Polly's Brew Co

In pursuit of perfection, from a town called Mold


If one were to look at a map of the UK, and plan the perfect base for craft beer domination, it’s unlikely that you would confidently jab your pin into Mold, North Wales. Yet this is exactly where Sean Wheldon decided to start his brewing journey; an odyssey that has taken him through several 180-degree pivots, a name change, a cease and desist order, a pandemic, a cost of living crisis and Brexit. Still in Mold, Polly’s Brew Co is now one of the UK’s most respected, young, hop-forward breweries, and you really have to admire every decision that’s brought it here.

“I started out working at a pub,” recalls Sean. “I was fixed on, you know, making that a career for myself. But I quickly realised it wasn't for me, mostly because of the antisocial hours, working weekends and evenings. I loved the beer side of it though, so I thought it made sense to work for a local brewery instead. But lo and behold, I couldn't get a job, not even washing casks. Something silly about me not having any brewery experience at all!”

Like so many craft brewers before him, Sean’s solution was to take matters into his own hands, signing up for a one-day all-grain brewing course.

“I’d never even done a kit brew on my stove, so this really did feel like being thrown in at the deep end,” he says. “I brewed so many terrible beers. I just brewed them, tasted them and poured them, with no intention of actually drinking them; I was relentless, just letting trial and error get me to a point where I was ready to take the next step.”

That next step came with the purchase of a “really rubbish brewkit” in 2016, and the intention to run a cask-only brewery, serving local pubs around North Wales. Again though, the realisation quickly came that this was not the right path for Sean. The drudge of delivering, collecting and washing casks, and pubs to care for the beer properly was not much fun for a one-man-band and, as Sean puts it, “being a tiny, cask-only brewery just isn’t a very sustainable business model”.

This is where Polly’s story really begins, as a full-throated craft outfit: cans, kegs, and pale and hoppy brews. “Because we enjoyed better margins on those beers, and a better business model, I was able to take on staff from day one, and that’s what’s been the driving force behind our success,” says Sean. “We launched Polly’s in January 2018, at which point it was me and our head of sales, and then an assistant brewer later in the year. Fast forward five years, the team is at 14-strong, and we’re brewing much more than ever, so despite all the challenges, the overall direction has been very positive.”

Sean speaks very highly of his team, and the role they have all played in Polly’s success. He remains very hands-on though, leading on recipe creation, and sees the brewery as his baby, albeit one that has taken a village to raise. The culture at the brewery certainly still takes its cues from Sean’s earliest brewing experiments, constantly iterating and seeking improvement, often playing the role of its own harshest critic. Sean passionately believes this is a healthy attitude for any brewery looking to enjoy a long and successful life. 

“The biggest thing for us over the past five years has always been just trial and error,” he says. “In fact it was only four or five months ago that we finally accepted that this beer, that we’re making now, is what we’ve always aspired to. But our motto is ‘never stop improving’ so that absolutely doesn’t mean we’re going to get complacent, just because we’re proud of our beer.”

Aside from its focus on technical excellence, I’m curious whether there’s a particular philosophy or house style that drives Polly’s brewing. It’s always been best known for its pale, hop-forward beers, and has never really sought to round this out into anything you could call a core range.

“Oh, yeah, we’re definitely focused on pales and hoppy IPAs,” Sean confirms. “That’s where we’ve put all our R&D, all that trial and error, getting those styles absolutely nailed, and if we hadn’t done that – if we hadn’t committed to pale and hoppy beer – we wouldn’t be where we are today. We love them and the market loves them. When we launched in 2018, it was obviously the easiest way to grow, and even today the sales speak volumes. There’s just no point in us brewing a big pastry stout because the demand just isn’t there.”

This very clear-eyed approach to Polly’s priorities is again perhaps a result of Sean’s early attempts to grow a craft business in North Wales. With not much of a local beer scene at the time, and miles away from the nearest large town, he had to quickly pivot to focus on selling further afield, which he did very successfully. More recently though, Polly’s has been paying more attention to its immediate surroundings and growing group of local fans. There is even talk of a Polly’s pub or taproom, though such plans may end up being put on hold until the economy improves a little.

I’ve always been very impressed with Polly’s, ever since I took a punt on one of its cans in a Birmingham bottleshop in 2019, so it’s nice to hear than Sean finally approves of his own creation too. I doubt many of us would have the patience for the journey he has taken since 2016 – and I can only imagine there have been times when his perfectionism has driven his staff to madness – but the beers fortunately speak for themselves, and are a testament to the effectiveness of refusing ever to accept “good enough”.

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