An interview with Danny McColl of McColl’s Brewery

Stuart Forster conducts an interview with Danny McColl of McColl’s Brewery, which is based in Bishop Auckland, County Durham.

Danny is a native of Whitley Bay. He lives in Teesdale with his wife Gemma, from Stockton, who provides the brewery with creative direction. They founded the McColls Brewery together in 2017. Their beers are served in pubs across northeast England.

The couple met in 2004 and Gemma brought a Danny a homebrew kit. “Ultimately she’s to blame for all of this,” jokes Danny as we settle into conversation. That present prompted him to start brewing.

“We’re heavily influenced by Belgian style beers. That’s one of my long-term loves — Belgian beer. We didn’t jump into it but we have a portfolio of Belgian beers coming out this year,” he says, acknowledging that while Belgian ales are becoming trendy they’re down-to-earth with underlying sophistication.

“Sessionable simplicity” is something that he strives to create.

A glass of Petite Belgian Blonde Ale (4.1ABV) from McColl's Brewery, based at Bishop Auckland in northeast England
A glass of Petite Belgian Blonde Ale (4.1ABV) from McColl’s Brewery.

Danny’s background in brewing

Back in 2012 Danny started working at the Tirril Brewery in Cumbria. Over time he became the head brewer, staying until the autumn of 2016.

“We were doing 150 casks a week. It was a 20-barrel brewery. There was a tonne of malt in and a tonne of malt out. The physicality and expectations of running a brewery were born out of that experience,” says Danny, who undertook some of his training with Brewlab.

He says that the freedom to have creative input into a product was a key factor in setting up McColl’s Brewery. It meant being able to develop a brand and products.

The McColls received the keys to their own brewery, based in Bishop Auckland, in November 2016. McColl’s is also 20-barrel brewery and produces 3,500 litres beer (the equivalent of 6,159 pints) a brew. That means around 200,000 litres (close to 352,000 pints) a year for distribution. “We have room to grow in our plans,” he explains.

Glass of Lady Marmalade Best Bitter (4.4ABV) from McColl's Brewery, based at Bishop Auckland in northeast England
A glass of Lady Marmalade Best Bitter (4.4ABV) from McColl’s Brewery.

Beers brewed by McColl’s Brewery

The brewery’s core range consists of four beers. The packaging and branding was revamped in February.

Danny aims to reach beyond the craft beer market. “We love the creative, seasonal, alternative aspect within that drinkable, palatable framework but we also want to appeal to people outside the craft beer bubble. We want to produce beers that are sessionable and drinkable, and appeal to anyone from a 24-year-old craft beer drinker up to my dad, who’s touching 70. We don’t want to be pigeon-holed as a one-hit wonder craft brewery,” he explains.

“Drinkability is definitely up there,” he says about the philosophy that drives his brewing. “We do have some seasonal alternative beers coming out but the core of our purpose is to produce beer that everyone want to drink.”

He’s looking to create beers that are ‘approachable’.

As we chat it becomes clear that Danny thinks that the constant demand for new beers — including hoppy IPAs and sours — will wane. He suggests that there will be a gradual move towards simplicity and the familiarity of a quality pint of beer.

“Whether it’s cask best bitter or a porter revival in the next five to 10 years, people will be enjoying sessionable quaffable beer,” he predicts.

“I think there’s going to be a resurgence in quality, core beers in Britain. I think we’ve swung over to America and embraced their hoppy IPAs and pale ales but I think it’s coming back to cask, sessionable bitters and porters. That’s something I enjoy too,” adds the brewer.

Glass of Suma IPA from McColl's Brewery, based at Bishop Auckland in northeast England
A glass of Suma IPA (5.0ABV) from McColl’s Brewery.

A brewery based in northeast England

“One thing we really pride ourselves in is our professionalism,” he says of his brewery. “This is a professional entity that delivers from branding, customer service through to quality of the product. We’re not just producing wacky, left-field beers. Our approach goes down to brewing beer we feel everybody will enjoy; we make simple, enjoyable, drinkable beer.”

In recent years there’s been a boom in craft brewing across the northeast of England. “It’s difficult to get space on a bar or in a fridge,” acknowledges Danny. “Even just getting your name known is a challenge. We’re three years in and we have some brilliant relationships and core customers. But not to stand still, we have to develop new relationships with customers who don’t know us.”

A glass of North South Porter (4.6ABV) from McColl's Brewery, based at Bishop Auckland in northeast England
A glass of North South Porter (4.6ABV) from McColl’s Brewery.

The man behind the beer

On a night off Danny might be found enjoying British or Belgian beers.

“There are five breweries I keep tabs on, get inspiration from and look to for a heads-up on the industry. In no particular order they are Thornbrige, Hawkshead, Marble, Five Points and The Kernel,” he says.

“They produce outstanding beers; a mixture of core, British, international and alternative seasonal beers,” adds Danny, who admires how the quality of the core range provides drinkers with confidence to try their more unusual creations.

In terms of his own creative beers, Danny explains that McColl’s will be releasing a beer made with beetroot in April, a brut pale ale during the late-springtime and a fruited double IPA in August. Yet his aim is to ensure even the ‘left-field’ creations are well-balanced and ultimately simple, drinkable beers.

In the meantime, McColl’s Brewery’s core range consists of Petite Belgian blonde ale (4.1ABV), North South porter (4.6ABV), Lady Marmelade best bitter (4.4ABV) and Suma IPA (5.0ABV).

Cans of Petite Belgian Blonde Ale, Suma IPA, Lady Marmelade Best Bitter and North South Porter brewed by McColl's Brewery, based at Bishop Auckland in northeast England
Canny! Cans of Petite Belgian Blonde Ale, Suma IPA, Lady Marmalade Best Bitter and North South Porter brewed by McColl’s Brewery, based at Bishop Auckland in northeast England.

Further information

McColl’s Brewery is based at the Randolph Industrial Estate in Bishop Auckland, County Durham. Under normal circumstances the taproom opens on the last Friday (3.00pm to 9.00pm) and last Saturday (noon until 5.00pm) of each month.

Beers from McColl’s Brewery are stocked across northeast England, including at the Centrale beer store in Newcastle Central Station.

The coronavirus outbreak has resulted in the closure of pubs. That inevitably poses a risk to the existence of small businesses, including craft brewers. Several are now selling their products online and arranging delivery.

In light of the current crisis it’s particularly important to support small businesses. McColls Brewery is offering free delivery on online orders of more than £15 (see the shop on the McColl’s website for details.)

Stuart Forster, the author of this article, is a member of the British Guild of Beer Writers.

Illustrating photos are by Why Eye Photography.

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