We took the long trip into the heart of the Welsh countryside, in fact, the most rural county in Wales to visit Monty’s Brewery in Montgomery, Powys. The 12 barrel brewery was set up by Pam and Russ Honeyman in 2009. And they’ve never looked back since; their brews have won multiple awards, they’ve been SALSA accredited, and they’ve even featured in beer books written by Ben McFarland, Pete Brown and Roger Protz.
Sitting in the office amongst a few bottles of their exploits, Russ started by telling us where it all began.
“I was a design consultant for Dell Computers, living in Austin, Texas. Pam was living out there with me but couldn’t work. When we came back in 2004, we had no house, no job and were wondering what to do. Pam found a job for Age UK in Newtown, and I set up a new company called QuickKeg selling commercial lager. After doing that for a couple of years, people were saying ‘Russ, what real ales can you get?’ so I said, ‘Pam this real ale malarky is really taking off, do you fancy learning to brew?’ because there wasn’t another brewery around here at the time.
So, Pam went off to BrewLab, to do a three-week course. Not really knowing what she might be getting herself into and she was pleasantly surprised.
“So, I loved it! I love the process.” Pam continued with a grin on her face. “At BrewLab, they teach you about the raw ingredients and the process but they don’t teach you recipes. Once you have learned they told you to go away and think of a recipe, then go and brew it. So I wanted something that was sort of easy, about 4.2%, something with a decent hop characteristic, not overly hoppy, nice and golden that you’d want an extra pint of. That summer in Sunderland was just so grim and grey. When it came to naming it, the clouds parted and a little bit of sunshine came through, and I was like, let’s call it Sunshine! So it stuck, I made two casks there, put one in a pub in Sunderland and brought another back with me and put it in a local pub.”
With Pam’s first batch hitting the pump, it was the moment of truth for Monty’s.
“One of the pubs that it went in was just down the road from here. It was very small and a bit out of the way. There were four chaps in there who weren’t local. The very first pint of my beer was poured, and this first guy took a really big sip, closed his eyes and pulled a really weird face… I just wanted to die and hide under the table! Russ went over and asked them what they thought and it turned out that he was a retired beer writer, on holiday in the area. He was just trying to work out the hops and the characteristics of the beer. He then said ‘You’ve just gotta give up your day job’.”
Sunshine was a complete hit, with its third batch winning Darlington Spring Thing CAMRA Beer Festival. Sunshine is still Monty’s biggest seller and was the finalist for the CAMRA Champion Beer of Britain last year.
“So, I went into work, handed in my notice and spent the next six months getting the building right. The biggest challenge was doing everything, 13 days of 13 hours shifts, I was on my knees brewing and cask washing, it was tough going from an office job. I was an oddity because I was a woman with a brewery. The first headline in the press was ‘Woman Has Own Brewery’, and I was like really!? Luckily things have moved on. I want to be known as a brewer. If you’re sitting in a pub enjoying something that we’ve produced, it doesn’t matter who made it. I do like sitting down and watching someone enjoying a pint when they don’t know that I’ve brewed it.”
Monty’s reached the goals set out in its three year business plan in just three months!
Russ added. “Our philosophy is always to brew a beer that you want another pint of, so ours are more traditional with a twist.”
Since then, Monty’s has gone from strength to strength. It has led the way with gluten-free beers like Masquerade and Dark Secret, which has now become their biggest export to the Nordic nations, including the biggest supermarket chain in Finland.
Pam continued, “We visited a couple of years ago as part of the Welsh Government’s mission to Finland and Sweden, which was great. It was a bit nippy but good fun!”
But it doesn’t end there for Dark Secret. With the brewery’s innovative idea, they did a collab with Gower Gin Company; turning Dark Secret into a London Dry Gin, that is best described as liquid chocolate orange! Monty’s has also been really proactive with their aging. Its tenth birthday brew, Ten was also Dark Secret, matured in Maderia Welsh whisky casks for six months.
We then took a tour of the brewery; checking out the 12 barrel kit that uses names of the people who have been important to the brewery, instead of numbers on the tanks, which is a pretty cool way of doing things. The brewery has a bottling and packaging line and a lab, with a small team who have joined from various backgrounds.
Pam told us, “We brought Kate on to do the bottling and packaging. She got the whole ethos of the brewery and we’ve now trained her up to be our main practical brewer.”
The brewery has also trained up many brewers who have moved onto other breweries like Turning Point in Yorkshire and even breweries in Australia and Brazil.
They have also been really spearheading their experimental brewing, using plenty of local produce to create some unique brews. They were also recently featured on the BBC’s Countryfile, brewing their Golden HoneyAle which is made with local honey producer Hilltop Honey. Monty’s not only give their spent grain to the local farmer but also give Ifor’s Welsh Wagyu cow’s the first and last runnings of beer so that it doesn’t go to waste, which the cattle lap up, followed by a rather long kip!
In 2015, the brewery opened its visitor centre just ½ a mile up the road in The Cottage Pub in Montgomery. The visitors centre runs talks and tastings against the beautiful backdrop of Welsh countryside. It will also be holding the Montgomery Beer and Folk Music Festival on 25th of April. We moved setting to check it out and try some of their beers. It’s awesome and with being based in the pub it’s nice and homely – with a log burner and an epic line up of Monty’s brews on tap.
There’s a great mix of both cask and keg, including plenty of gluten-free and vegan options. Their new low alcohol beer 2.8% 1267 has also been a hit; it is not too heavily hopped and has a surprising amount of depth for its abv.
Monty’s range even extends to charitable brews too; Monty’s Best Offa supports the upkeep of Offas Dyke Path National Trail. Monty’s Desert Rats blonde ale is a tribute to General Montgomery and raises money for the SSAFA. General Montgomery’s grandson even attended the launch of this brew. Pam also told us that they’ll be giving this brew a twist for VE day this year too!
The visitors centre also boasts a 250-litre developmental brewery, which Russ has said aspiring brewers are more than welcome to try their skills on!
The next big mission for Monty’s is supporting the new Wales Beer Week, which will be focusing on celebrating Welsh beer in both Wales and the rest of the UK. So, keep an eye out for Monty’s brews and this epic beer week that will be kicking off on the 8th of March!