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.