We went to visit the guys from Velvet Owl Brewery who have been making a name for themselves over the last nine months. Based in Caerphilly, the brewery is run by Richie Lesbirel (Director), Duncan Illsley (Head Brewer) and Alex Oliver (Company Secretary/ Sales Manager). The guys love to experiment, creating interesting and sometimes unusual flavour combinations.
We’d come to kick off their new project “Build a Beer Workshop.” The idea is that whether you’re a homebrewer or just a beer lover, shoe brand or shopkeeper, Velvet Owl can help you create your dream beer! You come up with a concept, and the guys get involved in the design of the recipe, giving professional advice and then getting it produced as a commercial beer with your name attached to it. This is what we were doing with them the next day! Our plan was to create a ridiculously drinkable DIPA, but with the “Velvet Owl” twist, adding some white ash, cherry blossom and oak staves, just to give it some extra depth of flavour and creating something a little bit different.
We rocked up the night before, kicking back and chilling in their bar. Sipping on a cracking pint of “My Friend the Lizard”, accompanied by their legendary brewery dog “Chase”, Alex, Duncan and Richie told us how it all began…
Richie – “Velvet Owl was sort of my brainchild.” Having recently left Gloucester Brewery and with the knowledge of commercially brewing beer, he decided to give it a go. “I spent a year developing recipes on the nano kit and putting a business plan together. After securing some funding, I moved into cuckoo brewing where I was basically renting storage space and kit.”
Alex: “My grandparents and parents were both publicans, so I’ve been around pubs all of my life. I’d been working in pubs and bars for about 15 years, spending a lot of time as a cellar manager. This is how we originally met at Gloucester Brewery, Duncan was the Head Brewer, Richie was the General Manager of their bar TANK and I worked between the two.”
Duncan: “I had started off homebrewing and was training as a cabinet maker at Gloucester College. One day I stumbled across a Gloucester Brewery, wandered in and asked them for a job. It kind of spiralled from there, I eventually got involved in the brewing side of things. After four years there, I figured… well, I can brew and sell the beer, so I’ll strike up on my own!”
“I was approached for the Head Brewer role at Lines Brewery [where they are now] and decided that it was the best move. Richie later got in touch with me about cuckoo brewing at Lines and I was like sure, come and brew some beer here!”
Richie: “It then became apparent that Tom, the owner of Lines, was shutting down the brewery with the view to move it to London and rent the premises to someone else, and he offered it to Velvet Owl. Duncan was already here so it was a no-brainer to get him on board with the Velvet Owl project!”
Alex: “At this time, I had left Gloucester and was working down in Bristol, struggling in my job. One day Richie phoned me and said look mate, come and join us here.”
“We’ve built a pretty good bar here. You don’t come and buy a drink from us, you come and have a drink with us and we give you what we like to call the ‘Velvet Owl Experience’. Slightly eccentric, quite chaotic but ultimately a welcoming experience.”
“We’re really proud to have got this far and one of the things that I have found is that you can see the connection between the people making the beer, serving the beer, and drinking the beer.”
Duncan: “One of the things that I find quite refreshing is that most of our customers are open to trying new things because they are not buying based on the brand. They’re actually tasting the beer and deciding what they like.”
Richie: “We’re not rock stars, we’re not Mother Teresa – we just love making beer! We care about it, not just because we love the science aspect of it and the hard graft that goes into producing it, but also watching people’s faces light up when they taste it.”
The Velvet Owl crew then took me to their local, The White Cross, a fantastic village pub which is just a stone’s throw away from their cottage. The pub was filled for a Wednesday night which we found unbelievable for a place in the middle of nowhere!
The next morning we got up and headed down to the brewery. The sun was shining and there was a fantastic mist throughout the valleys.
Once we arrived and after a strong cup of coffee, we cracked on. Despite a broken pump and having to use emergency lighting, the day was a real success, finishing just in time for a beer in the tap room!
Looking around, the ambience reflected everything that the guys had said on the previous evening. They mingled and laughed with customers giving them the ultimate “Velvet Owl Experience!”
We can’t wait to see how our brew turns out, you can make your dream brew too.