Wales Ales End of Year Review & Predictions
A century ago it was called the roaring 20s, so what will 2020 bring us? As the tree gets squeezed back in its box, as we mull over the latest from Gavin & Stacey and Star Wars we can spare some time to ponder what this new decade will bring. It looks like those childhood predictions of hover cars and robots aren’t coming true any time soon, so let’s take stock and have a look at one thing we do have … Beer!
Firstly, let’s look back at what happened in the world of Wales Ales in 2019. We hope the CF31 Bridgend Street Market continues, as we’ve been there right from the start, however things are looking a bit uncertain so we’ll just have to wait to see what happens. In the meantime, one of our great successes came in the shape of the introduction of a monthly subscription, now called the Beer Club. This enables us to have a testing ground to try out new breweries and beers and get some great customer feedback before we take on a new range. Along the way we’ve done various themes from Pembrokeshire Breweries of Tenby and Tenby Harbour, rugby packs including Wales Ales’ favourites Grey Trees, Mumbles and Bluestone to special limited releases from Dog’s Window and Mad Dog. We’ve continued our tradition of being the first to stock new breweries, we get them in and then let the beers speak for themselves, one such new brewery to get the universal thumbs up from our customers is Railmill which will be joining the ranks of our most featured breweries.
To continue on that basis we’ll be starting 2020 by highlighting our involvement with the nationwide ‘Tryanuary’ campaign and featuring a number of new breweries as a treat for our subscribers. We’ve sourced beers from the highly rated Polly’s Brew and Pipes (both being stocked by us for the first time), Arcadian as well as a Dog’s Window special Tryanuary beer. One of the benefits of subscribing is that you’ll get first shout on any new releases. Sometimes this means that subscribers will take the lot so some won’t actually make it to general release, as happened with some of the Mad Dog Brewery birthday specials as well as subscribers taking most of the legendary ‘12 Beers of Christmas’ Stock. If you like the sound of this you can join anytime.
MAGAZINE & NEWSPAPER
As our followers know, we’re far more than flogging bottles, we have a genuine passion for Welsh beer and do our bit to help and promote the smaller guys, giving them a much needed bit of publicity. We enjoyed writing for the highly polished and very professional ‘Love Nosh’ magazine, however the pressures of establishing a new periodical in a challenging market meant that it’s been put on hold, which was a big shame, but hopefully it’s down and not out.
However, we now write regularly for the online newspaper West Wales Chronicle and do a monthly feature in their sister newspaper, the Llanelli Standard. Mainly focussing on what is happening in the West we have covered the likes of Tinworks, Tenby, Little Goat and Mumbles to mention a few.
Fear not the East bound guys, we have also started doing a monthly column in the popular entertainment magazine Buzz. All these are voluntary, we receive no payment from the publications or any breweries featured, it is simply our way of supporting the industry and spreading the word. So if you’re a brewer reading this and are struggling getting your name out there, then you know what to do!
So before we look ahead at 2020 we’d like to give a nod to those we’ve worked with in 2019. To set ourselves apart we have done a couple of collaboration beers, we carefully choose breweries which share the same vision as us, that we are confident will produce the goods. The purpose of collaborating for us is to release something a little different and something we like, but also help boost the profile of the brewery. The tropical IPA ‘GoodBoy’ with Dog’s Window has proved to be our biggest seller, so it was pretty logical to see what else we can do to complement our ‘12 Beers of Christmas’. Sometimes simplicity is key and in my humble opinion the simple addition of mango and slight change of hops to make the Christmas Special ‘Good Boy List’ was an absolute winner with an amazing fruity aroma, but we’ll see what you guys think. We value feedback so if you’re on Untappd then please add us and tag us in - wales_ales.
For a while we’ve been the main stockist of Caerphilly’s nano brewery, Zepto. The dark beers have been outstanding so it was a pretty easy decision to approach them for a collaboration, this time being tempted by the dark side! We didn’t just want to do a stout, we wanted something strong and powerful which would stand out from the crowd. That’s where ‘Paradise’ was born, a chocolate coconut stout ramped up to 7.1! We took it even further for the Christmas variation, popping it upto 7.4% and with added coconut, both have gone down a storm and although Zepto is a tiny brewery you can expect to see ‘Paradise’ returning before long. We aim to add to the collaboration range in 2020, we don’t know who with or what, but to quote David Bowie “I don't know where I'm going from here, but I promise it won't be boring”.
As ‘2020’ also means perfect vision, let’s use it as a metaphor to look ahead at the upcoming twelve months in the world of beer. What will be the key trends in brewing as we start a new decade? Only time will tell, but here are our thoughts...
LOW AND NO Alcohol-free is on the rise. There are many different reasons why people are cutting back on booze, but whatever the reasons they still want to take part in social occasions. As such, the market for ‘Lo & No’ is gaining popularity. Currently this sector is less than 5% of the UK beer market, but sales are increasing and we think will break out in 2020. As these options become more widely available, people are more likely to try them, either out of curiousity or beer ticking. I predict more breweries will add a low abv beer to their line-up, maybe not all a no or 0.5% product but certainly sub 3%. Dog’s Window did a very impressive Rye IPA proving you can have a very flavoursome and hoppy beer at only 3.3%. and I was suitably impressed with one of Tiny Rebel’s Birthday Collaborations with Big Drop Brewing Co, an Imperial Mocha Vanilla Shot Stout at 0.5%!
THE SPECIALISTS - Traditionally breweries had a core range of 3 or 4 beers and would release seasonal specials, that’s all changed with the rise of craft breweries, some completely abandoning the core range concept and simply releasing new beers all the time, sometimes only occasionally returning to a favourite due to demand or an anniversary.
With over 100 breweries in Wales alone then more choice has to be a good thing – but it has led to so much competition within the industry that something has to give. One of the ways in which this can ride out is with specialist breweries – those turning their backs on all but one type of beer, and making that as best as they can. Such a focus makes sense – putting all your eggs in one basket can give you a great reputation and a good and loyal following, but with so much competition strong branding and a high quality product is essential.
THE STYLE TO LOOK OUT FOR - Every year people say it’s the ‘Year of Craft Lager’ or a n