The Big Boss
From its home in an Edwardian cinema building, Swansea's Boss Brewing is nailing one classic style after another
Thursday 14 February 2019
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The beautiful old-fashioned cinema building that Swansea’s Boss Brewing calls home has a dramatic history; having opened its doors in 1911 (the year the groundbreaking Dante’s Inferno was released) it was commandeered during the Second World War as an ammunitions store for the RAF and subsequently bombed. The drama now playing under its ornate ceiling is more of a love story though, of a husband-and-wife homebrewing duo who – against all advice – quit their day jobs to pursue their dream of creating accessible, sessionable craft beers with an anarchic and mischievous edge.
Having homebrewed together for many years, Sarah John and her partner Roy Allkin finally decided to take the plunge and open their own brewery together back in 2014.
Sarah recalls: “I remember going to this Guardian masterclass around how to set up a brewery and they basically said ‘don’t do it there’s no money in it, it’s awful’. But that just made me more motivated! I’ve always been really ambitious and I love the product, so I absolutely believed we could make a go of this!”
By January 2015, Boss Brewing was up and running, out of an industrial unit on the outskirts of Swansea. Sarah gave up her job straight away and threw herself into Boss wholeheartedly – an even more impressive decision when, on the day they signed the contract for the premises the pair found out Sarah was pregnant with their first baby. Just like their little girl though, the brewery grew faster than they’d expected, and it quickly came time to look for a bigger site in a more central location. At the end of 2017, Boss found its permanent home – the listed cinema building – which gave them around ten times the space and a number of useful outbuildings.
“The move also allowed us to open our second bar, and the town centre location was absolutely perfect for that, near the stadium. Then there’s the character of the building itself; we do a lot more brewery tours these days,” Sarah says. “And from the practical point of view, the floor slopes down where the seats used to be. When we were looking, the letting agency thought that might make it unsuitable, but in brewing having the water run down is a big advantage!”
Today, Boss is distributed all over the UK on cask and keg and small pack. In 2017, it started shipping to France and Canada, with more countries lined up for this year, potentially including Russia, Italy, Australia and Finland. Sarah is clearly ambitious about the brewery’s international future and, while she doesn’t want to shy away from its Welsh roots, equally doesn’t see the need to play on them in a parochial way in terms of branding.
“We’re becoming successful by focusing on repeat drinkability, especially in our core; we go for big, flavourful, good-quality craft beer,” says Sarah. “We do some weird and wonderful specials too, but we want to be fun and accessible, rather than pretentious or intimidating. I know some breweries aim at the beer geek market, which is quite a small market really, but we want people who aren’t as experienced to come and enjoy our beers.”
This attitude is definitely reflected in the beers, which are excellent executions of classic styles, including the award-winning Boss Black, an IPA, pale ale and a lager.
“We have a saison too, but even then it’s an absolutely classic saison, rather than anything odd. It’s difficult to absolutely nail these classic styles, because everyone knows exactly how they should taste. That’s why I’m proud those are the beers we’re winning awards for. No disrespect to the extremely hoppy beers that are out there, but it’s pretty easy to chuck a lot of hops in and really appeal to the hopheads.”
Every beer in the line-up also has its own quirky cartoon illustration based on a member of the team, building up to tell the story of this fun, irreverent, ambitious and slightly mischievous brewery.
“I’m so proud of what we’ve done in a pretty short time, but I know the best is yet to come,” Sarah concludes. “If I had to give one piece of advice, it would be this: if there’s something you feel you should be doing, that you’d be good at, don’t let anyone tell you it’ll be too hard to make it a success. Just commit, put in the hours and you’ll make it work.”
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