Published on March 4th, 2020 | by Alastair Gilmour0
McColl’s you need is love
A County Durham brewery has gone through something of a rebrand which, as Alastair Gilmour discovers, is a collaboration of art and science
When Danny McColl reels off his beer influencers, chances are they’ll not be the names that most brewers would mention. Mikkel Borg Bjergsø (Mikkeler) and Brooklyn’s Garrett Oliver come below Albert Moortgat, Saul Bass and Shigeo Fukuda.
Fukuda and Bass were renowned graphic artists, while Albert Moortgat, son of the founder of the Belgian Moortgat brewery, developed legendary Duvel strong pale ale after finding a yeast strain in Scotland in the 1920s that he instinctively knew was perfect for his needs.
“McColl’s Brewery was founded on a firm belief of Art and Science in equal measure,” says Danny. “Ultimately that’s what we aim to portray. My wife Gemma – hands on artist and all-round creative – brings the art, while I like things in rows; tidy and explained. Together, we are heavily influenced by 20th Century print media which is often minimalist but always vibrant and clear. And I can remember my first taste of Duvel, thinking this was the best beer ever, then couldn’t believe that the yeast came from McEwan’s.”
County Durham-based McColl’s has just launched a rebrand of its products, in the knowledge that the brewery’s third birthday was fast approaching and that they’d finally have to stop tinkering and get down to some all-encompassing design work.
Danny says: “It was time for a little spruce-up and a little bit of growing up, to be fair. Although I was happy with individual designs, the brewery never really had an identity. It was all a bit incoherent and bitty. So rather than making the beers up as we went along and the artwork as a last minute flurry of excitement, we took the time in late 2019 to nail down what McColl’s Brewery is and what we want to do, specifically beers and styles.
“Now we have a style to call our own, in design and in our beers. Every conversation around the dinner table or in the pub ebbs and flows from woolly idealism, creative stupidity and clinical stubbornness, where logical positivism and post modernism get drunk – this is what we ultimately aimed to portray.
“It took us four months to get where we are. You should see the size of the files on the computer. I’m canny on the computer and Gemma is stupidly creative, so we decided to jump in with both feet.
“It’s taken us three years to work out who we are and what we do, but we’ve stuck with our four core beers and by looking at the industry, started doing trendy and one-off beers. But the four core beers are what we are known for.
“None of our beers look to America for inspiration; our influences are Scottish, Belgian and traditional English. They are where it’s at for me.”
McColl’s has recently released Lady Marmalade Best Bitter in can which Danny is excited about, saying that cans aren’t just for hazy IPAs and that there’s a move back into uncomplicated, finer, darker beers.
“It’s about drinkability and cleanliness, so why not a best bitter,” he says. And, a one-off is about to become a two-off. “We’re doing another Beetroot Bier De Garde. We got so much appreciation from the last one we just had to bring it back. Ultimately we want you to fancy another beer when you’re finished that one, not just give you that hit and leave you feeling full or maxed out.
“Core beers, experimental, seasonal or collaborations – the aim is to enjoy it, and that’s everyone, not just a niche few. It’s not all glitz and glam and current trends.”
Danny and Gemma are bolstered by salesman Justin Cooper, who many North East ale drinkers might remember from his days managing the Queen Victoria in Gosforth, Newcastle. Having been on yon side of the bar and on the receiving end of brewery reps’ sales patter, he knows when to raise and when to fold.
“Justin’s doing a great job,” says Danny. “He knows what’s inside my head. It really helps that he’s been in the pub trade because he knows how things should be sold and when to get in touch with people. It also means I get to the odd event which I haven’t had much time to do before.
“It’s now about not doing everything for the sake of it; I can pick and choose. And I’m trying to get more active on social media, up the game sort of thing, which has had a little bit of effect. It also makes the business look a bit more professional – it’s all a long learning curve.”
An oak barrel, strapped to a pallet, sits up in the brewery grain store. It contains a collaboration between McColl’s and Brew York brewery. Danny is keen on developing these relationships and has already been involved with Rigg & Furrow in Northumberland along with several others nationwide.
The beer is a Belgian Quad which, by its Christmas reveal, should reach well into double figures for strength of alcohol. Albert Moortgat would approve.
McCOLL’S CORE BEERS
SUMA IPA (5.0% abv)
Danny McColl says: “We have been schooled by most brewers we have met in the past two years; Suma is the product of these schoolings. A big and bold hazy modern IPA. Juicy sweet malt helps balance big bitterness, pine and hop aromas of mango, citrus and grapefruit.”
PETITE BELGIAN BLONDE ALE (4.1% abv)
“Our love of Belgian ales is born out of holidays in Northern France and their ancestral Scottish qualities – the perfect marriage. Petite is a crisp, easy going interpretation with a simple malt base, mild fruity esters from the Belgian yeast and delicate citrus and grapefruit aromas from Chinook and Celiea hops.”
LADY MARMALADE BEST BITTER (4.4% abv)
“Ultimately the style of beer that got us in to this mess back in the early 2000s. A pub beer, a session beer that makes you feel comfortable and warm inside. A classic, sweet, full-bodied beer. Caramel flavours dominate with light touches of spicy rye, deep citrus hop flavours and aromas, and a long-lasting bitterness.”
NORTH SOUTH PORTER (4.6% abv)
“A more recent hankering for porters has found us jump in with both feet and commit this to our core range – but very much a blend of contemporary and traditional recipes. A robust yet refreshingly smooth ale. Complexity from the malt offers coffee, caramel and chocolate, married with light coconut and citrus hop notes and a medium dry finish.”