy of a rotten summer, (who wants to sit out in a pub beer garden in a pouring rain in freezing weather?), and our Chancellor's view that he can increase beer duty regardless of any consequences. The well-reported fact is that thanks to the excessive duty level beer and a VAT hike sales have fallen to the point where the Government's revenue from the duty and VAT is actually less than before it was increased. On top of that, lay-offs have occurred in the industry as demand falls, so more people are on benefits. Not much joined up thinking there, then.
However, on more cheerful matters, there is plenty of good news from the Colchester Brewery. We won our first award last month when our AK Pale won the Best Beer award at the CAMRA organised Colchester Beer Festival. There were 120 breweries participating, with over 140 different beers on offer, so we are well pleased with this award, shared with the Titanic Brewery's cappuccino stout.
We are now brewing seven permanent beers having recently introduced a rare, (although once common), brown ale, Colchester Double-Brown. This is of course brewed, as are all our beers, by the double-drop system. It will be interesting to see the uptake on this very drinkable old-fashioned favourite.
Due to the rapid expansion that has taken place in the brewery we now have five part-time people helping us on and off site, and before long will be considering whether we should extend our premises to allow us to move up a further gear. Long hours are being worked by Tom and Roger, but their reward is to be seen at every turn.
Before long our delivery Transit will be adorned with what must surely be the most striking set of graphics on any commercial vehicle, designed by one of our shareholders. Once seen, never forgotten! Look out for it running around our delivery areas, Colchester, Chelmsford, Cambridge, Bury St Edmunds, Bishops Stortford, and all points to the City of London.
Whilst talking about shareholders I should mention that our website is the product of another shareholder's skills, to whom we are indebted. He actually lives in New Zealand, but that is the wonder of interconnectivity.
My next blog will appear at Christmas. In the meantime - keep drinking (to paraphrase Brucey).
Webmaster & Brewery supporter Hugh Frostick visited from New Zealand in July to sample the Red Diesel and Double Brown.
As Chairman Andy Bone had his marvellous Norton Commando out to play that afternoon, the time was whiled away talking beer and classic motorbikes.
Everyone from all over keep asking where they can find our beer! We now have a new page with a list of stockists. Please see 'Pubs Supplied'. It may be hard to keep this page bang up to date, we can but try!
The new cask washer, which is Tom's pride and joy. It is essential to get this part of the brewing process right so this is a bespoke design based upon
Tom's past experience with non-performing cask washers!
Incidentally, the brilliant Old Cask Washer is Tom's dad!
When the Colchester Brewery was first mooted the founders knew that it must be something special. There are, after all, many hundreds of small breweries throughout the UK, and it was felt we needed to be that little bit different. The first decision was the easy one. The beer. What was it to be, how much would we brew, what market were we aiming for? Tom our brewer was adamant that he wanted to brew something that would really appeal to the discerning drinker. A range of beers that would be appreciated by the lovers of real ale, who know what makes a great beer. For that reason we decided from the outset to set up a new brewery rather than to take over someone else's kit, and to brew using the "double-drop" process. Double-drop brewing adds an additional stage in the brewing process, which adds both cost and time, but results in a glittering, clean beer with very pronounced flavours.
Secondly we wanted to brew enough to satisfy what we believed would be considerable demand for our beer, and that meant a brewing capacity of at least a hundred firkins a week.
Thirdly, we wanted to be located near to Colchester, since we had already identified this part of Essex as being an excellent starting point for selling our beer, as there are a number of pubs in the immediate area with many customers who are members of thriving branches of CAMRA. There are also three local beer festivals, (Chapple, Colchester and Chelmsford) which would be good shop-windows for our beers. We found the ideal site in the village of Wakes Colne, in a converted Dutch barn on a very well appointed and landscaped farm business park, and started work on fitting out the brewery in October 2011.
Having set out our brewing strategy, before we could start we had to turn our attention to financing the business. We could probably have found an investor to back the whole project, although that would have left the prime movers of the brewery as someone else's employees, which was not at all appealing. Alternatively we might have been successful in gaining the support of a bank, although that would have been at the price of providing substantial personal collateral, which is rarely an attractive option, and one that consequently was not pursued. We decided in the end to offer shares in the business to friends and relations of the three partners to see whether we could raise what was necessary to fund the business purely from private investors. To our delight there was no difficulty in raising all that was necessary from our eighteen initial investors, which has allowed us to equip the brewery with state-of-the-art equipment, and to fit it out to very high standards.
From initial discussions between the three partners that took place in August 2011 it took just five months to create a fully functioning brewery, with the first beer being delivered to pubs at the end of January 2012. We must make mention of the very important fact that many of our investors have given freely of their time and of their expertise to support the new venture, so whilst Tom Knox and Roger Clark are to be congratulated in bringing the Colchester Brewery to fruition, they have had the support of many others to achieve the business plan.
We had a great Colchester CAMRA get together on Saturday - here is the gang outside the brewery in the glorious sun!
Most of our investors and partners were able to come along to enjoy the launch party.
Tom's proposed new brew - three wise monkeys, referring to the directors!
You can read about our journey, the fun and the hard graft, on our "Building your own Brewery" progress page.