It might be about to enter its 125th year as a brewer in the centre of Cardiff but Brains is a thoroughly modern-thinking company with family owners who continue to ensure that their charge has fire in its belly.
From its award-winning marketing campaigns, innovative development of beers and inspired sponsorship of both the Wales rugby team and Millennium Stadium this is a company that continues to adapt to the changing marketplace.
As you take a stroll down the wood-panelled corridor of the directors’ offices and cast a glance through the window at the tall chimney stack emblazoned with large lettering spelling out ‘BRAINS’ it would be easy to conclude that this is a typical Victorian brewery, a scene of mashing for tons of years.
But this would be a mistake, according to Richard Davies, sales and marketing director of SA Brain & Co, since the brewery is a shiny modern affair with few visible remnants of the founding fathers of this great brewing family.
“There are no oak vats, it’s all stainless steel,” he says.
The reason for the lack of Victoriana around the place is that Brains moved from its old brewery site – that it had occupied since 1882 – to its existing location across town in the late 1990s having bought the site from Bass.
It had previously been owned by Welsh Brewers until Bass took it over and began brewing Toby and Worthington’s keg beers.
After a good cleaning of the kit, Brains ales began pumping through the plant’s equipment. Its move had been prompted by the cramped conditions at its original St. Mary Street site, which was in a constant state of flux accommodating evergreater volumes. Having been a brewery for more than a century even before Brains took up residence this location was pretty much bursting at the seams.
With great understatement Richard says it was “not ideal,” so it must have been some relief to move to the Bass plant, which had been achieving volumes of around one million barrels per year, well in excess of Brains’ requirements, which even today amounts to the lesser amount of 250,000 barrels.
With a wide variety of beers now being crafted Richard calculates that at full capacity today the brewery would be capable of no more than 400,000 barrels today. But this still provides much room for future growth.
A fair chunk of these barrels are filled with the flagship ale SA, which is Brain’s biggest cask brand whose acronym continues to have various meanings among beer drinkers. “SA can stand for anything. Some say Skull Attack but it’s not that. It could be Special Ale? Who knows, but it all adds to its mystique,” says Richard. What it highly likely stands for, reveals Richard, is Samuel Arthur, who with his uncle Joseph Benjamin founded the brewery. They engineered a period of massive growth for Brain’s after spending a colossal £50,000 in 1887 to develop a huge new brewing plant on their site and also introduce the Burton brewing method that was becoming pre-eminent.