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Cotleigh Brewery: The Somerset craft brewer

PUBLISHED: 09:55 31 January 2017 | UPDATED: 09:55 31 January 2017

The brewery's shop sells its extensive range

The brewery's shop sells its extensive range

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Rachael Sharpe heads to Cotleigh Brewery and discovers 35 years of brewing excellence and a brand fit for the future…

Cotleigh Brewery is situated in the historic brewing town of Wiveliscombe, where it’s been based since 1980. The brewery actually began life in Devon, however, a year earlier, in the old stable block of Cotleigh Farmhouse at Washfield near Tiverton. What began as a five-barrel brewing plant, with Tawny – still one of the most popular beers in the South West – being the first brew and being immediately successful.

Original owner, Ted Bishop, was succeeded in the early 80s by John and Jenny Aries, a husband and wife team, who built upon the brewery’s success, before they sold the brewery on to Stephen Heptinstall in 2003. I’m given this potted history by Stephen, while sitting in the brewery’s function room, which manages to be homely even though it’s huge. Above the impressive carved wooden bar, made from a Victorian wardrobe, sits the original brewery sign and above that a stained window giving a clue to the bar’s former use as Maynards Bakery. Stephen brought the building, which also houses the shop and a few offices, in 2006. It sits next door to the brewery itself.

Stephen Hepinstall who took over the brewery in 2003Stephen Hepinstall who took over the brewery in 2003

Talking about the function room, which is a well-used community space people can hire out for live music events, birthday parties, etc, I learn that it was the Royal Marines who started the events, when they asked if they could have a party at the brewery.

The Brewery’s relationship with the Royal Marines started back in 2007 when Master Brewer Jeff Curd joined the business and the brewery introduced a number of new brands including Commando Hoofing 4.0%, brewed to support the Royal Marines Family after 40 Commando Royal Marines returned from operational deployment in Afghanistan. The pale, golden beer, refreshing and slightly sparkling, was launched at the Royal Marines homecoming parade in Taunton and was immediately said to be ‘hoofing’ – a Royal Marine term used to describe something fantastic.

Stephen has built on this relationship with the Royal Marines, producing a plethora of commemorative labels for Commando Hoofing and indeed becoming the only brewer with permission to use the military coat of arms on a bottle. Cotleigh Brewery donates 5p for every bottle or pint of Commando Hoofing sold to the Go Commando Charity and has so far donated in excess of £23,000.

Although Cotleigh Brewery is steeped in history and has a great pedigree, it’s certainly not stuck in the past. Stephen has gone to great lengths to ensure the brewery is in a good position to move forward in what is a very saturated market. When he bought the brewery there were 440 breweries in the UK, now there are 1,440.

Another new Cotleigh beer is IPAAnother new Cotleigh beer is IPA

“The competition keeps us on our toes. It’s important that our brand image is as good as it can be in this market,” says Stephen who introduced bottling the breweries beers at first opportunity – until then they were all cask-only.

Following a number of enquiries from the export market, Cotleigh products are now sold in the USA and a number of European markets. Simultaneously, the company are very much involved with the local community, for example, you’ll find Cotleigh Brewery at shows including Taunton Flower Show and Watchet Music Festival. They also brew Old Steamer, as a celebration beer for West Somerset Railway.

The brewery shop, open Monday through to Saturday, sells all of their own products and a nice selection of local spirits and ciders. It’s well used by the Wivvy locals – you know you’re in good company when the walls are crammed with awards!

Stephen explains that doing things differently is how the brewery survives in the crowded market place and one of the things he’s keen on is being associated with a big chain. Given this, Cotleigh Brewery regularly supplies Wetherspoon with guest beers for its festivals – great for reaching the younger market. Stephen shows us the next one to go into Wetherspoon – Hip Hop Hooray – which is being brewed and branded for them, using three British hops and boasts a delicious late summer fruits flavour. It’ll be exclusive to Wetherspoon pubs until it goes off-sale and then it’ll be sold with the other Cotleigh craft beers. Another new beer from Cotleigh is IPA, brewed using Motueka hops from New Zealand, which launched in September, due to consumer demand.

Beers previously brewed for WetherspoonBeers previously brewed for Wetherspoon

“Increasingly consumers are asking for more flavour and taste and we’ve responded to that,” explains Stephen.

When Stephen says he’s focused on brewing consistently good beer, we believe him. It’s evident. As he guides us around the brewery, still situated in the original building, we’re shown the hops, of which he only buys the best, from the UK and abroad and I meet some of the brewers, who are regularly sent for training – it’s clear it’s a happy ship.

As you’d expect, the brewing is done entirely on site and takes either five or six days, depending on the strength of the beer. There are five gigantic fermenters – a brew consists of 10,000 pints so they really are huge – one for every day of the working week.

We look in on the brew that was done the day before – it’s fluffy and light as the sugar turns to alcohol. We learn that once brewed the beer is fed into a cask and from there into barrels. Next it goes into a room which is kept at a constant 12 degrees to rest and gives the residual sugars left time to fizz up. This part of the process is vitally important for a live product – at Cotleigh Brewery no beers are pasteurised nor are any chemicals used.

Being here you appreciate why it’s called craft beer – the brewing really is an art form. With the brand’s pedigree and Stephen’s innovative leadership we’re confident Cotleigh Brewery will celebrate a further 35 years – a true Somerset gem.

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