Well after much speculation on Facebook, much of it wrong but it did give the guys at Brains a laugh, I finally tracked down Brains Head Brewer Bill Dobson, to ask him some questions about the new craft ale brewery to be installed at Brains Brewery next year.
Above: Bill Dobson, Head Brewer at SA Brain
Brains are not the first regional brewer to build an experimental plant both Thwaites and Shepherd Neame have ones.
The new craft brewery will be housed within the existing Victorian tower brewery structure, replacing the space where a mash tun was removed some years ago. Now I don't have a photo on file of this whole area, as being an empty space in a brewery, it's not something of that much interest when visiting, however if you look at the photo below, taken earlier this year, the space the new brewery is going into is on the far left of the picture.
The new plant will be able to brew a maximum of 15 barrels and will allow the use of whole hops, the current brewery can only utilise hop pellets so this will increase the range of hops that can be used as it can take a few years before new hop varieties are available in pellet form. It looks like we can expect to see some interesting beer produced by Brains in the future, as if the seasonal beers produced this year; Strong Ale, Legends (New Zealand hops), British Summertime (dry-hopped with Styrian Goldings), Milkwood (brewed with Naked Golden Oats) and the Stout were not interesting enough.
The new fermenting vessels will be on the ground floor of the brewery and a small bottling line will also be installed. Head Brewer Bill Dobson told me that he hopes to experiment with different hops in the IPAs and have a taste off session comparing the different beers sometime in the future, this would have to be done from bottles due to the time-scales involved with cask beer and its shelf life. The majority of the beer produced on the craft plant will be cask and sold via Brains' pubs, so expect the beer range in the City Arms to get even more interesting next year!
All in all this development at the brewery is good for the beer scene in Cardiff and good for Brains. The current brewery dates mainly to the 1970s, although some fermenters are from the 1950s and the grist mills are even older. The former Bass/Hancocks plant was designed for mass production of beer and utilised high-gravity brewing techniques and hop pellets. Bass once produced a special brew of Hancocks Five-Five for the Cardiff Beer Festival one year and a brewer had to visit a home-brew shop to buy the whole hops as none were used in the Bass Empire! A smaller, craft brewery will allow Brains to test the market and experiment with exciting new ingredients. Roll on 2012, the year of craft brewing in Cardiff!