Everything tastes better when it’s made with your own two hands, whether that be a cake, a burger or a beer. There’s a certain amount of pride and satisfaction cracking open a bottle of beer you’ve brewed yourself. It may taste like Usain Bolt’s trainers after an intense sprint session in the Jamaican heat to everyone else, but to you, it’s the sweetest thing to ever pass your lips. It’s the taste of success.
The majority of microbreweries today have made the transition from shed and garage homebrewers to a professionally brewery. One man who has turned his homebrew hobby into a full time profession is Ian Bowler, but his brewery still embraces the wholesomeness of crafting something by hand (and his beers taste a damn sight nicer than a sweaty sneaker).
Located in Carmarthenshire, The Handmade Beer Co. produces a range of artisan beers in small batches and I was pleased to get an insight into Ian’s life.
How did you get into brewing?
I was born and bred in Cardiff and spent most of my working life in graphic design and photography. In 2009 my wife and I moved west into the country for a change of pace and lifestyle.
I decided to change career and tried my hand at woodland management and horse logging (using horses to shift timber where you can’t get machinery in). After a couple of strains and injuries, I decided that being the wrong side of 40 and embarking on a physically demanding job probably wasn’t the greatest idea I ever had, so I reverted to one of my long standing ambitions; to start a micro. I dug out my copy of the Microbrewers Handbook and read it for probably the 20th time and off I went. It took a year or so of planning and searching for property but I was really lucky to find a brewery that had shut down a few years previously. I struck up a great deal with the owner to rent the building and the equipment and eventually after a lot of cleaning and repair work, we started brewing at the end of August 2013. I’ve been a homebrewer for over 15 years and had a small portfolio of recipes I was happy with, so it was just a case of up-scaling a couple of them for the 5 bbl system that we have.
What is your favourite type of beer?
I’d always been a fan of dark, malty beers, until meeting a homebrew buddy here in West Wales who was a big hop fan and pushed me in that direction. Now I can’t get enough. But I still enjoy traditional balanced beers which is reflected in the three beers that we produce at the moment. I’m working on an IPA recipe though and hope to release that in the spring. A good IPA is the one thing I didn’t have in my homebrew portfolio so I’m going through the test batch process at the moment.
When you’re not brewing, what are you doing?
At the moment my whole life seems to revolve around the brewery. It’s still early days for us so when I’m not in the brewery, I’m doing the sales and marketing which takes up a lot of time.
I’m in the middle of restoring our traditional Welsh cottage, but that’s kind of been put on hold for a bit, so we’re living on a building site.
Have you always been a brewer?
I’ve been a homebrewer for a long time. Professionally though, only since August 2013.
What’s your favourite beer from your own brewery and from another brewery?
From our range I think my favourite is the ‘Handmade Special Bitter.’
I am a big fan of The Kernel Brewery and their beers. I’ve enjoyed everything I’ve tasted from them. I especially enjoyed their Red Brick Rye Ale. I’m lucky enough to be close to Wright’s Food Emporium, who do a regular pilgrimage to London to pick up beer from the Kernel guys so I’m probably a bit biased in my choice.
What makes the perfect beer?
I think it depends what you want, but definitely balance. For me even a super hoppy IPA needs a good malty backbone to hold it up.
If you weren’t a brewer, what would you be?
Not sure. I had a couple of ideas for alternative careers when we moved to the country. I thought about a country retreat recording studio, more of a dream though I think, that would have taken a lot of money to set up. Even more expensive than a microbrewery.
What is the best thing about being a brewer?