How did you get into brewing?
I like cooking, and to me it’s just cooking with different things. I was looking for career change, and I enjoy drinking beer, so 10 years ago I went on a brewing course. There were only 26 breweries in Wales at the time and there are over a hundred now. There are some amazingly good breweries here. I think per capita we’ve got more award-winning beers in Wales than anywhere else in the world. We’re pretty good at what we do!
What was your first-ever crack at beer like?
I wanted to create an easy-drinking beer, with around 4.2% alcohol so it’s got some body and flavour. I wanted it to be a drink that if you had one pint you were happy to go back for a second. You can do some beers that are really fabulous and full of lots of rich flavours… but when you have one you’re done. I called my first beer Sunshine. It hasn’t changed since I created it, and it’s still my best-seller in cask.
What makes one beer taste different from another?
Different strains of yeast impart a phenomenal amount of flavour profiles. Then you’ve got your malts. They’ve each got their own characteristic, from the grassy and earthy, to those that have dark berry flavours, citrusy, or tropical fruit, to burnt coffee grounds and toast. So you blend them to get the colour and flavour that you want. And then you can add anything you like, and see if it’ll work. We just did an experimental beer using lime and lemongrass. And we’ve also trialled a new one with sultanas, maple syrup and cinnamon to make it a Christmas pudding-style beer. And I do like it when it gets to autumn – our Maple beer is a rich, comforting hug in a glass.
Do you have a favourite Monty’s beer?
If it’s a hot day, you can’t beat a nice glass of Desert Rat: it’s cold, it’s refreshing, it’s easily quaffable. But then if I’m feeling a bit lower or need a pick-me-up, it’s Dark Secret for me all the way. I love the seasonal variations: I love Maple in autumn and then Ding Dong at Christmas.
How do you come up with the names?
We do try and make them apt. Mischief is 5% ABV - the strongest beer we’d made at that point - but it drank as a 4% beer, so it was a bit mischievous if you had too many of them. Old Jailhouse is named after our brewery tap, The Sportsman in Newtown, which was once the town jail. Desert Rat is super-dry. Best Offa is the official beer of the Offa’s Dyke Path, and we donate 3p a pint for its upkeep. Dark Secret and Masquerade are our two gluten-free beers. So they’re masquerading as beer but happen to be gluten-free.
Why did you start making gluten-free beer?
I was doing a trade show and every other person who came up said that they were gluten intolerant or coeliac. If I was ever diagnosed with gluten intolerance and told I couldn’t drink beer again, I’d be a bit upset, so I researched different ways we could make a gluten-free beer that still tasted good. We were the first in Wales to do it, and it’s a huge growing market. We sell a lot in Scandinavia, where they’re very into their health.
How did the Finns find out about Monty’s?
The Welsh Government organised a food and drink trip to Finland and Sweden in 2015, and we now sell in the biggest supermarket chain in Finland. That’s been fantastic for us. The Welsh Government have been incredibly supportive. They can see that smaller producers doing something well is where Wales can compete on a global market. We can’t compete with mass-produced cheap products but we can do artisan incredibly well.
Is it true that Monty’s beer is enjoyed by cows, too?
Yes! There’s a farm about three miles from us where Ifor Humphreys breeds Welsh Waygu beef. When we’re putting the ale into the cask or bottle, the first bit is too yeasty for human consumption, and the last bit is too sedimenty. So whenever we brew we get one or two spare casks and those go to Ifor’s Welsh Wagyu and they have their two or three pints a day. The beef tastes amazing.