Drew Wride is Head Brewer at Boss Brewing, a microbrewery less than a mile away from Asda Swansea. Here he writes about seeing his beer on sale at his local Asda – and more than 50 stores across England and Wales.
Seeing the beer I brewed on the shelves at Asda is definitely a cracking feeling! Llansamlet store in Swansea is literally about five minutes away from the brewery so I went after work one day to take a look. I wanted to see it in person – and to brag a little bit to my friends back home. I asked one of the girls in Asda to take my picture and she gave me a funny look until I explained I was Head Brewer at Boss Brewing! To see the beer on the shelves is amazing, it made everything real.
Working for Boss Brewing is great – we all feel the same, we’re all proud of the product and we’re passionate about our beer. Everyone has a hand in how it's made, how it's perceived. You can see the passion in any of the staff and I think you can taste it in the beer too.
Brewing beer is a lot harder than people think. Because craft beer is a very cool, trendy thing it can be portrayed as being quite glamorous, but a lot of hard work goes into it. We’re a microbrewery through and through so it's a very manual process. You can be dragging up to 80 25kg bags of malt upstairs and when you’re racking off you can be moving and palleting anywhere from two to four tonnes of casks at a time. The days can be really hard. You're at the mercy of the yeast which is a living organism.
On brew day itself it takes a full working day to brew as much as we do – 1,600 litre brews take eight hours without any automation. After that it's a waiting game. We have systems to monitor temperature and we check it regularly, five to six times a day, to make sure it's perfect. It can be frustrating some days but, seeing the products, there's nothing more rewarding. Making something from absolute scratch – you're not a cog in the system. You're making it from the raw ingredients, packaging it and seeing it on the shelves and people enjoying it. It's great – I wouldn't trade it for any other job. That's it for me. I’ve found my calling – in beer.
Before Asda most of our sales came direct from pubs, on cask or keg or in cans. You’re not really reaching a wide audience. For it to be in Asda in 52 stores in England and Wales is great exposure. We’re seeing more and more people on social media talking about how they enjoy it – people who might not have got to try it otherwise in a pub or bar.
Growing up in a small village in the Welsh valleys, I was never that into social media but working for Boss it plays a big part. I only joined Twitter a month ago to spread the word a little bit about the brewery and to follow other breweries. With brewers on our scale it’s a real community. There are a few other breweries in Swansea and all of us are friends. We’re all fighting the same fight – we want good quality products made with passion to be the norm. Passion is a key thing – it’s what separates us from mass production.
In my opinion what makes a really good craft beer is being innovative enough so it’s not the same beer you've seen a thousand times before, but not forgetting the traditions that make a really nice beer either. If you make it too off-the-wall people will try it once but they won’t have another one. Britain has always had an amazing reputation for producing outstanding beer but people don’t always want traditional beers. They want variety. It’s about being innovative with your style of brewing and the ingredients that you’re adding without forgetting the traditions.
Boss Black is the one we’ve won most awards for technically but personally I’m a massive fan of Boss Brave, an American-style IPA. It has a powerful bitterness of hops and citrusy floral aroma. The key in our brewery is balance. You can't just put a load of hops into a beer to make it fruity you need to balance the flavours. Boss Brave is slightly darker than the more modern IPAs but it still has that really nice bitterness and really powerful aroma. Because it's slightly darker it's got a richness to it which cuts through the bitterness – it's a well-rounded drink.
I joined the company three months after Boss Brewing first opened – it's just turned two. It was a new venture for me – my background is in mechanical engineering. I did well at school but college wasn’t for me so I did a three-year apprenticeship with Network Rail where I trained at the naval base HMS Sultan in Gosport. I really enjoyed it because it was practical, hands-on learning.
As I got older I realised I wanted something different. I really enjoy creating something rather than maintaining something. I took a bit of a risk because I was in a pretty steady job with good pay. I really love talking to people and I became a bartender in Swansea, working my way up to supervisor in a few bars. Along the way I talked to customers about cask ales – it was a big part of one of the bars where I worked. When Boss Brewing opened I saw a vacancy as assistant brewer and applied on the off-chance I had the right skills. A lot of brewing is very technical – there’s a lot of science to it and you have to maintain equipment.
Roy and Sarah, the owners, gave me a chance and I didn’t let them down. Almost two years later I’ve got the Head Brewer role from working hard and showing a love for the company. It’s been hard work and there have been times, as a new business, when it’s been a struggle but everyone who I work with is so passionate about the job it felt like we couldn’t fail. We’ve got to a point now where the brewery has its own bar in Swansea and we won an award with CAMRA for Best Stout in Wales for our Boss Black. It shows what a lot of passion and hard work can do.
The owners of the business have put a lot of faith in me to run the production of the brewery and they also give me creative freedom to come up with new beers. Myself and Roy have both got a passion for trying new things. Along with Sarah, we look at trends and think how we’d do them in our own style. Craft beer isn't just about IPAs – there are so many different styles of beer out there. Just with the raw ingredients you've got hundreds of different malts, maybe thousands of different hops as well as different strains of yeast and adjuncts – for example we use orange peel and coriander seeds in one of our beers to add a spicy orange flavour.
It’s hard to say where our inspiration comes from – everyone’s welcome to put forward ideas. We like a challenge! We’ve just brewed a beer that started as a suggestion that was more of a joke. Someone said we should do strawberries and cream for Wimbledon and Roy and I thought that could work. A lot of it is a bit of fun, trying to create recipes and seeing if the flavours work together. We’ve got a pilot kit that's a 100 litre replica of the main brewing kit. If we’ve got spare time and we’ve got an idea we’ll try it and if it doesn’t work we can make changes and brew it again. We try to take what people like and make it a bit different – put a bit of ourselves into it. We work hard and when it pays off, that's our reward. Seeing people enjoy the beer and hearing people recommend it – that's what makes the job.