Step forward Clay Brow Nano (they have been bottling their beer for just over a year), Conch Brewing, Uncanny Valley and Brooks Brewhouse. All four are relatively small outfits, brewing mostly bottles, cask and generally less frequent kegged offerings. Visibility is also quite low at the moment, given that they are all relatively new and feeling their way into the market place (for example, Brooks Brewhouse has had cask beers on at the West Kirby Tap, but to my knowledge, none has made it across the water into a venue in Liverpool). That said, this takes the number of breweries in the Merseyside region up in no small measure; variety is the spice of life and it is always good for a drinker to have some new ideas ready to try on the bar.
So what will these newcomers be bringing to the pumps? Read on.
Based in Hoylake, Brooks is a very small outfit producing what seems to be bespoke orders (mostly in bottle and only by request in cask) for the local market; hence the lack of any visible marketing or presence on the northern side of the River Mersey to date. The brew kit is described on their website as a nano-size (up to 3 barrels per batch), with test batches brewed to a meagre 20 litres and only brewed up to 200 if proving successful.
The beer range for Brooks appears to be a spread of traditional British and some newer American styles double dry-hopped IPAs, early grey infused IPA, a Porter, best bitter style and English IPA all appear on the website. The brewing roster appears to show some reverence for older styles, but a willingness to enter the fray on newer hoppier and experimental adjunct styles.
Sales from the brewery appear to be only to trade for the time being.
You can check out more information on the brewery here: [http://www.brooks-brewhouse.co.uk/]
Another small operation based in Skelmersdale, Neil Parkin set up Clay Brow Nano follow a decade long affair with home brewing. Currently at half a barrel in size, an expansion is in the offing, with Neil looking at maybe expanding to a 1 barrel brewery the middle of 2019.
"It took me a while to Design and build my wooden structure in the garden (some would call it a shed) to house the brewery, but following encouragement from friends and family, I eventually got there. My Ales are bottled mainly and I have just started racking into cask during last November and December, which so far is having very positive feedback from customers".
Upon asking Neil where his beers would be available whilst noting he had a bit of a thing for darker hued ales, he responded:
"Currently, I have two firkins which are heading for Prospect brewery's bar (Editors Note: This was last December), Beer Central in Wigan in 2 weeks time which i can not wait to see on there bar.
Yeah, I have a bit of a thing for stouts and dark ales, though I do also enjoy a decent hoppy IPA. About 20 years ago I stumbled across a mobile travelling Theakston's Bar; a few pints of Old Peculier later, that was me hooked on dark ales! I am planning to brew a few more stouts next year and to bring my two NEIPAS, Juicy Lucy & Zulu, back out in March for drinkers to enjoy. At the moment, I really want to push the notion that a stout is for all year round and not just for the Winter, I want to change the perception that some like to think it is only a cold weather style."
You can follow Neil and Clay Brow Nano on Twitter, here: [https://twitter.com/Clay_Brow_Nano]
Mike Petersen is another homebrewer turned professional on the scene, with the 200 litre kit at his disposal, he has been steadily producing some very interesting pale brews. I asked what styles he predominantly expects to be putting out in the near future and what dispense we as customers can expect to see:
"I've only been brewing commercially since July 2018, and my first batch was an 'Imperial' 8.3% stout that went out in 330ml bottles. I have since then brewed a fruity New England style IPA at 6.8%, which again went into bottles at 500ml with a small keg for an event at Cathop Beers.
Since then I've brewed an Old Ale for release late season 2019, a massive 16.8% impy stout which was brewed in collaboration with Clay Brow and Neil Ashton at Cathop Beers (we all love dark beers) - I'm really excited about how that brew is going to turn out!
I've also brewed a more traditional 5% Porter which is aged with bourbon oak, it debuted at a taster event at Craft Taproom on Smithdown Road in Liverpool but it will also be on cask and bottle in very limited amounts elsewhere. Planning ahead, I'm ruling nothing out. I do love big beers like the Old Ale and the Imperial Stout, so there will be loads more of that in various styles. I do Love dark beers, so stouts and porters will always be on the menu too.
I'm a big fan of British Beer and historic beers too. Obviously not macro-produced twig-water clones, they're an abomination to me to be frank, but I really love barley wines and Old Ales and would Iove to put a spin on some old recipes that I have found."
Upon asking Mike about dispense style and whether he had a prefence, his retort was: "Whether the beer ends up in cask, keg, bottle or can doesn't matter to me. But I currently don't have any facility for canning. There's something magical about beer and wood, so Barrel aging, Brett and sour tradional styles are 100% on the horizon."
In terms of inspiration and motivation, Mike replied to be asked about what drove him to brew:
"I'd been home brewing for a long time, so it was just a natural next step in a way. I brewed to make beers that I couldn't buy from shops, as back in the day it was a lot more limited in the bars and shops compared to where the market is at now. Brewing commercially was a long held ambition, but I'd always had this belief that it wasn't viable without a lot of investment and total career change.
The thing that changed my perception was when I read a blog about a guy in Manchester who set up a nano brewery in his bedsit; eventually expanding it into his shed. A bit later I met others who had set up in a similar fashion and guys like Ivor who used to run Bridgewater brewing supplies. Meeting these others who'd made the cross over to commercial brewing from small beginnings was really inspirational too; guys like John Marsden at Melwood in particular.
One evening late autumn 2017, I just sort of decided I'm gonna do it and get brewing commercially. Within two weeks I'd bought a second hand rig, I sort of had to crack on with making beer then!
I then probed a bit further by asking Mike what sort of beers he really liked drinking at the moment and how he felt about the market becoming increasingly saturated with competitive products:
"This time of year I'm getting stuck into big dark beers. I have been drinking some DIPAs and NEIPAs too, though most of them I'm picking up at Cathop Beers and drinking at home as I'm a dad to two boys and don't get out a while lot these days!
In terms of the competition and getting a foothold, it holds no fear for me, partially due to my size and the fact that I have a full time job beyond the brewery, there's no pressure on me to sell huge amounts. That means I can just brew with a focus on quality rather than profit and as a result, I feel able to take risks and experiment thus have a bit of fun; I'm hoping that will be coming across in the beers. "
Finally, I asked if there are there any other unique or interesting facts about the set up or remit as a brewery with Conch:
"With my latest beer Im giving 100% of the profits to Claire House Children's Hospice. I'm hoping maybe I can encourage other local brewers to do a bit of the same, but in any case this is something I'm gonna do again."
You can follow Mike and Conch Brewing at: [https://twitter.com/BrewingConch]
I caught up with Uncanny Valley's Ged Courtney and asked him for an overview of Prescot's new and only brewery and the about waves he plans to make in the local area with his beers.
"The brewery is tiny by comparison to most in the area, I'm only operating on around 200 litres, so approx. 1.2bbl per brew. At present I brew a West Coast IPA (Icarus), a single hop Pale Ale (Electric Dreams) and a Milk Stout (Event Horizon). I have plans to add a NEIPA and a Berliner Weisse at some point, but I think I need a bit more practice on the sour side of things before that becomes available to the public!
At present the beer is available in 330ml bottles and on Keg (Eco or Key Keg depending on bars preference). I've currently no plans for cask beer, but I'd never say never, especially given the mini-revival we're seeing with some breweries making a return to the dispense.
I've always been a big food and drink nerd and have always wanted to make things 'from scratch', over the years I've had a number of life consuming hobbies but home brewing was the one that stuck. I started making beer on the kitchen stove and when I brought some sample bottles into the various craft places I used to drink, they were always complemented - I think that gave me the confidence to push onward. After a few too many drinks in Hard Times and Misery one night, I decided I'd see if it was viable; lots of internet research later (and a great series of articles by Carbon Smith) led to me getting permission (from HMRC, EHO and my fiancé) to turn my one car garage into a fully licensed and authorised brewery. Having seen the likes of Top Rope also coming through on similar set ups gave me the confidence that it was at least possible."
In terms of what he likes to drink at the moment, Ged was quite forthcoming:
"I enjoy most beer styles but at the moment have a real love for juicy NEIPA and Pale Ales. There will always be a place in my heart for the bitter, resinous West Coast hop bombs that still got me into craft beer though. I think most probably that DEYA's Steady Rolling Man is a great example of the beers I most like to drink at present."
So what does the future hold for Uncanny Valley?
"I'm in a very fortunate position in that brewing is not my full time job and I own the premises where the brewing takes place. The competition is immense at the moment which is a credit to the quality of the local beer scene. That said, producing four kegs and a half dozen cases of bottles per run is a lot easier to shift than the volumes of beer needed by the bigger guys who've got wages and rents to pay. Keeping a stock of products is tricky at my size, but equally I suppose I can be more flexible with my brewing rota. I'm essentially brewing on a scale that would be most brewery's pilot kit."
You can follow Uncanny Valley further here: [https://www.facebook.com/Uncanny-Valley-Brewing-Co-605765986541387]
A 'big' name for a small microbrewery, Tyton Brewery based in Ainsdale, just outside of Southport are another new set up to keep an eye on for 2019. Tom Anderson, who developed his craft brewing in the former Wapping Brewery set up underneath Liverpool's Baltic Fleet pub has taken on kit formerly used by another Sefton outfit, 3 Potts who ceased brewing around a year ago.
Tom informed me that the viable brew size is 480 litres, although the more likely standard brew size will be 250 litres in terms of consistency. Tom also said:
"There will be three core beers to start; Tawny (3.8% Amber Bitter), Morepork (4.2% NZ Hopped Pale) and Western Screech (5% US IPA). Initially these will all be starting off in cask and will eventually be moving to bottling and kegging products, that will hopefully be within a few months. The brewery going forward will be based on a good backbone of reliable standard ales and a wide range of changing experimental beers, including Lemongrass, Kaffir Lime, Habanero Sorachi Ace Hopped pale inspired by Thai Cuisine.
Brewing appeals because it allows for both creative thinking as well as a strict set of rules to go by. There is always something to learn, and it is always challenging."
In terms of what got Tom's creativity flowing and what he enjoys from other brewers, he was very definite about what he likes:
"I've been really into sour beers for a long time, Suggestions Tropic Thunder being a personal fave, as well as a lot of Dank heavy IPAs. For Tyton going forward and how it will sit in the market, I feel I'm happy enough to enter into a big market at the moment. The size of my kit is a small drop in a huge ocean of others. I'm happy and confident that good beer made with love and purpose will always win. In terms of beer nomenclature, all the beers are inspired by, and named after owls. It's kind of a tradition thing between me and my dad. We're both kinda obsessed with all things Strigiformes!"
You can currently follow Tom on Twitter: [https://twitter.com/morporkiwi]