Welcome back to our customer spotlight series of blogs. In this addition we had the privilege of chatting to Nick Fleming over at the awesome Ovenstone 109 Brewery.
Ovenstone 109 are a small Scottish Brewery who are making waves using our growler beer bottle range.
Can you tell us a little about Ovenstone 109 brewery, how long have you been operating, how did you start?
Our first batch of beer was brewed in June 2018. Our company was incorporated at the beginning of 2017 though and was set-up as a result of our other business, which is chemical engineering consultancy, changing dynamics considerably with the loss of several key senior engineers due to retirement and some family bereavements.
Our workshop is an old tractor showroom, which is really quite big so we built the brewery to show off our engineering in an otherwise unused part of the building. It took us so long to get to the brewing stage because we had never brewed before and there are only two of us here.
Also, the chemical engineering consultancy firm was our main line of work at that time so the brewery business was built quite slowly to allow us to work on other projects. However, we eventually sourced second hand equipment towards the end of 2017 with the brewery installation done by myself and a long time friend/work colleague over the following months.
The brew kit needed extensive alterations and modifications to suit what I wanted to do with it so the installation is entirely bespoke with some novel additions added thanks to having many years’ experience working in the chemical engineering industry. Why the name Ovenstone 109?
Ovenstone is the little hamlet where the brewery is. 109 is the bond angle of the hydroxyl group on an alcohol molecule. It is a little wider than a standard bond and gives alcohol this quirky fact.
We always wanted to use the brewery as way of providing education on things such as biology, physics and chemistry used in a real world application that would be easy to understand.
That way we could either explain it to kids wondering what the point of organic chemistry was at school or simply to anyone interested in the science behind brewing.
The 109 in the title is simply a way of starting that conversation and we usually have a molecule model to show when anyone asks!
I’ve noticed your beers have very traditional names and your labels have a very traditional style. What’s the reasoning of going down the traditional route rather than a more modern one?
The inspiration for starting a brewery actually came to me in 1999 whilst working in Singapore. I drank beer at a bar called Brewerkz that had a micro brewery behind the bar and I was very keen to copy it. However, the ‘craft beer revolution’ bandwagon rolled in long before I had an opportunity to do it.
When I got to the stage of actually building a brewery I had a look round some other craft breweries. I expected to see similar operations to the bar in Singapore which was made of polished stainless steel and looked immaculate. However, experienced brewers are not necessarily engineers so I was surprised at some of the ad-hoc installations that were less…. precise… shall we say!
With my own background in pharmaceutical installations I knew I could improve on the engineering and aesthetics but I had no experience in making a beer. The idea of making a 12% ABV milkshake stout was therefore out, as to me that would be like asking me to build a showstopper for Bake-Off when I can barely stretch to a Victoria Sponge.
I also tend to like beers that are easy to drink. The sort of beer that you might not think would win an award for being novel but is your go-to pint at the bar because you can have one or several without feeling your mouth has been subjected to a taste explosion. It’s just personal preference.
My beers are therefore designed to fit this bill. Not too hoppy, not fancy….just steady easy drinking beers that are consistent and high quality.
The label design had to replicate this idea, plus whilst we take brewing extremely seriously, we don’t take ourselves too seriously. Our labels were therefore designed with this style in mind and we’re not trying to compete with the brewers that use neon coloured cans.
We just like a good steady beer that is nice to drink. We’ll leave the fancy hop inspired, fruity beer wonders and their arty cans to the brewers that are good at that. We’re good at making a steady, consistent and easy drinking beer. Which is why our tag line on one of our bottles is ‘The drinkable version of your favourite jumper’. Our beers are comfy… they’re not necessarily stylish. But that’s how we like them.
Which bottles do you currently purchase from Sen5es?
How are the two growler bottles working out for you? How have they helped your business?
Game changer basically. We originally thought the growlers would be too expensive for them to be popular but we managed to get the Environmental Health to accept our cleaning routine to allow them to be re-useable which makes them much more cost effective to the customer.
We supply them as exchangeable and we do a local free delivery service with them too. During lockdown they were so popular our bottle production had to increase so much that we matched our entire 2019 bottle production in less than 4 months.
Also, whilst other breweries rely on their striking artwork to draw a customer’s attention our growler bottles are so unique they have become part of our image now as they fit the ‘classic’ ale syle.
It makes us stand out from the other breweries which is better than any artwork we could have come up with for cans had we gone down that route.
Our growler beer bottle collection
How did you first find Sen5es?
It was my colleague Nickie who sourced Sen5es during our initial hunt for bottle suppliers. I think we just phoned around for prices after a long internet search. What’s it like to work with us as a supplier?
Customer service is the most important factor for us. We will accept a marginal price difference when the supplier is really good at working with us.
Sen5es has done this from the outset and has always tried to help where possible. Great communication and going the extra mile to accommodate our bottle requests has made us very happy to be working with Sen5es.
It’s a style of working that is often lost with major corporations and a rare accolade to have these days. Stuart is almost part of the team as far as we’re concerned. Would you recommend us and our bottles to other breweries?
Absolutely! Although I am less keen to encourage other breweries to buy the growlers for obvious reasons!
We’ve already got a local brewery who has just started copying us, but they say imitation is the best form of flattery!
Wow, what an absolute pleasure it was chatting with Nick from Ovenstone 109. Some fantastic insights in to the craft beer market and how choosing the right bottle can make all the difference.
We love working with Ovenstone 109 Brewery and we can't wait to see where their business progresses in the future. Thank you so much to them for allowing us to be a part of their journey.
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All the best
The team at Sen5es