Marston’s head brewer has a passion for beer that he’s hoping to export to Burton and the wider world. NIGEL POWLSON meets Adrian Oliver.
WHILE the French have always made the most of the traditions and heritage of their wine making industry, British Brewers have lagged behind on capitalising on their equally rich legacy.
But times are changing and Marston’s latest head brewer feels that the Burton-based company is in the perfect place to reap the benefits.
Adrian Oliver, 44, has returned to the town where he first entered the industry with Bass as a graduate in 1990 to take responsibility for flagship brand Pedigree as well as Marston’s other products.
Now reunited with his first beer Draught Bass as well as, for the first time, tackling the unique Union System which helped establish the town’s brewing reputation, Adrian is fully aware of the heritage surrounding him on a daily basis.
“I have worked around Burton for a number of years and I always got the sense that Marston’s was something the town was proud of – and not just Marston’s itself but also Burton as the home of the British brewing industry.
“That’s something we need to make more of. You think of what they make of Champagne in France and we have the Burton Union System and the town is the home of brewing, so we need to make more of that tradition and the links in the Burton area.”
That would mean promoting the region and its brewing strengths in the same way France might sell Champagne to the world.
“I’d like to see something along those lines,” says Adrian. “The wine industry has stolen a march on the brewing industry and that’s something we need to learn from. People think about wine and food but beer has some fantastic attributes as well and it’s about how we as a brewing industry make sure people understand that and know how good beer and food also go together. It’s a message we can get across and something that is starting to happen in some pubs.”
Born in Hampshire and brought up in the south east, Adrian moved to Burton when he joined Bass on its graduate programme, learning the trade in the town. After passing his brewing exams he was posted to Alton as a technical brewer in 1995. After two years he moved to Cape Hill, the export brewery for Bass until it was bought out by Interbrew and was closed. He came back to Burton but has most recently been the brewing manager at Heineken Tadcaster .
He became head brewer at Marston’s last September.
He says: “I have been brewing for 24 years and one of the first things I brewed was Draught Bass and we have that on site here now as well. I have a lot of history and tradition myself with cask brewing so it’s really exciting that I now get the chance to brew Bass alongside Pedigree, one of the beers I first drank when I came to the Midlands.
“It was also a chance to come back to the Midlands and a fantastic opportunity with the new bottling line going in and the company investing a lot of money into the business, which doesn’t happen in a lot of places.
“I have always been interested in the Marston’s brand, especially Pedigree, as it’s something I have been drinking for 20 years - so it is a chance to come here and be responsible for the qood quality of that beer.
“I’m responsible for the site from the brewing of the beer, through the packaging and warehousing to providing our distribution fleet with the beer to take to the customers.”
Marston’s is now unique in using the circulating fermentation system known as the Burton Union which helped make the town’s beers world famous. Invented in the 1830s, the Union System features a row of casks connected to a common trough via a series of pipes. It ensures the quality of the yeast used in the beers
For Adrian it’s a new challenge.
“The Union System is unique and I think using it is something every brewer would like to have a go at. We may well be the only brewery in the world that still ferments using this system, which is something to be proud of. The challenge is for us to really look after the yeast strain, it’s unique and the Union System produces the high quality. One of things I make sure of as head brewer is that our yeast is the best quality you can possibly get. So for me it has been learning about the Union System and how to get the very best out of it to produce the best beer we can.”
So is looking after the Union System the most difficult job in brewing?
“It has different challenges but I wouldn’t say it was harder,” says Adrian. “If you were in a more modern brewery with stainless steel vessels there are different routines to go through but still challenges.”
The massive investment in the bottling plant doesn’t mean that Pedigree is taking a backseat.
But Adrian does admit that when it comes to the brand that Marston’s needs to ‘keep it fresh’.
“We have a strong, loyal following for the Pedigree brand but we also need to make sure we are attracting new people into drinking it. We are working hard to make sure that happens so that Pedigree remains one of the country’s favourite ales for the next 50, 60, 70 years.
“It’s a really challenging environment for the pub sector and people are drinking more at home, which is why bottle beers are growing.”
But does Adrian think bottled beers can ever be as good in terms of taste and quality?
“I think the taste from my point of view is improving and we are giving people a much better experience and hopefully the consistency is getting better thanks to things like the new bottling lines.
“We all know the whole world is changing and there will be more and more challenges. The big one for us is how to produce very good products with the resources we have got, getting more volume out of bottling lines, supporting our sales team by getting the brewers out there, talking to the customers and sharing the love and pride in the beers we produce.
“One of our young female brewers has been involved in designing a new beer for the company and she will be the face of that. So there is a chance for our brewers to develop and produce their own exciting recipes and get to talk to the public about it. That’s a great example of the way forward.
“It’s how we engage people and let people know what we do and the passion and pride of the people who work here. If we can get that across, we will attract them into drinking our products.”
Adrian says that one of things he has noticed since he has come to Marston’s is the strong feeling for the brewery’s heritage in the town.
“I’m still learning how we fit into the community and the wider town,” he says. “We do fantastic things at Christmas when we open the brewery and let people try our products and the St George’s Day celebrations on site. These are the kind of things I’m learning about as head brewer and hopefully over the next few years I can help make a contribution to Burton town itself.
“I have been really impressed with the people working here as someone coming from outside. Everybody has been really welcoming and I couldn’t have asked for more support. They have also all shown me they have a dedication to producing fantastic beers at Marston’s which is a real asset to the company.”
Adrian says one of the rewards of his job is going into a pub and seeing someone ordering a perfectly pulled pint of Pedigree.
“There’s nothing better,” he says. “I went to one of our local pubs with my family and they had our cask beers on the bar. I had a pint and it was fantastic, you feel a real sense of achievement being part of brewing that fantastic product. If anyone gets the chance to be involved I would recommend it as you get a real sense of pride.”