Ed Murray: 'How I started a microbrewery'

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

Ed Murray always enjoyed making beer. But when the former management consultant decided to do it for a living he found out just how much finesse goes into artisan ale.

Ed Murray used to spend much of his time stuck in the car; working as a self-employed management consultant meant that a large proportion of his week was spent driving to different parts of the country. Now, it is fair to say, his commute to work has been reduced – in fact, it is barely 700 yards, the distance from his home on one side of the Oxfordshire village of Horspath to the other, the location of his new working premises ever since he and his wife Pip decided to start their own business.

If you think that alone sounds like a good enough reason for a career change, it gets better, because Ed is now doing for a living what many thousands across the country must dream of – making beer. Their new venture, the Shotover Brewing Company (named after Shotover Hill, an area of woodland that overlooks Oxford), is the result of a passion for brewing that has lasted for decades on the part of Ed, who got the bug from his father. He has made beer himself as a home brewer for more than 20 years, and didn't stop even when working as a VSO volunteer in Sierra Leone, where he used his bath in Freetown to make ale.

Ed and Pip are just one of many beer lovers who are turning their hobby into a profession. Beer sales in the UK may be dropping, with 52 pubs closing each week according to the British Beer and Pub Association, but microbreweries – small, independent breweries – are going through something of a purple patch. According to the Good Beer Guide, 71 microbreweries were set up between September 2008 and September 2009, with more opening all the time.

"It is massively exciting," says Pete Brown, who last December was named Beer Writer of the Year by the British Guild of Beer Writers. "We've now got more breweries in the country than at any time since the Second World War, which can only mean that it's good for choice." Microbreweries are not a new concept, but in 2002 a reduced rate of excise duty was introduced for breweries that produce less than a certain amount of beer. "We have a passionate and really interesting home-brewing culture in the UK," says Pete. "A lot of them have been encouraged to move it out of their sheds and start doing it on a bigger scale and commercially."

For Ed and Pip, the idea of opening up their own brewery had been burning away for the last 10 years. However, it took a Business Studies A-level project by their eldest son in 2003 to make them properly consider the idea. "He did a feasibility study for a microbrewery in Oxford," said Ed, "and he got an A for it as well. His recommendation, by the way, was that we should not open one." Yet in 2008 the idea surfaced again, and after spending Christmas debating the idea, in January last year they decided to go for it.

With Ed already knowing the principles of the craft, thanks to his home-brewing experience and having gone on a short course back in 2003, he just needed to take a further one-week course on techniques to help him with making the beer on a larger scale. The biggest issue, once they had decided to go ahead with the project, was to decide where their brewery would be sited. "We are in the Oxford green belt here, which makes trying to get planning permission for anything here really difficult," says Ed. "At first we looked at industrial estates, but they are quite soulless as well as being not that big and very expensive."

Luckily, a farmer from their village did have some space available, and although his first proposal of a barn was not feasible, his second suggestion – a disused stable in a block – was a success. Unfortunately the 200-year-old stable, which was still divided into stalls for horses, required a bit of an overhaul. "We had to work on everything," says Ed. "The masonry walls had to be rendered because wash-down walls are required in the food preparation business." The floor needed to be given a new surface so if the beer spilt it wouldn't poison the environment, and a separation tank was installed to treat the effluent.

Working to a tight deadline and doing as much work themselves as they could – "We've got the backache from the jobs," jokes Ed – they managed to get it all done before the installation of the brewing equipment last November. Of course, all the blood, sweat and tears that went into constructing the brewery would have gone to waste if the actual beer itself wasn't much cop.

With his experience of brewing, Ed decided that there was a large market for very hoppy, lightweight beers, which are known as session ales. "If you're a home brewer you don't tend to make sessions ales," he says. "If you're going to make beer you might as well make a big one, say with 5 per cent alcohol. Therefore the session ale was designed to hit a market segment."

After a number of pilots, they ended up with Prospect – a 3.7 per cent pale-copper bitter that is full of hops. "I don't think there is any point in a small brewery like us trying to make beer like other people," he says. "We set out to try and make something very distinctive that people would drink and think 'Oh, that's different!'."

Completing their current line-up of beers is Scholar, a dark copper-coloured beer that at 4.5 per cent is a bit stronger.

Pete believes that the ability to produce unusual beers is one of the great strengths of microbreweries. "Brewing is a very traditional industry," he says. "What is nice about microbreweries is that they've still got one eye on tradition and they respect it, but they are not afraid to experiment either. They are starting to create new and exciting beers, using different ingredients and processes, and mixing things up a bit."

Of course, not every small brewery in the country is producing fantastic beer. Pete believes that the quality varies massively and that "the best beers I have ever tasted and the worst beers I have ever tasted have come from UK microbrewers". Still, there are plenty of great beers being produced. "Some of these beers are as good as any kind of wine, and some are even getting into spirits territory – some of them could be a good substitute for a brandy or a single malt," he says. "And if you just fancy a decent pint, then there are lots that are just very good in that respect as well."

He believes that the popularity of microbreweries is part of a general increase of interest from British consumers in food and drink. "I think beer is left a few years behind things like cheese and wine," he says, "but people are now starting to wake up and realise that you don't just have to drink a tasteless mass-produced lager, and that there is actually some quality and variety out there."

There is, believes Ed, a real sense of community amongst brewers. "Beer people talk to each other all the time," he says. "The microbrewing-fraternity are really quite cooperative. We don't regard each other as the enemy, if you know what I mean. People are remarkably open, even commercially open, about things like the price you can get for the beer, recipes, problems with yeast or temperatures or whatever."

Of course, for Ed and Pip brewing the beer is only half the story. They also needed to work out how to sell it. "When we were planning the business we didn't even know what it was going to be called, or what the branding would be," Ed says. "We ended up having almost like little focus groups around the table. We would have a dinner party, and say 'Ok, let's play with brewery names'." Along with local name, the labels show the silhouette of the Oxford skyline. It is a connection Ed believes drinkers will respond positively to. "People are starting to look for local products," he says.

Iain Loe from the Campaign for Real Ale (Camra) agrees, and think breweries are well placed to benefit from this trend: "Ideally, I think, you should drink a microbrewer's beer close to where the beer is brewed, and preferably have the brewer explain what the flavours in that beer are all about."

Having produced its first batch last November, the Shotover Brewing Company has already managed to get its beer into some pubs, mainly thanks to local press articles and word of mouth. Now Ed and Pip plan to take stock and decide how to proceed.

"Now we can sit back and think about what days of the week we should be brewing, how much stock we should hold, and things like that," says Ed. "Since September, when we started the building programme, we've been non-stop." One of their next tasks will be to set up a business website: the brewery already has its own fan page on Facebook, set up by their youngest son, with 270 fans and growing.

Shotoverbrewing.com

Small wonders: Britain's best microbreweries

Hop Back Brewery

It started life as a brew pub in Salisbury in the Eighties, but the Hop Back Brewery – now in the Wiltshire village of Downton – has grown substantially. Its leading beer is the award-winning Summer Lightning.

www.hopback.co.uk

Crouch Vale Brewery

Making beer since the early Eighties, the Crouch Vale Brewery in Essex brews a range of seasonal beers as well as its regular brews.

www.crouchvale.co.uk

Harviestoun Brewery

The Harviestoun Brewery – in Clackmannanshire in the heart of Scotland – was set up by Ken Brooker, a former Ford worker. In 2007 their session ale Bitter & Twisted was named 'World's Best Ale' at the World Beer Awards. www.harviestoun.com

Otley Brewing Company

A stylish Welsh brewery that has attempted to introduce a new audience to real ales, the Otley Brewing Company was started in 2005 and has a range of beers that are regularly recognised at awards.

www.otleybrewing.co.uk

PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Voices
Ukip leader Nigel Farage arrives at the Rochester by-election count
voicesIs it any wonder that Thornberry, Miliband, and Cameron have no idea about ordinary everyday life?
Sport
sportComment: Win or lose Hamilton represents the best of Britain
Life and Style
tech
Sport
Arsene Wenger reacts during Arsenal's 2-1 defeat to Swansea
footballMan United and Arsenal meet on Saturday with both clubs this time languishing outside the top four
News
i100BBC political editor Nick Robinson had a lot of explaining to do
Life and Style
Nappies could have advice on them to encourage mothers and fathers to talk to their babies more often
newsTalking to babies can improve their language and vocabulary skills
Sport
Tony Bellew holds two inflatable plastic sheep at the weigh-in for his rematch with Nathan Cleverly
boxingGrudge match takes place on Saturday night
Arts and Entertainment
Mark Ronson at PS1
arts + ents
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    Investigo: IT Auditor

    £60000 - £75000 per annum + Benefits : Investigo: A global leading travel busi...

    Recruitment Genius: Chef De Partie x 2

    £16000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This charming and contemporary ...

    Recruitment Genius: Membership Sales Advisor - OTE £20,000 Uncapped

    £15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The fastest growing fitness cha...

    Recruitment Genius: Personal Trainer - £30,000 OTE Uncapped

    £15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The fastest growing fitness cha...

    Day In a Page

    US immigration: President Obama ready to press ahead with long-promised plan to overhaul 'broken system' - but will it get past a Republican-controlled Congress?

    Immigration: Obama's final frontier

    The President is ready to press ahead with the long-promised plan to overhaul America's 'broken system' - but will it get past a Republican-controlled Congress?
    Bill Cosby rape allegations explained: Why are these allegations coming out now? Why didn’t these women come forward earlier? And why has nobody taken legal action?

    Bill Cosby rape allegations explained

    Why are these allegations coming out now? Why has nobody taken legal action? And what happens next for the man once thought of as 'America's Dad'
    Four years of excruciating seizures caused by the 1cm tapeworm found burrowing through a man's brain

    You know that headache you’ve got?

    Four years of excruciating seizures caused by the 1cm tapeworm found burrowing through a man's brain
    Travelling to work by scooter is faster than walking and less sweaty than cycling, so why aren’t we all doing it?

    Scoot commute

    Travelling to work by scooter is faster than walking and less sweaty than cycling, so why aren’t we all doing it?
    Paul Robeson: The story of how an American icon was driven to death to be told in film

    The Paul Robeson story

    How an American icon was driven to death to be told in film
    10 best satellite navigation systems

    Never get lost again: 10 best satellite navigation systems

    Keep your vehicle going in the right direction with a clever device
    Paul Scholes column: England must learn to keep possession and dictate games before they are exposed by the likes of Germany and Brazil

    Paul Scholes column

    England must learn to keep possession and dictate games before they are exposed by the likes of Germany and Brazil
    Michael Dawson: I’ll thank Spurs after we win says defender as he prepares to return with Hull

    Michael Dawson: I’ll thank Spurs after we win

    Hull defender faces his struggling former club on Sunday ready to show what they are missing. But he says he will always be grateful to Tottenham
    Frank Warren column: Dr Wu has big plans for the professionals yet he should stick to the amateur game

    Frank Warren column

    Dr Wu has big plans for the professionals yet he should stick to the amateur game
    Synagogue attack: Fear unites both sides of Jerusalem as minister warns restoring quiet could take 'months'

    Terror unites Jerusalem after synagogue attack

    Rising violence and increased police patrols have left residents of all faiths looking over their shoulders
    Medecins sans Frontieres: The Ebola crisis has them in the headlines, but their work goes far beyond West Africa

    'How do you carry on? You have to...'

    The Ebola crisis has Medecins sans Frontieres in the headlines, but their work goes far beyond West Africa
    Isis extends its deadly reach with suicide bombing in Kurdish capital

    Isis extends its deadly reach with suicide bombing in Kurdish capital

    Residents in what was Iraq’s safest city fear an increase in jihadist attacks, reports Patrick Cockburn
    Underwater photography competition winners 2014 - in pictures

    'Mysterious and inviting' shot of diver wins photography competition

    Stunning image of cenote in Mexico takes top prize
    Sir John Major: Negative West End portrayals of politicians put people off voting

    Sir John Major hits out at theatres

    Negative West End portrayals of politicians put people off voting
    Kicking Barbie's butt: How the growth of 3D printing enabled me to make an army of custom-made figurines

    Kicking Barbie's butt

    How the growth of 3D printing enabled toy-designer to make an army of custom-made figurines