Good beers? The secret’s in the water

Director Martin Ogley at Elland brewery
Director Martin Ogley at Elland brewery

Tucked away on Heathfield Road estate is Elland Brewery – where a small well-drilled team of beer lovers conjour up unique flavours for real-ale fans.

To say the beers are popular would be an understatement.

Brewers Nick Briggs in the mash tun at Elland Brewery

Brewers Nick Briggs in the mash tun at Elland Brewery

Around the walls are certificates and awards recognising a host of beers produced since the company began in 2002.

The brewery produces around 12 quality, hand-crafted ales a month, six “house” ales which appear throughout the year, five more that rotate monthly and a completely new ale every month too. Director Martin Ogley has been at the brewery since day one and while the original brewers have changed, Martin’s desire to move the brewery forward has not.

“I still feel pride when I walk into a pub and see one of our beer clips on a pump,” said Martin, who makes a 60-mile round trip from his home in Barnsley every day.

“We’re very proud of what we can offer our customers and we always want to try and give something different each month. There’s quite a large market out there who want to try new beers just to say they’ve tried them, so we make a new one every month.”

The company was formed as Elland Brewery after the Barge and Barrel Brewery, based in Elland, joined forces with Eastwood and Sanders.

The deal ensured Elland’s brewing tradition remained intact.

“The water in Elland is really good for beer-making,” said Martin.

“When it comes to producing ale, the softer the water, the better, and the water here is ideal.”

The wide range of beers is made by mixing different hops and grains.

Malted barley is poured into a mash tun and soaked with warm water to flush out the malt sugars, which are then boiled with hops for seasoning.

Brewers Nick Briggs and Gordon McKiernan combine hops from countries across the world, including New Zealand, America, Germany and France, to create different flavours and colours.

It is then cooled, yeast is added and the beer ferments. It is then left for several days before being barreled.

“There are not many industries left in this country where things are actually made,” said Martin.

“I like that – we’re one of the last few who do actually make something.

But making beer comes at a cost and the real-ale market has not been immmune to the economic downturn.

The industry contributes £28 billion a year to the British economy, largely through duty paid by brewers.

“I pay getting on for £20,000 a year in beer duty, VAT, PAYE and National Insurance and we’re only a small business,” Martin said.

“I’ve tended to get quite political in the last few years when people ask me for a discount on prices because my profit margins are being squeezed from all sides, particularly beer duty.

“We’ve just started selling bottled ales to see how that goes, but if I sell them in the supermarket I make less than 10p a bottle, which isn’t worth it.

“Understandbly pubs want to get the ale for the lowest price because the customer wants to drink for the lowest price and the economic situation hasn’t helped.

“People want a hand-crafted ale full of flavour and taste but don’t want to pay top price for it.

“There are 130 breweries in Yorkshire alone and pubs are closing all the time, so it’s getting harder to make money.”

But it’s certainly not all doom and gloom, with a new generation of drinkers trying real ales.

“There’s an image of a real-ale drinker as a larger gentleman with a beard and a woolly jumper but more and more young people want to try it.

“That means more pubs want to try and get a few ales in and that’s a positive thing.”

The brewery picked up four awards in the Society of Independent Brewers Northern Beer Competition – more than any other brewery.

Said Martin: “All in all, it wasn’t a bad day.”

As for the future for the brewery, Martin insists it will be in Elland.

“We lease the units and we’ve got that lease for the next five years, so we’ll be in Elland until at least then – maybe longer.”