Staff Q&A: John Bryan Production Director

John Bryan in a hole heap of Citra
Age? 39.

Birthplace? A farmhouse just outside Crowland (near Peterborough).

How did you become a brewer? Ever since I was young I have been interested in pubs and beer. On reaching 16 and still being too young to drink, I took up home brewing. This eventually led to my appointment at Oakham Ales and it has been down hill ever since!

When did you have your beer epiphany? I didn’t! That was Abbeydale...

Who has been your brewing inspiration? In my early days at Oakham I gained a lot of knowledge from my mate Tim at Greenjack Brewery. Lately I have picked up points from a number of brewers in the States.

What was the first beer you brewed and what was it like? As I said my first brew was at the age of 16 in 1998 and although I went on to full mash brews on my own home made equipment my first few brews were made from beer kits. In my “wisdom” I decided to brew a very strong beer by using two beer kits and halving the water ! Looking back I am surprised it even fermented but it did (albeit very slowly). I put the end result into 1-litre bottles and left it a couple of months. The first taste of my first beer is something I will never forget – the aroma you could only describe as unique and the flavour was like a mouth full of farmyard. Not to be put off I found that twenty minutes in the freezer took the edge off the flavour to the point I could drink it – but only in moderation of course!

What would you be doing if you weren’t a brewer? I’m not sure really, although I would love to design lingerie.

If you could have a beer from another brewer, what would it be? Probably Ruination I.P.A from Stone.

What’s your top hop? Citra at the moment.

How would you describe Oakham Ales in three words? Stains and rivets.

Favourite Oakham beer? That depends on the day and what form it is in.

Favourite pub that serves Oakham Ales? Any that I haven’t been barred from!

What’s the secret to good brewing? Don’t use beer kits, and only use the very best ingredients.

What is British brewing doing right/wrong? There is a lot of good in British brewing and we have some great beers out there, but some brewers do seem to be stuck in the 19th Century. Yes, we need our brewing heritage and ALL of the styles of beer the UK is known for ‘must be preserved’ (not just Mild) but there are many new styles out there. Tastes are changing, things evolve. Just look at what you can get to eat in your supermarket these days or even your local pub. There is a place for Fish & Chips or Pie & Mash on any pub blackboard but if you ordered a Roasted Mediterranean Vegetable & Goats Cheese Tart or a curry you wouldn’t expect the chef or anybody else to look down their nose because you had ordered a dish that is not traditional English fare would you – I do wish that some “old style” brewers would follow suit!

Favourite beer and food match? Oakham Hawse Buckler & Smoked Salmon.

Which country is making the best beer in the world at the moment? The USA is making the most exciting beer at the moment.

How much money have you got on you? Right now £85.16.

What’s the hardest style of beer that you brew? The hardest beers are the ones you have to fiddle with the most throughout all of the different stages – so the aged/vintage beers tend to be the ones that soak up the most time and effort.

Who would win in a fight between a chimp and two swans? Depends - if the chimp was a chimp and the swans were Michael Gira and Jarboe I would put my money on the latter.

What’s your idea of happiness? To fulfill all of my goals and die a legend.

Who would play you in a film of your life? Joe Pineapples.

Minstrels or Revels? Neither – I don’t like chocolate.

Whisky or Gin? Do either come in a pint glass?

What was the last CD you bought? Michael Buble.

What was the last decent film you watched? 101 Golden Moments.

If you could have a beer with anyone from history who would it be and which beer would you choose? Attila The Hun – Oakham Attila.


This interview first appeared in Drinks International 2011. Re-released in Riveting News Issue 1 (Winter 2012).

Staff Q&A: Warren Ball Bellwether Wine Director

Warren Ball, Wine Director
Age? 44.

Birthplace? Chelmsford, Essex

How did you become interested in wine? I completed a course in retail at college after leaving school and saw an advert in the local paper for a Wine Student at an Independent Wine Merchant in Colchester (Lay & Wheeler). It combined a very interesting subject with the chance of starting a career initially in the retail sector of that business. The rest, as they say, is history!

When did you have your wine epiphany?
About 3 months after I started my career in wine I realised that this would be a great industry to work in and one that I would thoroughly enjoy for many years.

Who has been your inspiration? Many people would fit into this answer. My family have always been a great support in terms of encouraging me throughout my career and pushing me to achieve my goals. In my early career at Lay & Wheeler, the team at that time were fantastic and totally encouraged learning about wine and business. Over the last 18 years I would have to say it has been our Managing Director, Adrian Posnett, who has always been of great support, both in business and personally.

What was the first wine you tasted and what was it like? That’s a long time ago. From memory it was a Sancerre (I can’t remember the producer though). The wine would have been delicious I am sure.

What would you be doing if you weren’t working in wine? I would love to have been involved with sport in one way or another. Rugby would have been my number one choice; my late father played for Llanelli and I would love to have followed in his footsteps.

What’s your top grape? I would opt for Pinot Noir. At its best in Burgundy, this grape can produce wines that are silky, smooth and very classy with great ageing potential from the top Domaines and producers. Also some excellent examples from New Zealand.

How would you describe Bellwether Wines in three words? Exciting, progressive, quality.

Favourite Bellwether wine? Having tasted my way through our current portfolio, quality shines through at every price point and level. A particular star would be our ‘Quincy , Haute Victoire , Henri Bourgeois’ It’s a lesser known wine from the Loire Valley which offers fantastic quality and exceptional value for money.

Favourite pub that serves your wine?
Oaka at The Mansion House, Kennington, London.

What’s the secret to choosing a good wine? Look for good quality producers, domaines and merchants. There should be no excuse for poor quality wines on the market. Life is too short to drink bad wine.

What, in your view, is the wine sector doing right/wrong? The wine industry in the UK is fantastic at promoting its strengths and encouraging the public to experiment when buying wine. There are ample educational opportunities in terms of being able to taste wine, read about wine and learning how to match wine and food. For more serious wine lovers the Wine & Spirit Education Trust runs a number of excellent courses. I would like to see a reduction in the number of ‘deep discount’ offers that are run by the multiple retailers and more emphasis put on the time, expertise and skill that goes into producing a good bottle of wine and sold for the correct value. The Government needs to seriously address the duty levied on our sector and stop seeing the wine drinker as an easy target.

Favourite wine and food match? There are so many great food and wine pairings, but one I would highly recommend would be a fine Manzanilla Sherry with Iberico ham and olives.

Favourite beer? Oakham’s Citra

Which country is making the best wine in the world at the moment? There are great wines produced all over the world. An exciting country to watch is Argentina. They are experimenting with many different grape varieties and offering exceptional value for money and quality.

What’s your idea of happiness? Having a few pints in ‘The Cabbage Patch’ prior to watching England play at Twickenham.

Who would play you in a film of your life? My son always tells me it should be Pierce Brosnan.

Minstrels or Revels? Minstrels

Whisky or Gin? That’s a tough one! I once spent 3 days in Scotland tasting Whiskies which were sublime. My favourite was Talisker. In terms of Gin it would have to be Tanqueray served with ice and lime.

What was the last song you bought/downloaded? Kylie Minogue’s album - Fever

What was the last decent film you watched? Skyfall which was excellent. My favourite ever film however would have to be ‘Quadrophenia’.

If you could have a bottle of wine with anyone from history who would it be and which wine would you choose? Raymond William Robert "Ray" Gravell was a Welsh rugby union centre who played club rugby for Llanelli RFC and was capped 23 times for his country and selected for one Lions Tour. Ray Gravell was a great player who sadly passed away in 2007 aged 56. He was a man my father often spoke of and one I wish I had been fortunate to have met. The wine I would choose would have to possess a solid structure, with a smooth palate, firm tannins a good finish. I think a Chateauneuf-du-Pape from a top producer would fit the bill perfectly!


This interview partly first appeared in Riveting News Issue 5 (Spring 2013).

Staff Q&A: Alex Kean Head Brewer

Alex Kean, Head Brewer
Age? 37.

Birthplace? High Wycombe

How did you become interested in beer? I got the taste for it whilst at university (before it was mostly spirits and cider) and then started working at Wychwood Brewery. When I left, lots of free samples were given to me and I never looked back!

Who has been your inspiration?
Ranulph Fiennes, not about beer obviously...

What was the first beer you tasted and what was it like? My dad’s home brew, disgusting!

What would you be doing if you weren’t brewing beer? Scuba-diving instructor or full-time traveller (money permitting).

Favourite Oakham Ales beer? I always like brewing new beers and trying them so I don’t have a favourite, even amongst the permanent range I like to swap between all of them.

What, in your view, is the beer sector doing right/wrong? Some of the things I have been hoping for are coming into place such as the development of the craft keg sector. I think we are generally on the right track with improvements in variety, interesting flavours and quality. More competition will hopefully carry on improving the general quality of the beers as I believe poor quality beers damage the whole cask ale sector and stop people becoming interested in drinking cask. This applies to both pubs and brewers.

Favourite beer and food match? Pretty much any very spicy food and very hoppy beer does it for me.

If you could have a beer with anyone from history who would it be and which beer would you choose? Attila, Attila!.


This interview first appeared in Riveting News Issue 8 (Spring 2014).

Staff Q&A: Stewart Poulter Assistant Brewer

Stewart Poulter, Assistant Brewer
Age? 37.

Birthplace? Rochford, Essex

What does an Assistant Brewer do? I help the head brewer, Alex Kean on a daily basis. I’m hands on in the brewing process and test for new recipes. With Alex’s support I have recently created my third Oakham Ales beer. I’m currently studying for my Diploma in Brewing which is a 3 module exam. Having worked at the Brewery for the past 11 years, working in most departments, I understand the way other areas work, which in theory helps me understand my colleagues’ deadlines.

What would you be doing if you didn’t work at Oakham Ales?
I trained in marketing but soon realised that an office-based job wasn’t for me. I wanted to feel that I had created something tangible. I love making things and working at Oakham Ales is very rewarding as when I go home at night I know that I have helped to create great tasting beer.

What is your favourite Oakham Beer? My current favourite is Inferno but my all-time favourite was Helter Skelter.


This interview first appeared in Riveting News Issue 12 (Spring 2015).

Staff Q&A: Ed Sharman Trainee Brewer

Ed Sharman, Trainee Brewer
Age? 26.

Birthplace? Peterborough

What job did you do at the Brewery before being promoted to Trainee Brewer? Racking/Brewery team leader.

What does a Trainee Brewer Do?
I take part in the day’s brewing, transferring fermenting beer into the conditioning tanks. I also work in the Laboratory checking quality, colour, gravity, yeast content and pH balance of the beer. I’m studying to progress further: in May I’m taking my General Certificate in Brewing.

What would you be doing if you didn’t work at Oakham Ales? I’m a bit of a foodie, so I would be a food critic or ideally a judge on Master Chef so that I could taste lots of delicious food.

What’s your favourite Oakham Ales beer? Dream Catcher.


This interview first appeared in Riveting News Issue 12 (Spring 2015).

Staff Q&A: Nigel Wattam Marketing Manager

Nigel Wattam, Marketing Manager
When did you join Oakham Ales and what jobs have you had? I Joined in June 2005 so I’m now into my 11th year. I originally joined the delivery & warehouse team before becoming an Area Sales Manager looking after the East & West Midlands. I moved into the Commercial & Marketing team in 2012.

Age? 48

Birthplace? Bourne, Lincolnshire.

How did you get into Marketing? It was a natural progression from my sales days and my experience over the years has given me a great overall knowledge of the business and what’s needed (hopefully!)

What would you be doing if you weren’t at Oakham Ales? In an ideal world opening the batting for England and touring the world! Realistically, I enjoy my history so would be more than happy to be a history teacher or a museum tour guide.

Favourite Oakham beer? Tough call between Inferno & Bishops Farewell but Inferno would probably just sneak it.

Favourite beer and food match? A bottle of Scarlet Macaw with anything spicy.

What’s the best part of the job? We have a great customer base here and any chance to interact with customers both old and new is great.

What was the last decent film you watched? I don’t watch that many films but enjoyed The Kingsman recently.

If you could have a beer with anyone from history who would it be and which beer would you choose? Would love to have a pint of Inferno with my late father again and put the football world to rights!


This interview first appeared in Riveting News Issue 14 (Autumn 2015).