Brains Craft Brewery celebrates 1st birthday

Craft Ann 

On May 30 2013, Brains Craft Brewery, the pilot plant at Brains Brewery in Cardiff, celebrated its first year. From start up to present day, they’ve brewed a staggering 35 beers for cask, keg and bottle. There were also hints at a few batches which didn’t quite cut the mustard, meaning they’ve produced almost a batch a week, every week, since the mash tuns were first fired up.

Have they been successful? Well, how does one measure success? They’ve recently increased the capacity of the Craft Brewery, adding more fermentation vessels and storage tanks. Brains have also begun to upgrade their tied estate, adding keg lines to select pubs to dispense the kegged craft ale being produced. Their presence at beer festivals such as Craft Beer Rising in London has been well received, and they’ve definitely snatched the attention of the beer writing community.

From the outset, Brains Craft have shrewdly invited leading beer writers to collaborate on making a brew. Who could resist the allure of designing a professionally brewed beer? It’s certainly more memorable than receiving free samples in the post. After that, the passion spreads as beer writers blog about it and talk to other beery types, creating some of the most positive advertising possible.

Their small size allows them to accommodate a lot of collaborative brews, rather than as a one-off occasion. The nature and purpose of a pilot brewery is to have a very tight turning circle – they can try ideas, respond to the seasons and the sudden changes of trends far sooner than a large, mainstream brewery. Oddly enough, this strength is almost a weakness. Even living in Cardiff I struggle to keep up with each new batch. The wider UK market generally only sees what makes it to bottle, these primarily being the bottles which Tesco and Morrison’s stock, such as Barry Island IPA and Boilermaker.

It’s still early days, of course, and whether these small batch runs make it to the brew floor of the larger parent brewery is unknown. It would be good if Brains dedicated a Craft pub in either Cardiff or London, or perhaps expanded their online shop to sell mixed cases of Brains Craft beers. In the meantime, one guaranteed way to sample a cross-section of their latest output is to visit their stall at Great Welsh Beer Festival in Cardiff this weekend.

They should have on Barry Island IPA, their flagship IPA; Stars and Stripes, an American hop-led hazy, weiss-beer style ale (one that is guaranteed to refresh during a hot beer festival); Bragging Rights, a spicy, honey-infused ale based on an old Welsh recipe, and one that I really want to pair with a pork pie; Farmer Walloon, a farmhouse saison; and Terry’s, a chocolate and orange porter.

Look out for some limited edition beers, too. The Low-Hanging Fruit is a dark cherry beer, made with Belgian yeasts and Morello cherries for a slightly sour, cherry fruit profile – I’m keen to find out how it tastes, as it wasn’t quite ready last week. However, the Grande Tripel IPA, the second collaboration with Simon Martin, is an absolute tiger in the glass and one I recommend if you like your chewy, hoppy, complex beers. As the name suggests, it’s an intriguing blend of the Belgian and the American.

For those looking for a more sedate pace, there’s the Coopers Reserve: brewed to an existing Brains recipe (I don’t know which), the beer has been barrel aged in Penderyn whisky casks, giving it a sherry-like aroma and taste. Last year, at the Great British Beer Festival in London, people queued half an hour in advance for a small sample of Greene King’s 5X Oak Aged Beer. Once word gets out, the Coopers Vintage could just have the same effect.

Regardless of whether people love or loathe, shrug or smile at the new Brains range, it has definitely achieved one thing: after one year, people across the UK, in Leeds, London, Norwich and South Wales, are looking at the Brains brand in a new way; it’s no longer the same old pint of SA, it’s something different, something to chase after and talk about. It’ll be interesting to see what another year brings.

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6 thoughts on “Brains Craft Brewery celebrates 1st birthday”

  1. We (Boak and I) really liked the Wit, whatever that was called.

    When a pilot plant/’craft brewery’ expands, does it eventually get its own pilot plant? What if it expands so much it gets bigger than its parent? So much new ground being broken, the rules have yet to be written.

    1. Weiss Weiss Baby was their wit beer, with a flavoured version called Weiss Weiss Berry; though there may have been others, it has been difficult to keep up with every new release.

      If Superman has taught me anything, it is that the son must become the father, and the father must become the son…

      Alternatively, if we look at colonial history, the pilot brewery may end up resenting the control of the parent brewery, and lead a successful war of secession in order to announce its own independence. After that, yes, it’s possible the newly formed independent brewery will form its own pilot brewery, but feel slightly guilty about the whole thing.

  2. They really have made quite remarkable progress with the Craft Brewery. If it had been a half-hearted, one beer a month sort of thing, most people would have shrugged and moved on. But that level of output, and the broadly high critical acclaim it has received, is a great indicator for beer in Wales and something for other regional brewers to take note of. I can’t wait to try some of the new stuff at the GWBCF.

  3. You propose an interesting idea, a craft bar/pub for Brains.
    Certainly with their recent modernisation and refurbishment program they could choose a central cardiff pub and head down that path, they have shown they are willing to spend money on their establishments lately. I know nothing about running a pub or the breweries output capabilities, whether the demand from a bar would be to much for the craft brewery at its current level, and if they increased to match the demand, would they still truly be the craft brewery offshoot they set out to be?
    But as I said in my GWBCF post this week, a few years ago I asked why anyone would head to the Brains bar at the festival, you can get SA etc. everywhere in Cardiff, but with the Craft element I am actually excited about seeing what I can get this year from them.

    1. I missed your GWBF piece, I’ve had so little time to keep up with blogs this past fortnight. I’ll take a look when I get chance.

      In terms of Cardiff, a dedicated craft pub may detract custom from elsewhere. London would probably be a more shrewd venture, and they could sell some other guest ales to balance the limited output from the brewery. In all fairness, my guess is they would struggle to stock a whole bar with a constant variety at the moment – but later down the line, who knows?

      Give me a shout if you’re around this weekend, we’ll clink glasses.

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