The 'Heavenly Blonde' that's popular in the Grantham pubs
The fair-haired Kathy Britton rejects suggestions that one of her best selling brews - Heavenly Blonde - is named after her.
Either way, Kathy and husband Tim, have earned much praised over the years for their beers, which are a popular feature in local pubs and they certainly went down well at the Grantham Beer Festival.
The brews have earned national acclaim, winning awards from Camra and SIBA, the Society of Independent Brewers.
Kathy is managing partner of Oldershaw Brewery, which is based a few miles outside Grantham at Barkston Heath.
Her role includes running the brewery on a day-to-day basis; brewing, recipe devising, selling beer, handling the office and pretty much everything else that needs doing.
Husband Tim is the other partner, but he spends much of his time in London working in digital publishing. However, he helps out at evenings and weekends, particularly with sales and marketing, budgeting and accounts.
The couple bought the brewery in the summer of 2010, from Gary and Diane Oldershaw, who had started the venture in 1996 and are now said to be enjoying retirement somewhere near Newark.
Running a brewery in rural Lincolnshire is quite a contrast to the earlier life of Kathy, who was born in Eastbourne and worked in London as an executive assistant to the president of Fitch Ratings, one of the ‘big three’ credit rating agencies.
Kathy said: “The work involved general PA duties, with a bit more responsibility.”
At the time Kathy was commuting two hours a day to Buckinghamshire and as a mum-of-two wanted something that involved less travel.
“I looked for a business to buy and haven’t looked back.”
The business has grown since the Britton’s bought it, with it producing around 500,000 pints a year.Oldershaw’s has a range of five regular beers, including lighter lager style beers, hoppy, flavourful, golden ales as well as traditional darker beers and stouts.
These are supplemented by seasonal brews and one-offs to celebrate, say a Royal Wedding, giving around 25 different brews a year.
Oldershaw also contracts brews for hotels such as making the St Pancras Ale for the St Pancras Hotel in London.
It also makes bespoke, bottled beers for groups such as the Grantham Running Club.
Sales stretch from as far as Derbyshire in the North, to London in the south, but taxation rules make exporting too complicated.
However, despite moving from Harrowby Lane in 2013, to a rural site where production has doubled, Kathy says times are increasingly tough.
“It’s definitely getting harder. The competition is much stronger. It’s a great time to be a drinker as there’s so much choice out there. It’s not so good to be trying to run a business.”
Kathy says there are now ‘loads’ of microbreweries, which makes survival harder.
“I think it’s trying to reinvent yourself all the time, keep fresh and moving.
“We are looking at canning and kegging. We also do a lot of events locally. We will be at Christmas Markets and we will soon be having a Christmas Open Day.
“We have done a few special brews this year, such as John’s Brew when our long-serving dray (John Senior) retired. We also produced a Father Stuart beer for the St Wulfram’s Beer Festival.
“I love beer festivals. They are a very good showcase for our beers. You can also sell a lot of beer in a short space of time.”
With Christmas approaching, there will be the usual seasonal Christmas ales, with others planned for the New Year. Among them will see the return of Resolution, a bronze/amber highly hopped beer of 4.4% which Kathy says “is fantastic for drinking on a cold winter’s day. That hasn’t been brewed for a few years.
The brewery will also be making mini-casks for the festive season, something it occasionally does at Easter.
It all makes for an incredibly busy time, where there is never a dull moment.
Kathy cannot say how many hours a week she works.
“It’s never ending. Your phones are always attached to you and you can run the business wherever you are. There are weekend events such as Stoke Rochford, Easton Walled Gardens, Burleigh and our Christmas Open Day.
“There is also a high level of responsibility, like anything in the food and drinks industry. The work is very hard. It can be hard physical work as well.”
It does not leave much free time for a mum of two boys aged 10 and 14. The youngest, Nathan, is keen to follow in his mum’s footsteps and take over the family business one day.
However, the 50-year-old finds some time for running, going to the gym and socialising with family and friends.
But it helps if work is your passion, with Kathy adding the brewing industry has many good points. “It’s an amazing, friendly industry. We had so much help when we first took it on. Fellow brewers would lend a bag of malt although we have healthy competition. It’s not backstabbing. We often meet up with fellow brewers for drinks, chew the cud and compare notes.”
*The Oldershaw shop is open Monday to Friday from 8am to 4pm at Heath Lane, Barkston Heath. The Christmas Open Day is on Saturday, December 15, from 11am to 3pm and features beer tasting and brewery tours throughout the day. See page 49 for a voucher to claim your free bottle of beer.
Website www.oldershawbrewery.com has details.