Baron on Tour: Okells Brewery

In early March I was fortunate to visit the Isle of Man with work and to be able to coordinate a trip round the island's largest brewery - Okell's Brewery just outside Douglas.

Mike Cowbourne who is the head brewer of Okells is quite a prolific tweeter and we've struck up conversation via Twitter on a number of occasions. This time he offered to show me and a number of colleagues around the brewery.

Okells is a twenty minute walk from Douglas and is round the back of a large industrial unit owned by parent company Heron & Brearley. Mike showed us in and took us straight up to the control floor. Quite a strange looking room with short stubby vessels until you realised that they are just the tops of them, they descend straight down into the floor below!

Mike started the tour by giving us quite a bit of background on who was Dr. Okells and how he started the brewery, the Okells website has an excellent summary of the historyof Okells Brewery, much better than my scrawled notes. Mike has been brewing since university, where he did a micro biology degree and then an MSc in brewing.

Okells currently brew around 80,000 barrels a year, with a lot being exported to the UK via deals with Greene King, Coors, WTBS and other wholesale roots. There are a few Okells owned pubs in the UK, Thomas Rigbys, Fly in the Loaf in Liverpool and Beer & Billet in Chester and some Market Town Taverns.

In 1994 Okells went highly computerised which provides consitency as well as giving him plenty of different  options when it comes to brewing. He has a Mash Conversion Vessel (aka lauter tun) which allow him to temperature program the mash, extracting different types of sugar at the different temperatures to give different fermentables. The lauter tun can filter and sparge, but instead of the regular sparge arm there are distributed sprayheads instead which act like a wonderful power shower.

The kettle or 'copper' has a vapour condenser on the top, which captures the steam generated in the brewing process and in turn is fed back into heating the hot water for the next brew.

They have a unique wort heater, they have a wide gap plate heater as their heat exchanger, which requires minimal downtime compared to the normal heat exchanger.

Hops were talked about next, they add hops at three stages of the brew, half way through the boil (for bitterness) and then five minutes before the end of the boil (or flame-out) which are mainly for aroma. The wort is then pumped into the whirlpool vessel where more hops are added before then being filtered out via centrifugal force as the wort leaves the whirlpool. Mike is experimenting with galaxy hops at the moment and has been playing with the hop aspects of the Okells common range to see if he can impart more aroma.

They currently brew a Saison special with regular Okells house yeast but Mike is thinking of playing with some Belgium yeast for the Saison and let if ferment for around five days but has concerns about yeast cross-contamination

We then moved to the Okells lab where he conducts various profile tests, and hot & cold break measurments to measure protiens. He also has gas chromatography machines for flavour profile.

Then it was time to move to the bar and sample some of these beers that Mike had been making us thirsty for!

First up with their replacement for their mild. Mild sales are down "dying with the guys that drink it" as Mike so honestly put it. It's trial name was "Olaf the Black" and it was a 3.9% dark ale with a lovely roasty and stout-like flavour and a burnt bitter finish. A lot more bitterness than a mild and would make a great session stout.

Olde Skipper is a new seasonal ale, a 4.5% fleshy fruity ale brewed with Galaxy and Cascade hops for plenty of fruity citrus aroma and flavours. Really smooth and creamy thanks to the Isle of Man respecting the use of the sparkler...

Okells Red was next, a 4.7% sweet candied sugary fruit tasting ale with a lovely dark amber/reddish tint. A really nice ale and one for the person who doesn't like bitter.

Mike then disappeared and came back with a couple of jugs full of  beer straight from the conditioning tanks - you can't get fresher than that!

Spring Ram is another new seasonal ale, a 4.5% beer brewed with Citra hops, it had a sulphour-like and big stinky hops smell and a big bitter finish compared to the taste that was a bit more mellow. We also got to try Dr. Okells IPA which was a 4.5% fresh clean citrus ale brewed with Bobek (Syrian Goldings) and Cascade - it was a creamier version (due to being cask ale) of their bottled version which we gave a [baron rating 4/5].

We then had a short chat about beer in general, he can't leave the brewery much but tries to get to GBBF if he can. He likes to keep an eye on what Thornbridge, Kernel and BrewDog are up to although he follows loads of people on twitter so gets ideas and inspirations from all over the place.

We all really enjoyed looking around Okells Brewery and I'd like to say a massive "thank you" to Mike for giving over his evening to show me around and to be so generous with the samples of ales.

You can follow Mike on Twitter or see what Okells are up to via Facebook or their blog.

Mike Cowbourne & The Ormskirk Baron


Tandleman said...

I think you'll find it is Heron and Brearley Baron.

Baron Orm said...

Updated! Thanks for the correction.

Brother Logic said...

How do you make a Saison with an ale yeast?

Mike said...

saisons are ales but fermented at much higher temps than a normal ale fermentation. We ferment starting at 22 and let it go up to 29, our normal temp is start 17 max 21. The yeast then produces those fruity esters typical of a Saison. Did not want to risk having 2 yeast strains running in the brewery by using a dedicates saison yeast

Baron Orm said...

Thanks Mike for confirming, I started to doubt my notes based on Brother Logic's excellent question!

pdtnc said...

Nice write up :)

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