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Welsh Beer Review of 2017

As we approach the end of 2017 it seems like a good time to reflect upon the year. We've seen an exciting year of change on the Welsh beer scene and it would be impossible to capture every single development here. With that in mind, I've decided to list a few of the highlights below:

Tiny Rebel
First of all we start with arguably Wales’s biggest craft brewery, Tiny Rebel. 

It’s been a big year for the Newport brewers, moving into a state of the art new premises in Rogerstone, enabling a significant expansion in production and the development of an onsite bar and brewery tours. 

A slight down-note for Tiny Rebel has been the recent case involving the branding of their Cwtch beer. However, an optimist would note the significant publicity and exposure the brewery has received off the back of this episode… In spite of this recent blip, there’s no doubt that 2017 has been a great year for Tiny Rebel.

Grey Trees
The awards have been pouring in for the Aberdare brewery, with a Gold award in SIBA’s Wales and the West Independent Beer Awards in May (a special mention for Purple Moose of Porthmadog who also picked up a Gold award, in the small pack competition). This was followed by an award for Best Strong Bitter for the same beer at the Great British Beer Festival in August, before scooping the Champion Beer of Wales award in September at the Great Welsh Beer and Cider Festival. The festival also saw Grey Trees pick up Gold awards for Diggers’ Gold and Caradog’s Bitter. A truly remarkable year for a remarkable brewery!

Crafty Devil
This was been a successful year for the Canton-based brewery, having moved into a new brewery which is twice the size of their old one. This is a significant step for Crafty Devil as they look to scale up and continue their impressive growth… remember, just a few years ago they were brewing in a garden shed!

In December, the teams at Crafty Devil announced they would be opening their first city centre venue, Beelzebub’s,  an launched a successful crowd-funding scheme to help promote the venture. 

With a greatly expanded brewery and a new venue in the offing, 2017 has been a watershed year for Crafty Devil.

The Cardiff Craft Beer Scene
I've covered this topic in a recent blog post so won't go into too much detail, but suffice to say the craft beer scene in Cardiff has gone from strength to strength. Arguably the most significant addition has been that of St Canna’s Alehouse in Canton, which has proved a very popular venue. Indeed, along with Crafty Devil’s Cellar, the Lansdowne, and to some extent Chapter Arts Centre, St Canna’s has helped further Canton’s reputation as a craft beer hub within the city. 

100 Breweries in Wales!
As reported on this blog in August, Wales has surpassed the milestone of 100 breweries for the first time since before the Second World War (possibly even before the First World War). This impressive figure reflects the enormous growth of the craft brewing industry in Wales over the ,art decades. New breweries continue to spring up every month or so, whilst others unfortunately close. 

Amongst the notable “new kids on the block” are Cwmbran’s Brewmonster, Caerphilly’s Lines Brew Co., Bedwas’s Well Drawn Brewery and Lithic Brewing of Llangorse. 

The big question will be “have we reached the peak?” People are beginning to ponder whether we've reached a saturation point whereby micro-brewers are forcing eachother’s prices down in a bid to compete for the same customers, leading to a squeeze on profit margins… 

In my opinion, there probably is still scope for a few more micro-breweries in Wales, but continued growth will be contingent on a number of conditions being met:
  1. Welsh breweries continuing to expand their reach beyond Wales. London, Bristol, Manchester, Leeds and other U.K. Cities are lucrative (but highly competitive markets) for craft beer. Achieving greater penetration in these - and other - markets will be vital for future growth.

  1. Achieving greater market share. In the USA craft beer sales account for around 20-22% of beer sales, whereas in the U.K. it is around 8%. Of course there are huge differences between the American and British economies and beer markets, but nonetheless the aspiration should be for craft brewers to capture a more significant share of the market. This will require a change in drinking habits, which is not easy to achieve. However, with clever marketing (emphasising the local or Welsh dimension, alongside the quality of the product), surely growth is possible. 

  1. Getting craft beers into more outlets. This is much easier said than done, but it is a key factor in driving a change in drinking habits listed in point 2. Tied-houses and supermarkets are challenging for craft brewers to reach, but not impossible. On a recent holiday to America I was struck at the phenomenal range of local craft beer available in supermarkets… Perhaps mobilising a consumer-led campaign to promote local beer is the way forward… The idea of “buying local” is a very powerful brand. 

  1. Increasing opportunities to sell their own produce directly. In some respects, this is a no brainer - cut out the middlemen and reduce costs by going direct to the marketplace yourself. Again, this is much easier said than done as it is complicated by licensing, the need for an increase in personnel, and the costs associated with setting up and running a bar/shop/brewery tap. However, there are several successful models available to learn from, and where it works well, it can generate significant profit for the brewery. It is particularly worth noting the collaboration between Purple Moose, Conwy, Nant and Great Orme, who have joined forces to run the Albion Ale House and two other pubs. This could be a model to replicate elsewhere in the country. 


2018 is sure to be an interesting year for craft beer in Wales, if 2017 is anything to go on…


Comments

  1. Thank you for championing Welsh craft beer! I would like to mention Swansea based West by Three brewery (westbythree.com). They have made some of the most exciting and high quality craft beers I have had the pleasure of consuming in 2017. Highlights include Berry White IPA, Helles Yes!, Grisette and Oregon IPA. Give them a go if you haven’t already.

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    Replies
    1. Thanks John - a great new brewery and certainly worth noting here! I really enjoyed one of their pilot series IPAs recently.

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  2. Definitely keep up the hood work. I'll be attemptong to try new beers from as many Welsh breweries as I can in 2018. @JohnnyG070

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