The Cotswold Brewing Company was originally set up in 2005 by Richard and Emma Keene near Kingham in Gloucestershire. Five years later, to accommodate their need for more production space, they bought College Farm, with its 10 acre paddock and agricultural barn on the outskirts of Bourton on the Water, Gloucestershire.
The brewery is housed in a very big agricultural building, which is divided into the main brewing room, the storage room, a reception, the office and also a sampling room, which is made to look like a pub. The couple also arrange brewery tours, where people can learn all about how beer is made.
They operate a system of shared facilities, where two other brewers Mattias Sjoberg of the Compass Brewery (see our other article) and Peter Scholey of the Ridgeway Brewery can come and brew their own beers and ales, as “cuckoo brewers”, when Richard has extra capacity available.
They currently produce around 8000 litres of beer every month, and their main customer base is independent free houses in the Thames Valley, the Cotswolds, London and the M40 corridor.
“Approximately 70% of the beer that is drunk in Britain is lager,” said Emma “There is no other British micro brewery that uses Continental and Germanic methods to make lager. What we are trying to do is create really tasty, unpasteurised lagers, with no additives and no preservatives, and sell them within a relatively local radius. Our lagers take six weeks to produce: they are full in flavour and full in body. We sell to a clientele that really cares about provenance.”
They sell mainly in kegs to nearby pubs, in the Oxfordshire, Gloucestershire and Wiltshire area, as well as at farmers’ markets.
There are only four main ingredients that go to making lager: malt, hops, yeast and water. They buy malt from traditional English producers and they use German hops and Swiss yeast, and brew their lager according to old Germanic brewing laws.
Through a process of reverse osmosis they are able to remove all the impurities from their local water supply and create water of glacial purity.
Richard, Emma’s husband, trained at Edinburgh’s Herriott-Watt University, and from there he went to work for Courage’s, Pilgrim’s and Archer’s breweries. The couple always had a dream to set up their own independent artisanal brewery, and using Richard’s experience and Emma’s professional background in IT, client management and sales they launched the venture, buying all their equipment from America.
The Cotswold Brewing Company now produces the following five lagers:
Cotswold Premium Lager 5.0% ABV
Cotswold Lager 3.8% ABV
Cotswold Summer Lager 4% ABV
Cotswold Dark Lager 5.3% ABV
Cotswold Wheat Beer 4.2% ABV
We have tasted them all at Foodie Bugle Towers, and we now understand what all the fuss is about. There is a clear, crisp and authentic flavour to their lagers, underpinned sometimes by fresh, lemony notes and there is a pleasing, malty, layered finish. We found these lagers very drinkable with both sweet and savoury food, for both lunch and dinner. The couple took time to develop their offering, and in so doing developed their own signature style. This sort of expertise does not happen overnight. The presentation is particularly noteworthy: the labelling depicts native flora and wildlife scenes from the Cotswolds, emphasising the origins of the beer and connecting it with the landscape in which Emma and Richard work on a daily basis.
Watching Richard, now 45, climbing speedily up and down vertical metal ladders to reach the dizzy heights of the large stainless steel vats that contain the mash and the sugary wort, is really impressive. He works extremely hard, over long hours in what must be, especially in winter, very cold and difficult conditions. Despite the physical demands of this job, Richard has an infectious smile and a huge beaming smile for all the duration of my visit. The couple have three small daughters, and juggle business and home life. “It’s not too bad,” Emma tells me. “They are at school for some of the time, and living and working in your own business does give you greater flexibility.”
Richard tells me that the situation at The Cotswold Brewing Company is ideal for them, as there are three brewers operating on the site, and the collaboration brings with it economic benefits for everyone. “It takes three small micro breweries to take on one national brewery” he says. The costs of raw materials have spiralled over the last few years, but demand for their lagers is increasing.
“Even when we had a tour party over from Bremen, in Germany, where Stella lager is made, they thought our lager on a par with some of the best Germanic breweries. They were so interested in what we are doing here. The response from our clients has been really positive, as more and more people want to drink locally made, artisanal beer that has full and rounded flavour” said Emma.
As you leave the Cotswold Brewery, down a hidden, stony, dirt track, back onto the main road, you realise that nobody would even know that this brewery exists. There are no signs and no indications that this business is here, and when you reach the main road you almost have to re-orientate yourself back into the real world. How much of Great Britain’s artisanal drink heritage and future lies in such hands: the busy, productive hands of young and enterprising couples, who, through gracious quietness and studious ingenuity have risked all to follow their dream and create something truly special in this most ancient of crafts.
Richard and Emma Keene
The Cotswold Brewing Company
Bourton on the Water
Gloucestershire GL54 2HN
Telephone: 01451 824488
Follow Emma and Richard Keene on Twitter: @CotswoldLager