No, it’s not about shoes, or horses, or paint, it’s something closer to your heart. I’ve heard rumours, that most of you, certainly the gig going majority, are partial to a brew or two; dozen in some cases. It is therefore my assumption, that this time the subject matter might raise a spark of interest among those of you who don’t normally have a spare minute for these writings.
his time, I’ve chosen booze as my subject, but more particularly, the wonderful booze produced by a small independent organic brewery, Butts Brewery.
The reason Butts have been singled out for this feature, as opposed to one of the many other fine independent brewers Britain has to offer, is because of their very clever device of attracting my attention with a little old fashioned flattery. They make a beer called ‘Golden Brown’.
Now I don’t know if anyone has done that before, after all, ‘GB’ would be a perfectly logical if not obvious title to attach to a typical British pint, so it would probably be some kind of safe bet that someone has previously done so. However, far less likely is it, that someone has previously labelled a brew in praise of, and inspired by, a certain melody of the same name, as have Butts. To make the point, the label depicts a fair maiden ‘tied to a mast’.
‘Golden Brown’ first came to my attention two or three years ago. Can’t remember exactly, but I think it had leapt out at me from some web page or other. So perhaps the same thing has happened to some of you too.
Butts supply the brew in both cask and bottle and it’s becoming available in an increasing number of pubs in and around it’s south western territory.
In due course, there came the day, quite recently, when I realised I needed to check out this particular bevvy for myself, after all, being of largely Irish stock, I have a certain intrinsic propensity for all that is drawn from a firkin cask!
So, I called the brewery and spoke to the boss, Chris Butt. You may all be pleasantly amazed to learn – as was I – that Chris is actually one of YOU! Yes, it turns out that he has been to more Stranglers’ gigs than I’ve had birthdays, well, almost! Chris suggested a brewery visit, and so, off to the brewery, the best excuse I’ve had for a long time! It’s in a little village in Berkshire called Great Shefford. Here’s how it went.
jb..Firstly Chris, where do you come from, are you a local?
CB……No, Somerset originally, then I went to Reading University and I haven’t managed to get out of Berkshire since. So, I work here in Great Shefford and live not far away.
And what did you do at University?
I did a Biotechnology degree; industrial manipulation of micro organisms etc, so that covers genetic engineering, brewing, bread making, everything really but let’s be honest, I just went there because I didn’t want to get a job!
Did that lead you into brewing, did you just drift into it, or was it like you were thinking, ‘Oh, I know, I want to make beer’, or was it a totally unrelated process?
Well, it was sort-of related, but I didn’t have any real idea at that point that I was going to get into brewing. What happened was, I finished the course only to find there were no jobs in biotechnology – apart from research – so we all went into the food industry because that subject was running parallel with the food technology course, so I worked in that area for about five years but it was pretty dull. When I got to the last job I was involved in – when it came to an end – I decided to try to get involved in brewing because it just seemed a lot more interesting than making food.
So I wrote to local breweries around here. I don’t think I got a reply actually, but a mate of mine, who used to work for the Butcombe Brewery, which is quite a big concern down near Bristol Airport, said, “Why don’t you start your own?”. He told me that Butcombe were getting rid of some of their plant, because they were expanding and needed a re-fit. He told me roughly what price he thought they wanted for it, and I phoned them up and made an offer and he phoned me back the next day and said they had decided to accept the offer. So I thought ‘Oh shit’. I hadn’t got any money at the time, so I had to sell my car to put a deposit on the plant!
I had no brewing experience at all, I just pressed on regardless and I had three months to find the balance to buy the plant which I didn’t actually manage to do, so they could have just taken my deposit and said tough luck mate, but they didn’t, they gave me more time.
This was around 1991 so you couldn’t get a dime out of a bank because of another major recession. In the end, I tried to raise some money privately to get it started, and that is what I did, eventually.
So anyway, I had the plant and I stored it in a mate’s farmyard for almost two years while I was trying to raise new money to get the whole thing started. Then at one point, I had virtually given up and was just going to see one more chap and if he wasn’t interested, I was going to sell the plant and do something else, but luckily he was interested and had the resources to pile into it.