With summer comes the only religious festival that I am strict in my observances for – the Great British Beer Festival. With work rather busy I only made it down for one afternoon and only managed to fit in a few beers of my own before my, now traditional, assault on the Italian bottle bar and stumbling wander home.
I rather like The Rake. Not only do they have many interesting beers on tap, but they’ve joined forces with Melissa Cole to put on tastings of interesting beverages under the banner of lovebeer@borough. It surprised me how few booze tasting there actually are in London that are available for regular consumers and lovebeer@borough is the only group that I’ve seen doing regular beer tastings (please let me know if I’m being rubbish and there are more) and as such making my way along to one has been on The List for a while. The latest to pop up on the schedule was a tasting of beers from The Otley Brewing Company, accompanied by company director Nick Otley and head brewer Charlie Otley, so the telephone was used and a place grabbed.
To be honest I didn’t have much clue who the Otley Brewery were. I’ve heard of them and seen their stark branding but assumed, as many do it seems, that they were from Yorkshire. Otley is actually a Welsh brewer, based in Pontypridd. They take their name from the family who do the brewing and push themselves as a national brewer rather than a small regional (apart from the occasional burst of Welsh pride), which causes occasional confusion – a story was related where a friendly yorkshireman recently picked up some of the their barrels from The Bree Louise while grabbing some of his own, to help the Otley boys collect them a bit closer to home. Otley, Yorkshire, is 250 miles from Pontypridd…
The Otleys had been running pubs for a while, picking up a portfolio of three since the late 70s, so it wasn’t much of a jump to move into brewing – they had the distribution channel waiting so ‘all’ they needed was a place to brew and someone to make the beer. They found a unit down the road from The Bunch of Grapes and sent Charlie off to Sunderland to learn how to make beer. While he was away the brewery was finished and Nick and Matthew (also an Otley, but one who didn’t make it over to London for the tasting) started experimenting, producing the prototype of their first brew, the O1. Charlie applied his new know-how and in 2005 their first commercial beers were produced.
The first one we tried, appropriately, was the O1. It’s a pale golden ale. It’s light to taste, with a pleasant sweetness and slight nuttiness drifting to an orangey hoppy finish. There’s not a lot to it but it’s an easy drinking beer that’s great for a rather hot and sticky afternoon, like the one we were hiding from.
Next up was the O5 Gold. It’s another golden ale and was originally brewed as a one-off for Pontypridd rubgy club. It used a combination of US and UK hops and went down rather well, selling out rather quickly. It was promoted to the seasonal list and from there up to the regular beer portfolio. It’s brewed with lager yeast and, according to the little booklet I grabbed, now brewed with just american hops. It’s, predictably, a light gold colour, and tastes good and hoppy – a chunk of lemony hops and a rounded bitterness providing most of the flavour. This one sits perfectly in my regular favourite beer category (hoppy golden ales) and it’s one that I’ll keep an eye out for.
We then moved on to the first of the more regularly named beers of the day – the O4 Columbo. Their branding is quite stark and the names were equally stark to start with, being simply numbered. Charlie likes beers with names though, so the punning has begun. This is the next on their numerically ordered list after the unpunny Boss and it is, as with the last couple, a golden ale. Melissa’s choice for the tasting range was very much towards the more summery side of things, and this sat happily next on the list. Bitter hopped with Columbus from the USA, hence the name, and then dry hopped in the barrel with Chinook and Cascade it has a lot of floral bitterness and mushy hops on the nose. To taste it has a sweetness that fades to a chewy hop bitterness, finishing with more floral hops. You can really taste the effect of the dry hopping and it’s a good, if a little cloying, pint.
Next was the Motley Brew, inspired by a beer brewed at the brewery by Glyn from The Rake. The original was intended to be an 8% double IPA and it became a 7.5% IPA launched last December. The beer is now a more sensible 5.5% and is in the brewery’s portfolio as their April seasonal. It was (deliberately) slightly hazy with a dry and bitter hoppy flavour. It had a prickly spiciness to it, reminding me of the air in Horsham on a brewing day when I was a kid, with the Marmitey hop smell rolling over the school playground.
Hops are a subject close to the brewery’s heart, with the first four beers showing a dedication to golden hoppy ales. The price of hops has risen considerably in the last few years and while the quality of British produce is improving, years of production to the specification of the mass market has made the plants less suited to the needs of microbrewers. As such Otley, like many others, import a lot of hops from the US, and in recent times New Zealand. This requires good forward planning, with brews not only needing to be alterered based on the state of the recieved hops, but also various varieties running out due to demand, forcing defensive buying. Otley use whole hops, rather than pellets, which also adds difficulty to storage and keeping them fresh. It’s not easy producing hoppy beer…
Next up was the O-Garden, the current champion beer of Wales. It’s a wheat beer with orange, coriander and cloves, with the peel and spices cooked for a bit in a kiln to remove some of the immediate sweetness. On the nose it was spicy, with a gingery note. To taste it was quite medicinal, with menthol/clove and citrus – like an orange studded with cloves ready to be dunked into some wine for mulling. It was nice, reminding me a bit of Umbel Magna, but much lighter.
Continuing the spicy theme we moved on to the beer that Melissa recently brewed with Otley – thai-bO. The name came first for this one, after some late night pub based plotting between Melissa and Nick Otley. Working within the Thai remit they brought in lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, lime peel and galangal to do the flavouring, drying the peel and then rubbing some of the ingredients together to make a fragrant mix. The galangal went in at the start of the boil, with most of the rest going in halfway through and the lime leaves at the end – the first batch used 500g of lime leaves, which is quite a scary amount. The beer has been popular, especially amongst those, like Nick’s wife, who don’t normally like beer. As such it’s now part of the seasonal portfolio, appearing this August on a more general release. It’s got a lot of floral citrus on the nose and is similar to the O-Garden in taste, although veering more towards the citrus. Unlike other asian influenced beers I’ve tried this one isn’t particularly sweet, the kiln drying helping moderate to that, making it much more drinkable. It’s not one for me to drink all-night, but it’s certainly an interesting and tasty addition to the list.
We then moved on a fairly new brew – the still anonymous O7. It’s a cloudy wheat beer, with discussion in the room over whether it was more Belgian or German in style (it used Belgian style yeast and is referred to as Belgian, but is being described as a weissen on the website…the consensus seemed to be German), with lots of different hops – a blend of three for bitterness and another three for aroma. It smells sweet and spicy and has the distinctive citrus/grainy wheat beer flavour with a chunk of sweetness. It switches quickly from that to a quick bitter hoppy finish. My notes suggest that it runs from bananas to Angostura bitters, but that’s overselling it a bit.
To finish we had a try of the bottle conditioned version of the O8. This is one of their first beers (the number is not necessarily consecutive), an 8%er brewed for the Great Welsh Beer Festival in 2005 before they were eligible to enter competition (you need to have been brewing for 12 months). It was a hit, selling out before its official release time of 8pm, and was the champion beer at the festival the next year. It’s fruity and sweet, with a fizziness from both the bottling and alcohol content. It has a bitterness that rolls around the side of the tongue and it’s thick in the mouth – my note suggested ‘Custardy?’. To quote Charlie, it’s ‘half tidy’. Which is, apparently, Welsh for good.
4% golden ale
5% golden ale
4% pale golden ale
4.8% clear wheat beer with orange, coriander and cloves
golden ale with Thai flavours
5% Belgian (German?) style cloudy wheat beer
Bottle conditioned O8
8% strong pale golden ale
Otley’s bottled beers are available from various outlets, including their own beer selling website – Real Beer Box
The Rake often has them on tap (keep an eye on the twitter feed for details) and Charlie also mentioned that the Bree Louise sometimes gets a barrel in.
If you want to try them all, then get up to the Otley (Yorshire) beer festival in November. Otley (the Welsh brewer) will be turning up with a full range to try and confuse the locals…