Meet the women behind the Offbeat Brewery in Crewe

Michelle Kelsall, Andrea Davies and Caroline Talbot

Michelle Kelsall, Andrea Davies and Caroline Talbot - Credit: Archant

Beer-making isn’t just for blokes with beards, says Michelle Kelsall and her female colleagues at Offbeat brewery in Crewe, writes Martin Pilkington

A selection from Offbeat Brewery

A selection from Offbeat Brewery - Credit: Archant

If the words ‘craft brewer’ call to mind bearded blokes in Arran sweaters, then the team at Crewe’s Offbeat Brewery may just surprise you. The innovative beers created there by founder Michelle Kelsall and assistants Andrea Davies and Caroline Talbot could well amaze you.

Michelle previously ran a brew-pub in Ayrshire with her former husband, and like many micro-brewers she trained at Brewlab in Sunderland. Starting Offbeat in 2010 she had clear aims: ‘I wanted to do something different, brew more interesting things, not be just another traditional brewery business,’ she says.

She’s been true to her vision. A glance at just a few of her brews reveals a stout aged in whisky casks to add peaty notes; a ginger beer with chilli for extra punch; spice-spiked Crazy Christmas Ale described as mince pie in a glass; and conventional mild transformed with wild blackberries. And those are not even on the ‘oddities’ part of the list.

‘The strangest beer we’ve done is probably our Oddity #9,’ says Michelle: ‘It’s without hops; instead we left it over the weekend on kaffir lime leaves. It made a lovely fruity beer, with a refreshingly sour tang.’

Michelle feels Offbeat’s approach creates a commercial edge: ‘It sets us apart – a lot of pubs are looking for something new and different that grabs the customer’s attention.’

Offbeat’s marketing slogan ‘Great Beer Brewed by a Chick’ might suggest a feminine approach to brewing, but Michelle scorns the idea: ‘We probably look a bit prettier than some of the blokes in the trade, but there’s no female way of brewing, and I don’t agree with marketing beers aimed specifically at women. Andrea for example loves rich dark stouts and other heavier beers that I’m not keen on; I prefer the hoppy IPAs, so there isn’t a beer we could make “for women” because personal tastes differ so much.’

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Those personal preferences mean Andrea, who has worked at Offbeat for four years, takes the lead on taste-testing heavier ales: ‘Because Michelle doesn’t really like the dark beers I have to quality control them. Worst job in the world,’ she says with a malt-shovelful of irony.

On the first Friday of every month, January excepted, the brewery opens from noon till 10pm for ‘Firsty Friday,’ serving the latest brews and featuring live music. Otherwise their ales and lagers sell at outlets like Bunbury’s Yewtree Inn, Crewe’s Belgian cafe-bar Hops, and in the county’s restaurants and micro-pubs. Beerdock, the national beer retailer based in Crewe, also stocks their products.

Beer festivals are another important marketing route, not least Crewe’s own for which in 2014 they produced a bitter sharpened with fresh lemons; for the Crewe Live music event two years previously they brewed another special, an extra-hopped golden ale.

Michelle and Caroline, recruited 20 months ago [as it will be in January], met when both gave roller derby a go: ‘We went through a phase of hitting each other on roller-skates, at Crewe’s Railtown Locorollers, but we’ve both given it up. I needed somebody to do the bottling, she was looking for a new job, so it worked out.’ The Locorollers came to the brewery to make their own Off the Rails Chocolate Stout, brewdays an activity Michelle is keen to expand: ‘This year [2016] we’re running The Hoppiest Day of Your Life, where couples or stag and hen parties can make a special beer to drink at their wedding or give as favours,’ she explains.

Michelle has plenty of ideas for other brews, and Andrea and Caroline are happy to help with making them and ‘quality control’. Nice work if you can get it.

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