Hops & Barley: Bang-On Brewery

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Not long ago, a friend tagged me in a post about a local Micro-Brewery that was about to start production, and keeping a beer focussed eye on all things Hops related, my curiosity was peeked and I decided to find out as much as I could about this new venture, Bang-On Brewery. After a little toing and froing, and having spoken to founder Neil about his brewery, I was invited to pop in and have a chat with him and head brewer Craig about Bang-On Brewery and their plans to put my hometown on the craft brewing map.  And this is what they had to say… 

Interview by Tim Cundle

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Neil: I was working in a business in Cardiff in a totally different field that meant driving an hour there in the morning, an hour back at night and spending ten or twelve hours at a desk…

MM: And that kind of thing just breaks you doesn’t it?

Neil: It was very frustrating and I hated it. So the stark reality of it is, I was sat outside the Prince of Wales in Mawdlam with the Princess and I said to her “I just want to sell up” and she asked me “Well, what do you want to do?” And I was sat there with a pint and I said “I love beer and I’d like to start a brewery” and she said to me “But you don’t know anything about making beer”, and I said “Yeah, you’re right. But I didn’t know anything about my last business before I started it, I didn’t know anything about walking when I was a baby and I didn’t know anything about writing before I went school. So, let’s do it” I sold my business, went to Brewlab and did their course and buried myself in research for a year, I got this place, Craig’s come on board and he has exactly the same mind-set…

MM: Did you know each other before…

Neil: No. Here’s how it gets…

Craig: Through a friend of a friend wasn’t it…

Neil: Yeah, basically I asked “Does anyone know any beer chefs”? and he messaged me and said “I’m a chef and I love beer” which was a good start, so I got back to him and said “Let’s meet up” We spoke through it and ended up looking at each and saying “This is so fucked up, it’s got to work. Let’s do it”.

MM: The brewery is going to become a reality for you in what, nine weeks…?

Craig: Yeah, a maximum of nine weeks…

MM: So how terrifying is it?

Neil: It isn’t, it’s brilliant. It’s bloody brilliant…

MM: You’re not frightened by the prospect of it all?

Neil: No. What I was frightened of was… I took over this place in January and in June it was still empty I was waiting on the Council to grant the change of use planning permission. I was paying rent and paying out left, right and centre and still looking at an empty shell. Now what both of us are seeing is something new happen each day. It might just be something trivial, but it’s constant…

Craig: Today, we’ve only let the painter in, everyone else has been told to stay away, apart from you. Next it’s going to be packed full of builders and I’ll be on me hands and knees painting the floor…

MM: So it’s a hands-on approach from both of you?

Craig & Neil: Oh yeah.

MM: You’ve call yourselves a micro-brewery, so I’m assuming that you’ll be following a similar path to the craft industry rather than any road the major breweries travel…

Neil: Well, no, there is a business plan in place which entails us not following anyone else’s route; we’re just going to do it our way. The flooring has been expanded so that we can put a secondary kit in once we reinvest the profits in more equipment. What we also plan on doing is setting up a chain of micro-pubs along the lines of The Mumbles Real Ale House and The Little Penybont Arms, in which there’s no music, no TV, just real quality beverages.

MM: The way a pub should be, a place for people to get together, converse, drink enjoy hanging out and get to know each other…

Neil: Yeah, If your mobile phone goes off, there’s the door, go outside and talk to whoever you need to on the phone. Then when you’re finished, come back in and talk to the people who can actually be bothered to be here (in the pub). The first place that we’re looking at is Cowbridge, then hopefully Porthcawl, but it’s got to be the right place in Porthcawl and premises don’t come up very often there. Then we’re looking at Cardiff, Clifton in Bristol and Stroud in Gloucester, areas that will have….

Craig: The clientele. It sounds terrible, but it needs to be in slightly more affluent areas to attract the people who want the kind of product that we’ll be offering.

MM: You’re looking at the kind of places that already have an established audience through chains like Brewdog?

Neil: Yeah, but I’m not talking Brewdog size, more like small retail premises and starting to build a small chain that the brewery supplies and at the same forging relationships with all of the other brewers in Wales, so that we can host guest ales by agreeing a swap system with them. What we don’t want to do is create the kind of environment where people come in hammered, looking for a scrap. What we want is to create an environment where people come in and think that it’s a nice place to socialise and relax, and the occupational by product of that, is having a beer.

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MM: Craig said that you’re looking at four to six flagships to start…

Neil: Yeah. From a practical point of view, we need to have session ale between 3.6 and 3.8%, a fairly steady beer that landlords in Freehouses want because they’ve got customers who come in and drink eight or so pints and then go home. They don’t want those same customers coming in and just drinking two pints of much stringer beer, because that makes no financial sense. Then there’s an IPA, which is what the people want and then, to be brutally honest, the rest of it is as much up to Craig as it is to me. After all, he’s the chef…

MM: So Craig, tell us a little more…

Craig: Neil’s basically covered it… My thought process involves going through the stages of colour as much as anything else. Obviously, with the pales the flavours aren’t as intense as they are with the darks, so I’ll work through the colours and keep the volume down, which will keep the bank balance looking healthy and give us the room to play around with and produce different beers.

MM: With the higher alcohol volume, the taxation goes up exponentially with anything over 8.4% being classed as wine…

Neil: Yeah and it’s funny that you should mention wine…

Craig: Because we’re aiming to try and get people to see beer the same way as they do wine. If I make a beer at 14%, we want people to buy a bottle and share it at a table in the same way as would a bottle of wine and drink it responsibly so that they can enjoy it.

Neil: It’s going to be served and presented in the same way as a bottle of wine would be, and is meant to be drunk and savoured in the same way.

Craig: To me, it should be like the one you had earlier (I sampled some of Craig’s lager, which was incredibly reminiscent of a very good, mature German Pilsner – Tim), it can’ be thick, it can’t be heavy, it can’t be too sweet, but then I can play with the sugar content, increase the volume but ensure that it remains as palatable as wine.

MM: I don’t know how intertwined and involved in the whole craft beer explosion you are or the different styles of beers like Gose’s and Sours that it’s taken to heart, but I was kind of curious about whether you’d be producing your own takes on them…

Craig: I can, but whether or not I do (laughs) I don’t want to give away too many secrets…

MM: I guess it’s a case of testing your audience and market…

Neil: It’s not just that. We’re going to be doing bottling as well, doing it by hand and keeping it real.

MM: Keeping it old school and traditional?

Neil: Exactly and the selection of bottled beers will be different to the cask and keg beers…

Craig: The bottled ones are the playful ones…

Neil: Without going into too much detail, one of Craig’s beers is like a Black Forest Gateau stout and that’s the kind of beer that’s more likely to come bottle packaged than in cask or keg.

MM: But that’s a good thing, as if you’re selling exclusive bottled beers alongside cask or keg ales, then it’ll encourage people to try them as well…

Neil: Exactly. And we’re looking at setting up brewery tours that’ll start here, include a few pints, maybe a bottle or two and also take in some of the better local pubs like The Coach and The Plough, so we need to get in touch with the people from the Freehouses and see if we can make that happen.

MM: So why should people come here drink your beer?

Neil: Because we’re different

Craig: Because we’re better and our beers will be better than everybody else’s. You’ll recognise them, they’ll be what they say they are on the labels, like IPA, but they’ll also be different.

MM: And fans of which breweries will find comfort and solace in your beers? As a sort of rough guide to your potential customers…

Neil: Craig will obviously have a different view on this to mine, but… There’s a brewery in Newcastle called Mordue they knock out some pretty spectacular stuff and there’s Tiny Rebel in Newport…

MM: Ah, so fans of Moor in Bristol as well then, yeah?

Neil: Exactly and there’s Pipes in Cardiff as well. If you like what all of them do, you’ll love what we do.

MM: You’re definitely travelling the craft road then. Everything you do is produced with care and passion..

Craig: Yeah, and there’s some of the best water in the country here flows straight down form the mountains. I can’t do anything to it to make it any better and it’s perfect for making beer, and by using the best ingredients and my recipes, we’ll be brewing beer better than anyone else.

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What more can you say? Keep your eyes peeled for beers from Bang-On Brewery, because I’ve got a feeling that they’re going to be spectacular. Watch this space…

 

Hops & Barley

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