Along King’s Road in Pontcanna, Cardiff everything seems suburbanly normal. There’s a curry house, a florist, a hairdressers, but nothing particularly out of the ordinary. However, hidden away behind the normality a lone alcohol alchemist is hard at work. He’s concocting a range of unique beers in a garage which he believes to be Wales’s smallest commercial brewery.
The Artisan Brewing Co. is a micro-brewery which produces 800 pints of beer a week. It is owned by Simon Doherty, a self-confessed beer-nerd. As from yesterday he has secured a deal, with the landlord of the site, to rent an area behind the garage effectively doubling the size of his operation, and maybe even tripling it for next summer.
What makes his alcoholic drinks different from most is the fact they are 100 per cent natural, free from additives and preservatives, in addition to being unfiltered and unpasteurised – that’s why he calls them barenaked beers.
“Most UK bottle conditioned beers use sugar to create the carbonation. I use a number of German techniques, so as to add nothing! As pure as beers gets: grain hop yeast and water, that is all.” Simon on how he bottles his drinks.
Here is a video of the brewing process:
Thanks to the newly acquired space he will be able to provide more barenaked beers to locals who come to his regular micro beer festivals which take place at the brewery throughout the year. The events always feature local bands and serve hot food sourced from south Wales.
This is a short clip from the latest event held 5 and 6 December, 2009:
By January he will know if he is successful in obtaining a ‘premises license’ to sell the beverages straight from the brewery itself. But for now you can wait until his next micro beer festival (details on his Facebook group) or visit the bars and cafes around Cardiff city centre that supply them: Nos Da, Bar Umm and Gwdihw.
Simon is originally from Melbourne, Australia but left when he was 22. While in Australia he worked for a winery and as a result managed to land a job at the prestigious Château Lynch-Bages in France. He worked in France for a while but decided he wanted to visit family in Clevedon, Bristol. He said one evening:
“I was in their backyard and saw lights flashing from across the water and asked what it was. It turned out to be Cardiff and they said it was apparently ‘good for a day trip.’”
When Simon initially came to Cardiff he had plans to go into business with a brewer based here, but it unfortunately fell through. Fortunately though he met his girlfriend who worked for NoFit State Circus and ended up joining her by managing the bar they had on site. After saving up money they decided to go travelling together and bought around-the-world tickets. On returning from this year out in 2004 he wanted to fulfil his dream of becoming an independent brewer:
“When I stepped off the plane I didn’t have a penny to my name. I was sleeping on a friend’s couch. I got a job and every spare penny saved went into this joint buying stainless steel and filling my lounge.”
Before Simon moved his equipment from his front room into the garage-sized warehouse in King’s Road he informed me that not so long ago the space was used as a gallery. Previous to that he mentioned that it was a mechanic’s workshop: “Legend has it that there was a particular car that was made here.” But oddly enough he went on to add that:
“It apparently used to be a brewery about 90 years ago.”
Wanting to know more about this I did some research at Cardiff Central Library in the Local Studies section and looked up the address of the micro brewery from yesteryear. I found books containing details of streets in Cardiff dating back to the 1800s and started looking from the late 1890s, until I came across this page:
In this book:
As you can see there was a brewery named Walpole Brewing Co. and further research showed it existed from 1902 to 1909 at 183 King’s Road, Pontcanna. It’s strange that the place was once a brewery over 100 years ago and now history is repeating itself. When Simon told me the benefits of the location it wasn’t surprising:
“When I moved in it was ideal as it had a sloping floor. I use water to clean everything and it helps if this moves in one direction on the floor. Not typical in most garages so this one was meant for me at this point in time.”
A map of the brewery’s location (click blue pointer for a photo of the site):
If you ever walk down King’s Road in Pontcanna and see the curry house, the florist or the hairdressers remember that a little further on there’s a guy working solo crafting the next batch of naturally brewed beers. After January, if all goes to plan for him, you’ll be able to walk in and purchase his products from the Artisan brewery. Thanks to the new space he’ll have a healthy supply.