How the Shotover brewery got its name
Provenance is one of the most fertile sources of inspiration for the brand builder and one of the most powerful tools in the armoury of positioning. Consider Parma ham and Amalfi lemons; Champagne and Roquefort; and even closer to home, Melton Mowbray pork pies and Aberdeen Angus beef. In today’s hypercompetitive world, protected geographical status provides an important barrier to entry and it’s interesting to note that Italy (267) and France (217) currently well outnumber the UK’s 65 registrations.
Even closer to home, anyone walking down Broad Street or The High will see and experience what a very valuable brand *Oxford* has become thanks not just to the University and its colleges, but also to Alice, Morse and Harry Potter, amongst others. But whilst Oxford is justly world famous for its University, it was also known until recently for being something of a real ale ‘desert’, especially after Morrell’s ceased brewing in 1993.
But one beer enthusiast’s problem is another’s opportunity. In this case, the enthusiast was Ed Murray, and the opportunity was to bring craft beer to Oxford. Ed is one of the few people I know who can be truly said to be a Renaissance Man and an artful strategist. In a long career, Ed has been a teacher, electrician, aid worker and business consultant and when I first met him, also a home brewer of some repute whose Horspath home-shed brews carried a friendly Black Cat label.
Following his passion, and frankly against the advice of a number of experts, including me, Ed was determined to ride the wave of the microbrewing revolution and in 2008 with some funding from the EC, started realising a bigger brewing venture. Extending the shed was never going to be a serious option, and Ed and Pip, his wife and business partner, started a search in the locality for suitable premises. They soon spotted a 200-year-old stable-block in Horspath in the appropriately named Cooper’s Yard, and immediately began the necessary renovations to install a brand new 8 bulk barrelbrewery.
The new brewery was situated on the eastern border of Shotover Country Park which over the years our two families had much enjoyed, especially the circular walk from and to Horspath via the Avenue and Wheatley. A long walk on Shotover is the perfect dose of mindfulness for any stressed out executive.
With the countdown proceeding fast to commissioning the kettles and brewing the first production samples, the marketing plan had to be finalised. As acting Chief Marketing Officer, I was invited with Babs, my wife, to a Sunday lunch with the Murrays where the brand plan would be brainstormed over a huge pork roast.
Whilst I’ve launched many products in my marketing career, I have to confess not all of them have been something to be proud of: the yoghurt cream liquor is a case in point. But working with Ed on his new brewery was a genuine labour of love and allowed me to atone for some of the shockers which bore my finger prints.
Ed and Pip were fiercely committed to the idea of local products for local people, and so it was inevitable that we would draw on the local landscape to tell our brand story. We were not interested in cut-and-pasting the standard Oxford clichés. Our challenge was to find the right balance between respecting traditional ale and beer codes and expressing them in a contemporary way.
Shotover provided a wonderful and timeless world for us to explore for our brand story: the Kimmeridge Formation geology; the ancient forest; the myths and legends like Empress Maud’s fossilised tears or John Copcroft’s throwing a volume of Aristotle against a charging wild boar; the beautiful Bluebells battalions on the move in May…. Shotover had it all.
Thus, it was in the course of one epic Sunday afternoon lunch that The Shotover Brewing Company was born, and its story sketched out on an A3 layout paper splattered with gravy.
Soon afterwards, Ed’s first two beers Scholar (with the blue label) and Prospect (red) were available sporting the distinctive identity of the dreaming spires created by Guy, our designer. These have since been joined by Trinity (yellow) and Porter (black).
Today Shotover beers are available throughout Oxford and the county and can be found in over 30 pubs. Shotover ales have now become another great reason to visit Oxford, not to mention its ancient country park, once more underlining the power and value of place and provenance.
Paul Christopher Walton
Chief Marketing Officer (Hon)
A version of this article appears in the Summer 2018 edition of The Shotover Preservation Society newsletter.