Interview: Three Hills Brewing

If you’ve spent much time in our shop you’ve probably heard us banging on about Three Hills Brewing; we think they’re brilliant and the beers always fly out. If you were lucky enough to come to our Meet the Brewer/ Tasting event in January you also know Andrew has an interesting story to tell and knows his beer inside out. We decided to e-mail Andrew some questions to get a better idea of his background and his plans for the future. Crack open a Three Hills beer and enjoy.

Introduce yourself and your brewery; give a brief history, brewery size, etc.
Hiya! I’m Andrew Catherall an experienced homebrewer who moved into the pro-brewing realm in 2013 with dreams of opening my own brewery.  I am now the head-brewer/owner of Three Hills Brewing, a nano brewery with a focus on brewing experimental ales and lagers based out in the sticks in Northamptonshire.  I planned and built the 225l brewery in the first 8 months of 2016 with the first test brew being on my birthday (18th August) and the first batch sold in October.

You brewed commercially in China for a number of years, can you tell us the story of how that came about? Who were you brewing for? What kind of beer were you brewing?
So it’s a bit of a wild story really.. Basically I was homebrewing a hell of a lot to the point where i had one room fully air-conditioned full of fermenters, a kegerator with 3-4 beers on tap and way too much beer to drink. As a result of the excess beer I had on my hands, I met a lot of folk who enjoyed craft beer and eventually some professional brewers tried my creations. Off the back of that, I was recommended for a job with a start up brewery called Fighting Tiger in central China. I accepted the job and left Shanghai, where I had been working for a software outsourcing company. Unfortunately, after sourcing all the brewing equipment and building a number of recipes (including a single hop Galaxy IPA, a double IPA named A bomb coming at 10% and a red date imperial brown), the brewery never opened and I was left jobless with a brewing void to fill. As luck had it, I met a German brewmaster,  Tobias Weber, on my last day in Wuhan and he kindly asked me to go and brew with him. After a couple of days learning about decoction mashing and how “there are no decent lagers left in the world” I was offered a job and I gladly took it. Shortly after arriving at the uber- Bavarian brauhaus, I took over brewing operations due to the German suffering an unfortunate injury. There I was brewing a dunkel, hells lager and Heffeweizen with the opportunity to brew my own recipe once a month on a 10bbl system.

Why did you decide to move back to England and set up your own brewery?
I basically wanted to get back to my home brewing roots and start really experimenting again. That plus the pollution and toxic business environment in China, meant that returning home England became a much more appealing option.

You’re currently brewing different versions of your beers including an ongoing single hop IPA series. Why did you decide to brew different beers each time rather than having a few stock beers? Has doing this resulted in any challenges? What do you think the plus points are?

I enjoy constantly experimenting and like to always try and improve. Brewing a new beer each time is a reflection of this. I currently have a core range of 4 styles; Heidrun: pale ale,  Sekhmet: Amber ale, Veda: Single Hop IPA and Anglian: Dark Ale. Under these “umbrella” styles the recipe changes from brew to brew. Aside from the core styles, I have a three part stout series (base, breakfast and Irish Coffee for Breakfast), Pharmikon DIPA series, and will be releasing a New World IPA series in the coming months. I also have plans for some saisons and sours to be released in the Summer.

There are just so many ingredients; malts, hops, yeast, adjuncts to play with, not mention ways to manipulate the water profile and brewing process, which makes the possibilities for brewing beer virtually endless. I’d like to explore these possibilities  as much as I can without compromising on quality, but there are many challenges created by taking an experimental approach. Really I’d like to have a new label designedfor each individual beer, but this would be far too expensive to do, which is why I opted to brew different versions of each beer style. This way I can still be creative, the drinker can still expect something new every time, but it’s also economically viable. A real issue is getting hold of the raw materials you want (hops especially!) and buying ingredients in relatively small quantities isn’t very cost-effective. There’s also a constant risk that you may miss the mark, or produce something you’re not personally happy with. Fortunately, I’ve not had to put anything down the drain yet, but I am totally prepared to if it doesn’t make the grade. For me, the stress of the unknown and the extra cost of the experimental approach is definitely worth it, as it makes brewing way more exciting and keeps me striving to improve.

There’s recently been discussion around cask beer (again) in the UK beer world, you brew exclusively for keg and bottle at the moment, what’s the reasoning behind this? Would you ever consider using cask?
My reasoning is two fold. Firstly, I’ve personally never casked, so I don’t really have the necessary experience to package my beers in that form. Second, I think that beer (and wort) should avoid oxygen as much as possible to retain quality and improve shelf life, therefore I don’t intend to make cask a mainstay of mine, but I’m not averse to a collaboration with a cask beer brewery, should they want to show me the ropes and school me on the techniques that makes some cask beer (if drunk fresh) great.

Many of our customers have commented on your labels, can you tell us the story behind these and who designed these for you?
I develop concepts for each individual beer. It’s normally an idea or story, which I then give to the excellent designers I work with, who create something visually. They’re based in Bermondsey and are called Studio Creme. Those boys know how to design a label!

There are currently around 1,700 breweries in Britain. As a new brewery have you found it difficult to get your name (and beer) out there? What challenges have you faced? What advice would you give to a new brewery setting up? Do you think there’s still room for more breweries in the UK?
Every day there’s a challenge and my main advice would be don’t give up. Make sure you have enough working capital to survive the problems that inevitably occur. That, and brew beer you love. Expect the worst and try and appreciate it when something great happens.
What’s coming up next for Three Hills? What new beers are in the pipeline?
Big things! I plan to continue brewing beers I like, with new lines becoming progressively more experimental, and old lines being continually improved. In 2018, I hope to launch a brewery with 10x the capacity with a taproom (or 2 maybe!). 

And further into the future, what are your hops for Three Hills!?
Hops or hopes?! (we meant hopes, but hops will do too – WIB) Hops I’d like to use some of your home grown ones and maybe a bit of the elusive Citra, Amarillo and Centennial. Hopes: I hope  to continue to be able to brew full flavoured beers that people enjoy. A big, new, shiny brewhouse is my main hope at the moment.

You can visit the Three Hills Brewing website here, like them on Facebook here, follow them on Twitter here or look at some pictures of them on Instagram here

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