Tell us a bit about your brewery.
Founded in 1850 by Dr William Okell, who pioneered ‘steam brewing’. Okells moved to its present site in 1994 with a brew length of 60 brls but capable of doing a 20 brl brew. We started exporting successfully to the UK around 5 years ago – UK sales account for around 35% of production now.
How long have you been brewing for?
I started brewing immediately after University in 1974.
How did you get into brewing? Did you homebrew?
I did a B.Sc in Microbiology and couldn’t decide what to do. Saw an MSc in Brewing at Birmingham University and thought… ‘well, I like beer why not learn how to brew it’. I then did a PhD in brewing and had a surprise interview one Monday morning (after a rather heavy student party the night before) and was immediately offered a job with Watneys at one of their London Breweries.
Who/what inspired you to be a brewer?
As above it was a combination of chance – but beer was the inspiration!
Where is your brewery based and what capacity do you currently have?
Okells is based on the Isle of Man, just outside the capital, Douglas. We have a current capacity of around 20,000 brls, but with ambitious expansion plans thanks to our export successes.
Is there anything that you believe you do differently to other brewers?
As far as I am aware we have the only (in the British Isles) wide gap plate and frame heat exchanger for heating the wort in the Copper. For my part there are very few Doctors of Biochemistry working as head brewers and I like to think this has a real influence on the complexity and taste of my beer recipes.
What steps do you take when creating a new ale? How do you decide what to make?
Inspiration, reading books on brewing and beer styles, watching the market place.
What do you think attracts people to your beers?
All our beers are easy-drinking and well balanced.
Do you create them for a specific market, or do you brew the kind of beers that you like?
We make beer specially for the IoM market which is Okells Bitter and is still our biggest seller. Although, as a commercial brewer, I have to brew for the market, it is a lot more satisfying to present beers you enjoy personally and are proud of.
Do you enjoy drinking your own beers?
Which of your beers is your favourite? Have you had any outright disappointments or disasters?
My favourite is our Saison (4.5%)if its just a couple of drinks. If it’s a session then our Bitter (3.7% and English hops) or our MPA (3.6% and new World Hops).
Do you collaborate with other brewers, and if so what do you get from this?
No, I can’t see the point. It feels like marketing for marketing sake.
What are your top 3 favourite beers of all time, and why?
Can’t say I really have favourite beers, it’s horses for courses, different place/times/surroundings influence the enjoyment of any one particular beer.
What are your plans for the future?
We plan to install a 5 brl pilot plant, a new keg plant and bottling line this year.
How would you describe the brewing industry in the UK?
In certain categories it is extremely buoyant.
Where do you think the industry is going?
I see the major brewers taking over a lot of smaller ‘craft’ breweries.
What is your personal view of CAMRA and SIBA?
Both do a lot to help the real ale brewers but I think CAMRA’s attitude towards such things as Craft Keg need to change.
Do you have a website where people can find out more about your brewery?