The Otley Brewing Company is playing a big part in this year’s festival. And rightly so. It is one of the success stories of South Wales.
Launched in 2005 in Pontypridd, Otley is a relative newcomer to the world of microbrewing. But in a short time scale the brewery has achieved a remarkable degree of success at competition level. Otley O8 took Overall Champion at the this years Great Welsh Beer and Cider Festival, while O4, O6, O8 and O-Garden all won Gold Medals at the Great Taste Awards including a 3-star Gold for O-Garden, the highest accolade.
Why do their beers all begin with O? I thought it was strange at first. But now I think I get it. Back in the day, the trick was to emphasise factors such as tradition, patriotism and macho appeal in the naming of ales. Hence names such as Spitfire, Bombardier and Rat’s Pizzle [I made up the last one].
The Otley crew have, sensibly, tried to distance themselves from some of the cruder antics of the real ale world, and have gone for a nomenclature that is smart, understated in a zen way and most importantly doesn’t put off the ladies. In fact their slick, black labels owe more than a little to the branding strategies of the wine trade.
However if you were to suppose that the Otley concept has been dreamt up in some ad- agency’s minimalist boardroom you couldn’t be more wrong. Otley has roots. Roots soaked in beer.
The story starts in 1975 when Alf Otley, already an experienced pub manager, bought his first pub in Pontypridd. Two more were added later and in time all three sons followed him into the business. Today eldest brother Paul runs The Otley Arms, the original family home and also known as O-Block because it’s pretty much part of the University of Glamorgan; Nick runs The Bunch of Grapes, the family’s ‘gastropub’, and Robert runs The Rickard Arms, which claims the best beer-garden of the three.
Nick also runs the brewery with the help of next generation Otleys, Charlie and Matthew. In typically self-deprecating fashion Nick claims that the idea of starting a brewery was dreamt up among the Otley boys ‘during a mid-session moment of clarity.’
While the Otley propaganda machine spins the story of good ol’ boys who sort of fell into brewing by accident, the reality is that the business is carefully and cleverly positioned. Pontypridd may not be on the foodie’s radar but for ale-lovers it is a place that drips authenticity. In the pubs their craft beers sit seamlessly alongside the fine-dining menu in the The Bunch of Grapes or a bar snack in The Otley Arms, equally enhancing both.
They stand squarely behind the licensed trade, eschewing distribution via wholesalers and supermarkets. But they have embraced the on-line world and last year became the first real ale to be sold by Amazon. They host beer festivals, welcome guest beers, produce seasonal beers and are adept in the use of social media. In short they press all the buttons that an aspiring artisan brewery can press. And best of all, they’ve got the beer to back it up.
Taste the range of Otley beers with brewer Nick Otley and beer-writer Pete Brown at Lion’s Place (Chadwick’s) on Saturday 17 Sept at 1.00pm. View full details and buy online now
Enjoy Otley Croes-O, the beer of the festival, at The Blorenge Bar at the Castle.
Buy Otley beers at stand 135 in the Market Hall.