What's weird is wonderful
From humble beginnings, the Flowerhorn blooms
Saturday 29 July 2023
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When I video call with Andrew Traynor, one of Flowerhorn’s two co-founders, he’s tired. He and business partner Arran McHugh have been clocking long shifts and late nights. The Cardiff-based brewery’s team of three is in the process of becoming two, a change that will have to be endured through the busy summer, before it can be embraced in quieter Autumn months. In spite of short term stresses, Andrew is glad things are busy, and is no stranger to big orders and hectic times. He’s worked with Beer52 before, that is, when he worked in sales at Tiny Rebel. That’s where he and Arran first worked together and gained the invaluable experience they’d later need to open somewhere of their own together.
That said, the pair actually met some years earlier, around 2013, when Andrew moved from London to Cardiff after finishing uni. Andrew had a vague interest in beer at this point, but more than that was keen to someday set up his own pub, even making his undergrad thesis the bones of a business plan he could hopefully draw on later. After meeting Arran through friends of his flatmates and establishing a mutual interest in beer, the pair began to home brew together, and Andrew encouraged Arran to apply for a job at Tiny Rebel where he’d just started working himself. When they eventually did set out on their own, and Flowerhorn was born, operations began in the garage of Arran’s parent’s house in Cwmbran.
“We launched August 31, 2019” says Andrew. “At that point we were both working part time jobs, contract brewing in Bristol at the weekends, and storing everything we made in the garage, that was kegs and bottles at the time, but we did literally send out pallets from the garage. That said, it was lucky we started out where we did and had no rent or overheads to pay, otherwise we would have been worse hit when lockdown happened. Beginning in Arran’s parents’ garage meant we could actually continue brewing until we reached the point that we either had to expand or shut down, and so got the keys to our current unit a year later, in September 2020”.
From there, the pair acquired a 5BBL kit with three 5 BBL fermenters and soon after opened their taproom space. They’ve been expanding since and recently received two more 10BBL tanks which takes their fermentation capacity to 45BBL. Discussion of the taproom marks a turning point in my conversation with Andrew. While still tired and, by his own admission, “a little stressed”, the point at which he turns his laptop around to virtually show me the brewery/taproom, I see the fruit of Flowerhorn’s labour. It’s a gorgeous little space, with shiny tanks well kept and benches nestled in amongst them, turning the working brewery into a taproom at the weekend.
The brewery is at its weirdest and most wonderful when working on specials
There’s a Welsh flag hanging proudly on the opposite wall, it’s green and red a stark contrast to the splashes of fuschia dotted around the room, and which is characteristic of Flowerhorn’s branding. Andrew beams at my reaction, a glimmer of pride bursting through the fatigue. I then get a glimpse into the playful creativity that’s central to Flowerhorn’s identity. I discover a flowerhorn is actually a brightly coloured and bizarre tropical fish, esteemed for its big personality, unpredictable behaviour and staunch determination. Andrew and Arran felt it was the perfect mascot for their brewery, given the bold, modern, fruity flavours and adjunct heavy beers that Flowerhorn hangs its hat on.
Andrew tells me that the brewery is at its weirdest and most wonderful when working on specials that contain everything from mango puree and cacao nibs, to doughnuts and fizzy cherry sweets. It's all good fun, and exhibits the playful instinct I love to see come out in creative people, but what’s more, Andrew says he’s found using real ingredients – i.e doughnuts – gives drinkers permission to get curious, and playful about trying something that’s at once new and recognisable.
He continues, telling me that right now, Cardiff’s beer scene is still quite a bit behind Bristol’s which, even though it’s only 40 minutes away, has a greater culture of support and interest in independent businesses. The difference inherent in the short distance between cities may simply boil down to Cardiff’s student population, or the prevalence of pub chains, it’s impossible for independent breweries to get taps in, but in either instance, Andrew tells me Cardiff’s culture is slowly changing.
Over the last eight years, the city has developed an enthusiasm for street food, an industry Andrew says has supported craft beer through its stocking and selling of brews by local, independent producers. Evidence of community connections can be seen in the location of Flowerhorn’s taproom, which is based at The Bridge Studios on Western Avenue, a community of independent businesses that include a cheese retailer, street food vendors, kefir water producer, musicians, artists and a bakery. The icing on the cake is the dog treat bakery Flowerhorn runs on the side, using spent grains to entice furry friends into the taproom on weekends.
With hard work, blossoming community and local support paying off, Andrew tells me that Flowerhorn has plans to max out its current capacity this year, “we’re also launching our first lager and are looking to work with a few regional wholesalers to get our beers to more people across the UK. Within the next few years we hope to launch a Flowerhorn Pub in Cardiff and explore options for a big expansion into a larger production site but keeping our current set up as a pilot and specials brewery, and of course, keeping the taproom space open”.
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