Otter Brewery

Sound business advice brews success for Otter

In the heart of the Devon countryside the McCaig family brewery has been producing some of the Westcountry’s favourite ales for over two decades.  We talk to fifth generation brewer Patrick McCaig about what makes Otter rewery so unique.

Otter Brewery was set up in 1990 when David McCaig spotted a gap in the market for a Westcountry brewery that supplied quality local cask ales.As the fourth generation of a brewing family and with over three decades of brewing experience himself,David and his wife Mary Ann created Otter Brewery with the intention of supplying 80 firkins per week to regional pubs (a firkin is about 72 pints).  However, due to a popular product and the support of Heavitree Brewery among others, the business grew more quickly than they ever could have imagined. More than 20 years later it has now expanded to supply an impressive number of pubs and retailers throughout the South West and beyond, with a new state of-the art brewery opening in 2005.

“It’s still very much a family business,” commented son Patrick McCaig, himself a fifth generation brewer who is responsible for the sales and marketing of the business.“Mum and Dad remain heavily involved in the brewery and we pride ourselves on the fact that by working together as a family we pay attention to every little detail of the brewery with a genuine passion, from our charity support to sustainability and environmental considerations.To some companies these might be boxticking exercises but for us they really matter – and we believe that’s what makes us different.”

In fact, they matter so much that in 2010 Otter Brewery was shortlisted for a National Business Award in the Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) category.  The prize was eventually awarded to The Co-op but for the Otter name to be recognised at such a prestigious event is a mark of how far the family has come since 1990.

Of course it’s not just CSR that the brewery’s been recognised for, although it has won several similar awards regionally and nationally. Its famous ales have also won a clutch of accolades themselves including several Great Taste and Taste of the West awards. Its most recent new product, Otter Amber, is a mid gravity beer that’s light, fruity and refreshing – perfect for those who might not traditionally drink real ales.

“We’re keen to demistify the real ale image,” added Patrick.“We want to let those people who associate real ale with flat caps and whippets know that in reality our fans are much more varied than that.We’ve made a conscious decision to launch products that we know will appeal to a younger audience and female drinkers, and are even doing some research into creating a high quality lager to complement our portfolio of beers. It’s about building on our real ale heritage and carrying that quality through to other products. Having said that,we recently took some of our traditional cask ales to Glastonbury festival and they were incredibly popular with the young festival goers, so there’s an incredibly bright future for real ales.”

Part of Otter Brewery’s success can be attributed to sensible business management and planning, for which Patrick and his family chose to seek professional support as the business grew. Having initially pondered the idea of having an inhouse financial director, they decided to look for an external resource to provide advice and practical help, choosing to appoint Simpkins Edwards after a period of research. Partner Adrian Hemmings and his team now support the brewery with a range of services encompassing wider business consultancy services beyond accounting.

“We look at Adrian as part of the team; an extension to our board of directors,” said Patrick. “His team has a wealth of experience in guiding small businesses through periods of growth as well as periods of consolidation and we can always rely on them to give us sound advice.They are also proactive in looking for new ways in which we can become more profitable, whether it’s through tax savings or restructuring an aspect of our business to make it more efficient.”

Despite the tough economic climate Patrick remains confident that with the right advice and strategic planning, Otter Brewery will continue to prosper. In fact, he believes the market for regional breweries is actually growing due to the premium end of the national and international markets dropping away, leaving a space to be filled by quality products from regional producers. The future certainly looks bright for Otter Brewery well into its sixth generation and beyond.

For more information on Otter Brewery visit

Do you require guidance on managing a growing business? Call us and see how we can help.