From craft beer to cider to video games, Tiny Rebel are taking over the world one step at a time, and they’re having a hell of a lot of fun doing it.
Since two beer geeks – Brad Cummings and Gazz Williams – went from brewing in a garage to launching one of the UK’s most acclaimed, exciting and instantly-recognisable beer brands in 2012, things have been nothing short of a whirlwind dream. Awards have flown in thick and fast; most notably in 2015 when Tiny Rebel became the first brewery from Wales and the youngest brewery ever to take home the Champion Beer of Britain crown for their Welsh red ale Cwtch. They’ve gone from a two-man team to having over 100 employees, sold their beers to 35 countries and, last year, moved into a bespoke dual-stream 30bbl brewery with an on-site bar and restaurant, capable of brewing a whopping five million litres per year. As long they’re still having fun and brewing great beer, there are absolutely no plans for slowing down.
For us, it’s all about fun,” says Tiny Rebel’s Niall Thomas. “That’s the whole point of beer. So, everything we do is done with that in mind – from the liquid in the package to the design on the outside of it and everything in between. There’s some serious work that goes into what we do but there’s also a fair bit of messing about. It’s all about the balance.
“That attitude affects everything we do and the most vital thing in the process is making the beer. Even though we’re brewing our core range more than ever before, we still commit time to experimenting and allowing people to get ideas onto paper, and then into the brewhouse. There’s no point Tiny Rebel employing people with loads of passion and ideas if they’re not allowed to put them into practice.
“Getting everyone onto the same page with regards to our approach is quite easy – as long as everything about the beer is designed to put smiles on faces, it’s a winner. So, we take a lot of inspiration from pop culture, retro video games, just things that make us laugh and smile really.
With more and more beer brewed every year, Tiny Rebel are increasing the number of faces they’re putting smiles on annually. Now, with a big, beautiful new brewery at their disposal, the chances of a country-wide smiling epidemic are higher than ever. While Niall raves about the new space and what it means for Tiny Rebel, he’s keen to tell us why they haven’t quite settled in.
“Settled might not be the right word. We’re definitely at home in our new place and everyone’s taken to it like a duck to water. Truth be told, we all feel like we’ve been here forever. The office, the brewhouse, packaging, the warehouse and even our bar and restaurant are running smoothly and getting better all the time. So, in that sense, yeah – we’ve settled in very nicely.
“But the aspect of the word settled that means calm or quiet or easing off – no chance. We’re busier than ever. There’s plenty more we can do now that simply weren’t options at our old site. Firstly, we’re on a dual stream brewhouse which means we can pretty much brew two beers side by side. That gives us massive flexibility. Then we have many more fermentation tanks, more room for more tanks if and when we need them – we’ve already bought five more, all double-sized so they can fit two brews.
“Then, of course, we’ve brought bottling in-house and added a canning line, so we can work across all packaging types and retain control over quality. We’ve also recently acquired a centrifuge which is already really helping with quality and consistency. So, we have no need to filter anything and can clarify our beers without the need to fine them, meaning our small pack and keg beers are now vegan and more people can enjoy them. Plus, we have a full-on bar and restaurant on site, so we can enjoy the fruits of our labours after a hard day’s work.”
Those fruits just seem to be getting more and more fruity as time goes on. Things have come a long way since their first brews FUBAR and Urban IPA with Tiny Rebel constantly experimenting and pushing the boundaries of what beer can be, while consistently nailing it on quality and flavour. Even their core six – refreshed for 2018 – breaks the mould of your typical core range.
Niall explains: “These six beers serve a few purposes. Firstly, they’re fun, colourful and exciting, and that’s what we’re all about. Secondly, they’re all really, really tasty. No point brewing if the end product isn’t delicious. Those things are true of all our beers but these six were specifically chosen for a few other reasons.
Firstly, they’re all of a really high quality but without heading into extremes of flavour or ABV. They’re both accessible and excellent, and that’s exactly what we want from our core. Secondly, we think they’re the best representation of our whole range, and they work really well as an introduction to Tiny Rebel – and beer in general for that matter.
“It’s got a bold, hoppy, red ale in Cwtch, something very fruity in Clwb Tropicana, something a bit outside the box with Stay Puft, a great APA in Cali, a super silky Vermont in Dutty, and a great introduction to the world of sours with Frambuzi. It’s a line-up that gives a great glimpse of the depth and variety of possibilities when it comes to beer.”
Like many of their craft contemporaries, Tiny Rebel have opted to can their entire core range – reserving bottles for specials, seasonals, one-offs and collaborations. Aside from the obvious benefits of cans when it comes to protecting beer from the harmful effects of light and oxygen, there’s another important reason that Tiny Rebel decided on cans.
“We wanted our cans to be fully wrapped in the incredible artwork that our designer Taz puts together,” Niall says. “We wanted to use every bit of space to really shout about who we are and what is in the can.”
Them apples (and beyond)
With their impact of the landscape of craft beer in the UK undeniable, Tiny Rebel are now looking to make a mark on planet cider. Though Tiny Rebel first released a cider a few years ago, they’ve stepped things up a notch with a range that includes a red cider, a sour cider (yum!) and a perry.
“We love collaborating with people all across the industry,” Niall explains. “There’s loads to learn from friends and colleagues. It’s fun and interesting, so it’s a no brainer. Our friends aren’t limited to the beer world though.
We stock Hogan’s cider in all of our bars and they were up for working together, so we jumped right in. Midway through last year, we thought about refreshing and expanding our cider offering. So, some of us went up to Warwickshire and tasted some of the apple juices and discussed the blending process. We were really keen on the idea of a soured cider, and so were Hogan’s. The end result is something we’re really happy with and, as they’re all on tap at our bars, we know our customers love them too.
As is becoming a recurring theme with Tiny Rebel, it doesn’t sound like things are stopping there. Niall teases: “Cider isn’t the last of our new product ideas. There’s plenty more we’d like to do, some are just twinkles in the eye at the moment, but some are works in progress; all top secret at the moment though.
Tiny Rebel: The Video Game
While branching out within the drinks industry isn’t the biggest surprise, Tiny Rebel launching their own video game certainly wasn’t expected. Though video games have always been a source of inspiration for the Welsh brewers – with beers called Hadouken, Altered Beast and Ryu, to name but a few – few could have expected to be playing the Tiny Rebel game.
Beer Money Inc. is a mobile game – available for free on your preferred app store – that allows you to run your own brewery. You buy ingredients, brew beers and sell them to consumers, then use your profits to upgrade your kit, hire staff and live out all your craft beer fantasies. It’s absolutely mad and absolutely brilliant, in equal measure.
“The game was one of the most fun things we’ve ever done,” says Niall. “It’s just absolutely packed with our personality and embodies our attitude in a way that nothing else can.
“Tiny Rebel Games actually predates Tiny Rebel Brewing Co. It was founded by Lee, brother of our MD Brad, and his wife Susan. Lee’s worked on some massive games for very well-known development studios but decided to set up his own company. He was living in the US at the time but came home for Christmas and showed Brad his new business card, which featured the name Tiny Rebel and some free artwork he’d found online. At the time, Brad was thinking of names and logos for the brewery, and Lee’s ideas really struck a chord with him.
So, he nicked the name, with Lee’s permission, and set out to find the artist whose design Lee had nabbed off the internet, with nothing but a weird username to identify them. Eventually, Brad managed to track down the artist, Taz, who became our Creative Director after designing our famous bear.
“Lee moved home to Wales and reignited a conversation him and Brad had had again and again, which was: “Why don’t we work together?” The major thing that really makes it fit is that we’ve got a really striking visual brand thanks to Taz and we take a lot of inspiration from video games. It just made sense.
“So, we set to work – the design, the writing, the code was all done in-house. We injected as much fun as possible. A few jokes, a few Easter eggs from things that have influenced us and plenty of taking the mick out of ourselves.”
The future is fun
It’s been a whirlwind first six years for Tiny Rebel, filled with ups-and-downs, surprises and, above all else, a hell of a lot of fun. The beers just keep getting better and better while their endeavours outside of beer (cider, video games) never cease to amaze us. We couldn’t help but ask: What’s next?
Honestly, we have no idea,” Niall tell us. “That’s not for a lack of planning or anything like that – it’s just pure honesty based on our past six years. The company’s original five-year plan had to be rewritten after 18 months because we’d achieved everything on it. Every time we make plans, we get so excited and passionate about it that we set all our focus on doing it and turning it into reality. Tomorrow could change our plans completely – it just depends what comes up.
“The plans that we do have are really cool though. Loads of new beers for certain, and we’re heading into festival season, so we’ll be out and about and all over the place talking about our new core range and showing people how we do things. We want to do a lot more to get people talking about the state of beer in the UK, building communication from brewhouse to public house and ensuring top quality along the supply chain. We want to get more people more excited about brewing and contribute more than just beer to this thriving industry.
“Brad is doing that separately too, by running for a seat on CAMRA’s National Executive and attempting to affect some change there. It’s something the whole team are really behind him on and it’s great to see he practises what he preaches and lives and breathes beer even away from the company. We hope to do a lot more on that front too.
With all of this mind, Niall is keen to leave us with a simple message: “Just enjoy the beers.”He says: “The liquid inside these cans and bottles is the most important thing. It’s what we put our heart and soul into an it’s what everything else is built on. We hope they put a smile on your face in one way or another, because beer is nothing if it isn’t about fun.
Originally published in Issue 15, written by Kevin O’Donnell.