"Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes. Turn and face the strange, Ch-ch-changes. Ooh, look out you rock 'n' rollers" - David Bowie
With the close of 2017 we reflect on our first year of trading but also the industry as a whole, in what has seen a number of significant changes so we thought we'd highlight the many highs, and consider what the future holds.
The Award Winners
Mumbles Brewery kicked off the year in style when they were awarded six awards at the SIBA Wales & West Beer Festival at Ludlow in May, most notably with their Weisse beer which we had been previously raving about.
Going more national, we don't hide the fact we have a certain preference to the Aberdare based brewers Grey Trees, we love talking beer on our travels, but whenever we visit Grey Trees it's clear the guys are all hard at work, but they're always keen to show off what's brewing. So it's good to see them getting the fruits of their labour with awards flying in. Likewise they started off with a Gold award at the SIBA Festival. This was followed by an award for Best Strong Bitter for Afghan at the Great British Beer Festival in August, before finally achieving a long-term aim and getting the overall Champion Beer of Wales award in September. Not only that, they also scooped up Gold awards for Diggers’ Gold and Caradog’s bitter. I was invited to be on the judging panel for the Champion Beer of Wales and although it was blind tasting and I had no idea what the beers were, it was heartwarming to score Afghan full marks. Since then the guys have been flat out keeping up with demand, just reward for their hard work.
Onto one of the biggest players in the Welsh industry, and it's been a year of change for Tiny Rebel. They have recently moved into a state of the art new premises in Rogerstone, enabling a significant expansion in production and the development of an onsite bar, with further expansion already being discussed.
Although it hasn't all gone their way, a canning problem leading to a recall of their premium Captain Insano seemed bad enough, but then the recent case involving the branding of Cwtch, following what looked like a single complaint, has reputably cost them upwards of £30,000 in rebranding. As they say, there's no such thing as bad publicity, the forums and column inches were full of talk of Tiny Rebel, so although a few blips it would be fair to say the Rebels have had another great year.
So for 2018 although we would not be surprised to see Grey Trees continue in the same vein there are other breweries like Tenby Brewery hot on their heels, likewise a very strong and consistent range and we were blown away with the collaboration beer '3 Way Action' a totally tropical monster at 9%. We sometimes get asked by festival organisers for our recommendations and as the organiser of Carmarthen Beer Festival is a fellow dark lover we didn't hesitate in recommending Tomos a Lilford's Cwrwgl (a seaweed stout) and Mad Dog's superbly named Stouty McStoutface, both of which went down a storm and we'd tip for awards in 2018.
It has always been quite puzzling that considering its location and size that Bridgend has been without a brewery, when small sea-side towns like Tenby boast two in the shape of Tenby Brewing Co and Harbwr Tenby Harbour Brewery. That was rectified in December last year with the formation of Bang-On Brewery, the first Brewery in Bridgend for 80 years. . All the beers have a name to reflect their personalities, personally Neil being the best name for a beer ever created! They have a tap room to sample their beers, you can buy bottles to take away (something Mad Dog Brewery has also recently installed with their ‘Beer Shed’) and there's even a viewing window to see the guys hard at work. Like the preverbal buses, another Brewery came along in the shape of small batch brewery BontBrew, and if rumours are true there's another on its way?
It's all to easy to get excited about these new breweries and forget about the more established ones, but there's been change at multi-award winning brewery Otley in Pontypridd. Otley Brewing have had an amazing journey since they began brewing in August 2005 with walls full of awards and the pages of the media etched with their name. They surfed the first wave of new microbreweries, opening up the way for others to follow. However after 10 years, in October 2016 the brewery was put up for sale, and although new owners are now in place the brewery continues in the same fashion. With accomplished brewer Tim Itchman at the helm we'll be interested in seeing what changes are in store.
Wales hit the 100 Breweries milestone!
Having grown up in the not so mean streets of a small Pembrokeshire town I sometimes wonder how I managed to get into real ale, the standard and choice was limited to say the least, but in only 20 years the scene has greatly changed with Wales now in excess of 100 breweries!
We find our beer list constantly evolving, notable craft newbies include the return of Tom Newman (previously Celt Experience) with Lines Brew Co., Swansea's West By 3 and a personal favourite Ollie's Brewery. Brewing out of a tiny shed in his garden, Ollie’s prove it's quality not quantity, so we approached them with an idea. We wanted to create something a little different and something we’d enjoy drinking, so to tie in with the nationwide Tryanuary campaign (of which we are the South Wales Contact) we’ll be producing a collaboration beer called ‘Chocolate Labrador’ which should give you an inkling of the direction we’re going.
Whilst this is all very exciting and on the surface everything looks rosy, the inevitable question is "have we reached saturation point?"
In my humble opinion I don't think we're there yet, there's scope to move but I can foresee some falling by the wayside. It's a tough and congested marketplace and whilst owning a brewery must seem like a dream, it’s a business after all so standing out from the crowd gets increasingly difficult. However that's where we fit in, we're far more than just flogging bottles, we love talking beer, we love promoting the fantastic Welsh beers and are only too pleased to spread the word, a number of brewers have really bought into this and get what we're about, and customers in turn are more than happy to trust our recommendations.
We at Wales Ales can't wait to see how 2018 unfolds and have some exciting plans of our own, it's a great time for Welsh Beer and we'll continue to “Showcase the best ales from Wales"