“It’s grown a lot more quickly than we thought it would,” says Sarah John, co-founder and owner of Swansea’s multi-award-winning Boss Brewing, as she reflects on her brewery’s success in the short four years since its inception. “We started o in a small industrial unit on the outskirts of Swansea and we thought we’d be there for the next ve years, really.
“It was at the end of 2017, we were already outgrowing that space. So, we moved to a bigger site earlier last year (2018) which is ten times the size of our previous premises, we’ve got in our own canning and bottling line, we’ve opened our second bar…”
It’s been a rapid rising for the Welsh brewery who have always done things on their own terms, with grit, determination and great beer. As Sarah talks about Boss’ ambitions for 2019 and beyond, which includes running brew courses in an e ort to support the craft beer heroes of tomorrow, she recalls her own experiences of starting out and being told: “don’t do it, there’s no money in it.”
“It made me more determined,” Sarah says.
“It’s gone to show that as long as you’ve got the passion and the ambition, you can grow. It is, obviously, very competitive – I think there’s 2,000 breweries now in the UK – as long you have a good brand and good beers, and as long as you have a good strategy in place – you can make it.”
And make it they have. From launching their first beer – Boss Blaze, a classic 4.5% golden ale – in April 2015 to winning their rst big award just two months later – a SIBA Gold Award for their flagship stout Boss Black – to now, with 25 employees, two brewery taphouses and enough awards to line their walls, it’s been a rocket-fast journey with no plans to pump the brakes anytime soon. Sarah is firmly focused on achieving the next big goal: taking Boss global.
“2019 is going to be a lot about export,” she reveals. “We dipped our toes into export – we export to Canada and France – but we’ve got big, big plans to roll it out further this year. We’ve got opportunities in the pipeline for places like Finland, Russia, Italy, Australia and America.”Boss will be storming these new markets with a new look, after a heroic transformation of the brand in 2018. Combining striking comic book visuals with an industrial feel, the Boss’ new clothes should see them standing out from the crowd around the world. Sarah tells us more: “We were a couple of years old, it’s a crowded market and I thought ‘how do you stand out?’ While the product is the most important thing – and we have a really good, strong product – the rst thing people see is the packaging.
“We wanted something that was different from what’s out there and the comic book style came about because it fitted with who we are. We’ve got a good sense of humour – quite edgy, quite fun. We don’t take ourselves too seriously.
“It’s nice because it gets to tell a story – all of the characters are based on people at the brewery. I’ve got my own character, my partner’s got his own character, the head brewer, even my little girl’s got her own character on Boss Blonde.
“And whilst we’re not an overtly Welsh brand, it also helps us get across the provenance. We’re from Swansea which is quite industrial, so the landscapes and the settings allow us to get across that aspect of our identity as well.”
As Sarah says, though, the most important thing is the beer itself and the coolest labels would mean nothing if they were wrapped around a beer that nobody enjoyed. Thankfully, they’re bossing it in that department too, with a blend of tradition and experimentation.
“We use a term and that is ‘repeat drinkability,’” Sarah explains. “That’s something we always talk about. Our core range – beers like Amber Gambler and Boss Blaze – is about accessible, drinkable, not-overly-challenging, really flavoursome, quality craft beer. Something that everyone can enjoy. Whether you’re new to beer or an accomplished beer drinker, you’ll like it.
“Then there’s specials than can be a little bit crazier. So, the kind of people who love trying something new, there’s something for them as well.”
Nothing encapsulates this philosophy more than Boss’ s flagship brew – Boss Black. Unlike most breweries, who hang their proverbial headwear on a lager, an IPA or a pale ale, Boss have taken the biggest number of plaudits for their stout, and embraced it wholeheartedly. It’s a traditional beer and inarguably one of the best examples of the style in the country, but now Boss are embracing the experimental end of their dark side.
“Boss Black is our hero beer,” Sarah states. “It sounds a bit cheesy, but it is our hero beer. It’s won over 20 awards now; it won CAMRA Champion Beer of Wales this year. It’s the one we’re known for. It’s the one that people really respect. A stout is something we particularly like doing and I think we do it well.
“There are so many IPAs out there that people aren’t as experimental with stouts sometimes. We’re passionate about stout, we love dark beers, there’s a huge market for dark beers. The Black is a really, classic stout – really flavoursome. So, we thought, let’s put some unique spins on it.
These spins have now formed Boss’ s Champion Beer series; a set of iterations on their classic stout with bold, new flavour profiles including Blackcurrant, Chocolate Orange and Mint Chocolate Editions.
“Initially, we were only going to do one version. We toyed with what we thought worked with the base recipe and the characteristics of Black. We trialled three different recipes; the Blackcurrant, the Chocolate Orange and the Mint Chocolate. We had a tasting day where we got together as a team, and we got some customers from the bar, to try them with the idea that we’d pick one and roll with it. But we loved them all so much we’ve ended going for all three.
“They’re not subtle, either. Because Black is such a well-liked, well-respected beer, we thought we’re going to have to make them signifcantly different. I’m all for subtle beers, and sometimes subtlety is nice with hints of this and notes of that, but I thought we’d just go for it.”
We’re glad Sarah and the team at Boss trusted their instincts and unleashed three new great beers for the Flavourly community to try. With the success they’ve seen thus far, and the quality of beers they’ve produced, we suspect we’ll be drinking like a Boss more and more for years to come.