Published on October 6, 2017 | by Alastair Gilmour0
Slow burner picks up the pace
When Danny McColl was searching for memorable images for his new brewing venture, he had two things in mind. They shouldn’t remind people of McColl’s the newsagents or the Tyne & Wear Metro M.
He knew what he didn’t want, but was he sure about what he was actually after? It’s a common conundrum, so he invited ideas from outside his own comfort zone.
“You think you know what you want, you then kind of know what you want,” says Danny, whose McColl’s Brewery at Evenwood, County Durham, produced its first beer in May 2017. “Now try getting that out of your head, have it put in front of you and be happy with it.
“There are some things you have to let go and let better people do their job. I can talk beer all day but maybe not pull the right stops for a label.”
So, with initial ideas having run out, Danny set up a crowdfunding project after being presented with new sets of ideas from local company Proportion Marketing and designers Tom Kidd and Michelle Eaves to introduce prospective beer followers to the world of branding.
But you can’t dress up a mediocre product with slick graphics and bonny colours – you’ll soon get found out. The big difference is that Danny McColl makes excellent beer which he’s very proud of – and that his knowledge has developed from humble beginnings.
He says: “The month me and my (now) wife Gemma met she got me a home-brew kit for Christmas. I did that for ten years, learning the terminology, the theory, and getting the knowledge.
“About six years ago I thought ‘I’ve got to do this commercially’. While on holiday in the Lake District I saw Tirril Brewery were after a brewer, sent them an email and got started. They let me loose on their 20-barrel kit, learning the hard way, but it gave me the understanding and a grounding in good practice – plus learning all the downfalls.”
Danny also enrolled on an advanced brewing course at Brewlab in Sunderland which he eagerly admits opened his eyes to another level. “Cogs started to whirl and I put a business plan together,” he says.
He acquired brewing equipment from the defunct Wharfe Bank Brewery in West Yorkshire which fitted his needs – and saved a few grand on buying new. Brewery recruits include highly experienced salesman Stewart Fox and Andrew Burnip, office manager, both of whom conform to Danny McColl’s dictum of getting the team right. A feedback evening for crowdfunding investors at The Old George in Newcastle also introduced some of the recipes he had formulated at Brewlab.
The resultant McColl’s portfolio consists of IPA (5.0% abv), Best Bitter (4.4% abv), Golden Ale (4.0% abv) and Pale Ale (4.5% abv). More will inevitably follow, but Danny is someone who needs to get things the way he wants them before moving on.
“We went for four beers from the start,” he says. “We didn’t just want to discard our brewing heritage and wanted to get it right first before we go off and do IPAs, double IPAs, Trappist beers and Pilsners.
“It’s about quality from North East beers. We set out to be traditional but hopefully our brand conveys that we’re a little bit different from traditional.
“I’m still tweaking them and getting closer to how I really want them. Extraction is a lot different on a 20-barrel brewery than on a 100-litre experimental kit.
“We’re well located here (near Bishop Auckland) for Tyneside and Leeds. Our 20-barrel brewhouse and 10-barrel fermenters meet all our requirements and cover any expansion plans. But we would have done it differently had I not had that earlier brewery experience.
“In the short term we want to cement ourselves in the market and not get run away with ourselves. We want to get the local area involved – Bishop Auckland is going through lots of improvements with the likes of Kynren, the live-action open-air show, plus Bishop Auckland Castle and the town itself.
“Anything and everything is within our ambition. I’m a slow burner, I like to take my time over things. It might sound stupid but my aim is to be like a Thornbridge, Marble or Hawkshead brewery where you get the following and a solid understanding from the local community. Most of all, though, you need the fundamentals in quality.”