Okell’s has been brewed in the Isle of Man since 1850.

The beer has been a staple of pubs and remains unchanged.

But that doesn’t mean that the company behind the product is resting on its laurels.

The head brewer for Heron and Brearley, which makes Okell’s, Kevin Holmes, is spearheading more innovation at the brewery, perhaps most conspicuously with the launch of canned beer.

‘We’re a traditional brewery making predominately cask beer, with some bottled,’ he said.

‘But we wanted to move into new markets and a different customer base and looked at cans.

‘In my opinion, cans are the best vessel for the beer because there’s no light strike and it’s 100% recyclable.

‘It’s much easier on transport because you get more cans per pallet and it’s greener all the way around.’

Four beers are currently being produced by the company in cans, with two more coming.

They are Nectar, Triumph, Aura and Zero.

Nectar is a new world IPA with a hop that gives a juicy, tropical fruit flavour. The hop comes from New Zealand.

Triumph is a session IPA with a good bitter taste.

Aura is a canned version of the Manx Pale Ale. MPA is popular in cask, bottle and can.

Perhaps the most ground-breaking is Zero, which is non-alcoholic.

‘There has been a really positive reaction to it across the board, especially with the younger dynamic,’ Kevin said.

‘The customer now wants to be able to have a diverse range, so they’ll be able to drink a top-quality product that’s non-alcoholic.

‘There are obvious health benefits.

‘Non-alcoholic products are really good now. They need to be good and they need to be premium.

‘At one time there was a stigma about drinking non-alcoholic drinks. People would ask why.

‘Not it’s fine to drink non-alcholic drinks. It’s credible.’

A few years ago, a survey in the UK found the 16- to 25-year-olds were the most likely to be teetotal, with 26% not drinking.

For 55- to 74-year-olds, 15% didn’t drink.

If that pattern is followed in the Isle of Man it could show a rise in demand for alternatives to alcohol.

Indeed, the closures of so many pubs and the opening of coffee shops might well be a sign of the times that reflects that.

‘Introducing non-alcoholic beer was something we’ve been wanting to do for a while,’ Kevin said. ‘We needed the right vessel and cans seem to be the right vessel.’

But it’s not just cans. More keg products will be made too.

Kevin is now driving more innovation at the brewery.

‘We have an experimental brew kit. If we get anything new or we want to try a new style of beer or get new hops, we’ll brew it.

‘If we feel it’s worthwhile we’ll scale it up. All of those beers have been trialled.’

Not many hops are grown in the island and those that are don’t have the pedigree of those that have been grown for beer for centuries.

But Kevin has been sourcing hops from further afield than the UK, like the New Zealand hops used for the Nectar beer.

As with so many businesses, change came about after the pandemic.

Kevin said: ‘What happened with Covid was that the industry got a shake-up. It was almost at a stage where we wondered what the industry was going to look like.

‘We have a strong desire to develop products that we can export.

‘We asked what do we want our Okell’s to look like and go from there.’

Of course, as is the case for many Manx businesses, the cost of exporting across the Irish Sea can be expensive. Currently, the new canned beer has to be transported to the UK, canned and brought back to the Isle of Man.

That should change soon.

H&B plans to open a packaging plant which will can beer. But it’s not just the brewery that will benefit.

‘We’ll be able to contract brew and contract package for other people in the Isle of Man,’ Kevin said.

That doesn’t just mean beer. It can mean any beverage.

Kevin began working at Daniel Thwaites brewery in Blackburn, Lancashire, before moving the Isle of Man.

He started his career here at Okell’s before moving to Bushy’s and the Hooded Ram. He then returned to the H&B, where he’s been for four or five years. Four people work in the brewing section of the company.

As well as looking forward, Kevin is very conscious about the traditions of the company.

‘We’re 173 years old. We’ve got the Isle of Man Pure Beer Act, which our founder initiated and we’re an island Biosphere nation, which is the only one in the world.

‘We’re passionate about what we do. Our traditional offering, the bitter and the other cask products are here to stay.

‘We’re not turning our backs on anything like that. They are our core products and we believe in them.’

So what drives Kevin?

‘I’m passionate about beer. I’m passionate about the brand and the product.

‘I’m a custodian of its legacy, so I’m looking after a brewery that’s nearly 200 years old and my desire is to make sure it’s fit for the next 200 years and be able to pass it on.

‘It’s a jewel for the island. Not many places have a brewery that is so steeped in history.’