The Oakham Way
WHEN OAKHAM ALES WAS FOUNDED BACK IN 1993 THE BREWING WORLD WAS DIFFERENT!
We weren’t the first brewery to introduce light, hoppy beers to the UK but we were amongst the very first to pioneer the use of hops from the USA and the New World.
But it didn’t end there! Ever more trailblazing beers continue to evolve through our “drinks good … must be good” strategy.
Back in 2009 we were the first UK brewery to brew a beer with 100% Citra® hops back and Oakham Citra® is not only our top seller but also an acknowledged UK brewing trailblazer.
JHB, Inferno, Bishops Farewell and the multi award-winning Green Devil IPA join Citra® in the current Oakham core range and are supplemented by monthly cask seasonals and specials and an ever-changing line-up of strong cask aged beers.
Welcome to Oakham Ales and the exuberant styles that make our award-winning beers so distinctive!
Founded in Oakham (Rutland) in 1993 and based in Peterborough since 1998, Craft Brew Legends Oakham Ales celebrate 30 years of brewing in 2023.
We’ve come a long way in 30 years – here’s the story!
30 Years of Oakham Ales!
Full usage of the new facilities has been held back by the huge impact that the COVID-19 pandemic has had on the hospitality and brewing industry but despite the challenges of the last two years, Oakham Ales is looking forward with confidence to its 30th Anniversary celebrations in September 2023.
Some 93 million pints and around 275 different beers since John Wood brewed his first batch of JHB in September 1993!
Here’s to the next 30 years!
Brewing Team Changes
Early 2022 saw changes in the Oakham brewing team following the tragic loss in late 2021 of Alex Kean, our Head Brewer since 2010.
The vastly experienced and highly respected Mark Tetlow joined Oakham as Head Brewer with Ed Sharman promoted to the position of Lead Brewer and Stewart Poulter promoted to the position of Quality Brewer.
With Mark’s guidance and more than 30 years of Oakham experience between Ed and Stewart, the Oakham brewing legacy to which Alex contributed so much is in very safe hands!”
Expansion and developments
At the brewery, a new external tank farm was completed in 2015 in response to the surge in sales of Oakham’s bottled beers and 2016 saw work starting on major expansion plans aimed at doubling the brewery’s production capacity.
Work on a new building, filling the space between the main brewhouse building and the warehousing at the other end of the site, commenced in 2017 and was completed in late 2019 when tanks purchased from the Thwaites brewery in Blackburn were installed.
Awards for Oakham’s beers continued to flow with regular “Beer of the Festival” awards at major competitions and beer festivals for a wide variety of our brews.
In addition to the wins for Green Devil IPA at the prestigious International Brewing Awards, Citra® has been voted “Champion Golden Beer of Great Britain” at the Great British Beer Festival in both 2014 and 2019.
For good measure, we were also named “2019 Brewery of the Year” in the 2020 edition of the Good Pub Guide.
Green Devil IPA
That strong single hop IPA which John Bryan was so keen to brew with Citra hops back in 2009 was brewed for the first time in 2011 with the launch of Green Devil IPA.
Then and now a benchmark for contemporary IPA’s, our flagship beer has won numerous major awards and has twice been voted “World Champion Cask Beer” (in 2013 and 2015) at the International Brewing Awards.
Citra® joins the
Oakham permanent line-up
Citra® received such a positive reaction when it was released in December 2009 that it progressed via bi-monthly brews in 2010 (we didn’t have enough Citra® hops to do any more) to a position in the Oakham permanent line-up in 2011.
The original recipe has changed very little since 2009 – just the odd tweak of timings and temperatures and adjustments to the weight of malt used should that be necessary.
Cask Citra is still predominately a leaf hop beer (with the addition of a small quantity of T90 hop pellets in the conditioning tank) and we still get raised eyebrows from many brewers (and our accountant) when we discuss the quantity of Citra hops used.
Team changes and
a new Head Brewer
Meanwhile, important team changes had been made in 2010 with Adrian Posnett joining Oakham as Managing Director, John Bryan becoming Production Director and the late and much lamented Alex Kean (who had joined Oakham in 2006) being appointed Head Brewer.
Blown away by Citra’s powerful citrus and tropical fruit aromas and flavours, John Bryan’s initial idea was to brew a strong, single hop IPA with Oakham’s share of the hops.
But he didn’t have sufficient hops to do more than a couple of brews of that and stronger beers weren’t fast sellers for Oakham at the time, so John decided to brew a 4.2% beer with the hops he’d flown over and Oakham Ales Citra® was born.
The first batch of Citra was brewed on 20th November 2009, the day after the “air mailed” hops landed and a couple of months before the Charles Faram balance arrived via the sea freight route.
So, we think that we can say with some certainty that Oakham was the first UK brewery to brew a beer entirely with Citra hops!
discovers the Citra hop
On their 2009 visit to the US, John Bryan and Paul Corbett were introduced to a remarkable new hop variety.
Citra had been developed by Barth Haas and the story goes that Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. liked the initial samples so much that they asked for the hop to be developed further.
On the third harvest of the hop, a small quantity was left over and offered to the two visitors from the UK.
Oakham took something like 450KG with Charles Faram taking 900KG and John Bryan was so excited by Citra’s potential that he sent our share back to the UK by air so that he could brew with it as soon as possible!
Westgate Small Batch Brewery
and a new core beer
Short run brewing continued at the Brewery Tap site with the installation of a state of the art new 6 barrel plant in 2008.
Technical issues have restricted brewing at Westgate in the last few years, but the small batch plant is being refurbished in time to brew some Ltd Edition special brews in celebration of our 30th Anniversary in 2023!
2008 also saw Inferno join the roster of permanent ales – a superbly refreshing five hop blonde beer which perhaps doesn’t get the accolades it deserves due to the launch just a year later of a sensational new Oakham beer.
The move to Woodston
Rapidly increasing demand following JHB’s “Supreme Champion” award meant that capacity at the Brewery Tap site was being exceeded and in 2004 a site for a larger brewery was acquired in the Woodston area of Peterborough.
The new Oakham Ales Woodston brewery was officially opened in October 2006 with a brew length of 75 barrels and an annual capacity of around 35,000 brewery barrels.
The 35 barrel Brewery Tap plant was sold to Green Jack Brewery (Lowestoft) in 2008.
So if you enjoy any of their excellent beers, they will have been brewed on much the same kit as produced Supreme Champion JHB in 2001!
John Bryan’s hop sourcing trips and the collaborative approach they instigated between hop growers and brewers were of real significance in the rapid development of new varieties by the US hop industry and ultimately the availability of these exciting new hops for use by UK brewers.
As such, they were an important catalyst in the development of UK craft styles and very much a continuing part of the Oakham identity is the huge pride we take in our pioneering (but perhaps unsung) work in this area.
John Bryan’s first hop
sourcing visit to the USA
Accompanied in 2002 by Paul Corbett of Charles Faram, John Bryan was not only the first UK brewer to travel to the USA hop fields to select hops direct from the farms, but he was ahead of US craft brewers in doing so.
That 2002 trip was intended to be a one off visit, but with the exception of 2006 when he had the opening the new Woodston brewery to attend to and 2020/2021 when COVID interfered, John has been back to the US for the hop harvest every year since.
JHB wins “Supreme Champion
Beer of Great Britain”
Well over 200 major awards have been won in the brewery’s history and in 2001 JHB was voted “Supreme Champion Beer of Great Britain” – then the most prestigious prize in UK brewing.
By the way, we occasionally get messages from people claiming that “it’s not the beer that it was”.
Well they’re correct!
When John Bryan became Head Brewer, he upped the hopping rate on the beer and further increases were made in 1998 when we moved to Westgate, in 2000 and again in 2006 when we moved to the current brewery in Woodston.
The move to
Under new stewardship, new seasonal and special beers were added to the range, sales continued to grow rapidly and although the brewery was extended in 1996, the Oakham site was at the limits of its potential and struggling to meet demand.
So 1998 saw the brewery relocating to a former labour exchange building on Westgate in central Peterborough.
A 35 barrel plant was installed at Westgate forming the centrepiece of the new Brewery Tap brew pub
A change of ownership
In 1995 John Wood was joined at Oakham Ales by a fresh-faced young Assistant Brewer, John Bryan.
And when John Wood retired and sold the business shortly afterwards, new owner Paul Hook invited John Bryan to take over as Head Brewer.
John Bryan developed and enlarged upon his predecessor’s open-minded approach to hop selection and over the next 27 years was to become a pioneering and enormously influential figure in UK craft brewing.
Good use was soon made of another US grown hop with Cascade becoming the main variety used in Oakham Bishops Farewell.
First brewed in 1995 in honour of William John “Bishop Bill” Westwood on his retirement as Bishop of Peterborough, “Bishops” has been as permanent fixture in the Oakham range since 1996.
And yes, we know there should be an apostrophe in the name!
The story behind the name
Born in Oakham in 1619, Sir Jeffrey Hudson, “Lord Minimus”, was an adventurer, courtier and duellist. He was only 3′ 6″ tall but his modest size was more than made up for in character, just like the beer we named after him!
Famous for being served up in a (thankfully cold) pie at a banquet given in honour of the Queen, he was knighted by King Charles 1 and taken into Royal service.
His later life was no less remarkable. Captured by pirates and said to have fought and won a battle with a turkey cock, he escaped, only to be captured again and sold as a slave. Ransomed and appointed a Captain in the King’s army, he fought in the English Civil War, killed a man in a duel and lived in rather undeserved obscurity for a while before dying in prison in 1682.
Tap into a legend
JHB is widely acknowledged to be a hugely significant beer, not just for starting it all at Oakham Ales but also as a crucially influential staging post in the development of UK craft brewing,
It was our biggest selling beer for 21 years and its success set Oakham on the path to developing into the brewery we are today.
JHB continues to play a key role in the Oakham range, envied for its quality and consistency, commanding a large and loyal fan base and remaining our second biggest selling cask beer behind Citra.
The first commercial brew
John Wood passed away in 2018 so we can’t be sure of this, but it’s likely that he chose Mount Hood over Willamette because he guessed that the punchy flavour of the latter might be a bit too revolutionary back in 1993!
He preferred the softer profile of Mount Hood, a daughter to the German noble variety Hallertau Mittelfrüh.
The first 10BB commercial batch of Jeffrey Hudson Bitter (JHB) followed, brewed on 13 September 1993 and pairing Mount Hood with UK sourced Challenger as a bittering hop.
John Wood also made another key decision right at the start, choosing to use a yeast from the Home Brewery (Nottingham) which he felt would give exactly the flavour producing characteristics he was after.
A great choice – almost 30 years later we’re still using that same “Oakham Ales” strain!
of the hops
John’s initial hop selection was also influenced by a shortage of UK Goldings and Fuggles. Only small quantities of USA grown hops were being imported to the UK in 1993 but Paul Corbett of Charles Faram and Co. suggested that the American varieties Mount Hood and Willamette might be considered.
So John produced some trial brews, first using Willamette and then utilising Mount Hood before choosing the beer brewed with the latter as the basis for Oakham’s first commercial brew.
In the beginning
Oakham Ales founder John Wood had been home brewing for more than twenty years and when early retirement gave him the chance to brew commercially, he had a clear idea as to the style of beer he wanted to produce.
He backed up his hunch that the UK market would be receptive to US hopped golden ales with some serious market research (around 500 pubs were canvassed) before setting up Oakham Ales and launching JHB as the brewery’s first beer.