Published on October 6, 2017 | by Alastair Gilmour0
Getting a round in
It’s noticeable there are no chairs at Roundhill Brewery. Sitting down in the unit in Billingham, Teesside, means pulling up a sack of malted barley – which is surprisingly comfortable as it moulds itself to your body shape but simultaneously covers you in flour. It’s still not a chair, though.
“There’s no time to sit down anyway,” says owner Russell Allen. “I do everything myself, everything. I’ve got a brush sticking up my backside so I can sweep as I go.”
Russell started his own venture after leaving his job in software, but curiously his brewery is controlled totally by hand and eyet.
“It’s proper brewing, not push-button,” he says. “I’m not against technology but some people use technology for technology’s sake. Craft beer should be hand-crafted, not brewed by computers. My beers are living beers, unfiltered and unpasteurised. I’m not into keg – and filtering takes some of the flavour out. There might be a small variation between batches and I had to brew with my kit for a while to get consistency – which people have told me I now have.”
Russell had been home-brewing for 40 years which has honed and tuned his recipe skills. It took four years to get the brewery going from first thinking about it. Like many a successful brewing entrepreneur, he took a course at Brewlab in Sunderland which confirmed that what he had been doing all these years was right – even passing on advice to his mentors. He moved into his tidy, compact unit in October 2016 and sold his first beer in February of this year. His five-barrel brewhouse came from renowned brewing specialist Oban Ales (who also supplied the kit at Three Kings and Flash House, North Shields; Tyne Bank, Newcastle, and Hexhamshire Brewery).
“I was looking for a smaller unit than the one I eventually decided on, but this is filling up,” he says. “Brewing is 95% cleaning. I couldn’t sleep the night before I did my first brew worrying about getting inside the tank and cleaning it out. I’m terrible in confined spaces.”
The hinged aperture is little more than two feet in diameter and Russell – a tall man – has to shimmy his way in and out. Installing an inspection lamp has reduced his claustrophobia, however.
Roundhill is a real family enterprise and he reckons he lost a great brewer when youngest daughter Sophie went off to university.
He says: “She also used to come out delivering with me. She could walk into any pub and talk to anybody about beer.”
Russell’s beers are on the counters of pubs in Redcar, Stockton, Darlington, Hartlepool, Seaton Carew and Middlesbrough with micropubs taking them in their monthly revolving programmes, plus they’ve made successful appearances at Nottingham Camra Beer Festival and York Beer Festival. Distribution is handled by 6 Barrels in North Shields. He brews once or twice a week, depending on delivery schedules. The base for most of the six core Roundhill beers is pale malt but Russell uses a de-husked dark malt for regular “specials” because of its low astringency. It’s bags labelled Weyermann Cara Hell (Germany) that we’re perched on which Russell likes using although it’s particularly light for using in a stout but still gives the coffee flavours he’s after.
“Tomorrow’s job is bottling,” he says with a distinct lack of enthusiasm for the tedious job. “We fill four at a time mainly for farmers’ markets. Instead of labels stuck on the bottles, we string tags around their necks. As we get more into bottling I’ll take someone on and brew more customised beers.”
It’s part of the plan to ultimately invite people in for brew days and brewery visits.
“Daddy Day-Care I call it.”
Roundhill Brewery beers include:
Midnight Slug Porter (4.8% abv) “the only beer I brew that my wife likes”; Brown Ale (4.9% abv); the subtly fruity Dark Ale (5.2% abv); copper-coloured Bitter (4.1% abv); Billingham Pale Ale (5.2% abv) – hoppy and zesty – and Pale & Golden (4.2% abv).