Meet the Brewer: Ali Kocho-Williams of Seren Brewing

On the edge of the Preseli Mountains you’ll find one of West Wales’ rising stars. In just a short space of time since an internationally acclaimed homebrewer launched Seren Brewing Company, the North Pembrokeshire nanobrewery has picked up its fair share of awards and accolades and it is shining brighter and brighter in a sky of Welsh microbreweries.

Seren, meaning star in Welsh, is owned by historian cum brewer Ali Kocho-Williams, who the blog is proud to present as the next head brewer in the Meet the Brewer series.

Photo courtesy of Ali Kocho-Williams and vandalised by Jordan Harris

Photo courtesy of Ali Kocho-Williams and vandalised by Jordan Harris

When and how did you get into brewing?

I started out as a home brewer in Bristol, back in 2009. I then spent some time in the US, where I got involved with the New York City Homebrewers Guild. I came back from the US fired up, and became involved in Bristol Brewing Circle and Bristol Craft Brewers. I was also preparing to take the BJCP exam, to become a certified beer judge.

I did get to brew with Bristol Beer Factory after my beer, Indian Ink (a Black IPA, now part of Seren’s line up) won their homebrew competition in 2011. I became pretty involved as a homebrewer, became the organiser of the UK National Homebrew Competition and won a bunch of awards as a homebrewer, including winning Best of Show in the UK National Homebrew Competition with a Lambic. The next logical step was to go professional, and when I moved to Wales in 2012 I looked for property that would allow me to do so.

What were you doing before embarking on the Seren adventure?

I was doing what I still do; I live a double life as a brewer and academic. I’m an Historian whose field is Russian and Soviet foreign policy, and Senior Lecturer in Modern European History at Aberystwyth University.

Of all you’re awards, which one are you most proud of?

Tricky. I’m really proud of having won Beer of the Festival for Blusestone IPA in the Pembrokeshire CAMRA Beer Festival with the first batch, over a more stablished Champion Beer of Wales. I’m also pretty proud of having won a Silver medal in the Dublin Craft Beer cup for the same beer, placing above Thornbridge’s Jaipur.

You’re about to celebrate Seren’s one year birthday in June, and you’ve already achieved so much in the first year alone, what do you hope the future holds for you?

Mostly, I hope the future holds lots of good beer. And more awards would be nice. Plans are to expand capacity and produce more, and exporting is on our agenda, not least as there are so many people who supported me in getting the brewery going whom we can’t currently reach. There’s also some barrel aged and sour beers on the way.

If you were stranded on a desert island and only one beer in the whole world could get washed up next to you, which would it be?

Hard one to answer, but I reckon it would have to be Rodenbach Grand Cru.

If you could brew a collaboration brew with anyone, alive or dead, real or fictional, who would it be?

That’s hard. On balance, I think it would have to be Zaphod Beeblebrox as he was the creator of the best drink in the known galaxy, and several of the prototype beers had hitchhiker themes (a 4.2 beer caller ZZ9 Plural Z Alpha was the prototype for Bluestone IPA, and Pan-Galactic Gargle Blaster was the prototype for our Summer Wheat which is single-hopped with Galaxy).

What sets Seren apart from other breweries?

One thing is that we’re much smaller than most of our competitors. This makes our beers a bit harder to find, but we’ve found that people will seek us out. We also made a conscious decision not to brew boring beer, and to brew beer that is markedly different to what is available in our local market even though that has presented challenges to us as a fledgling brewery. We also have a definite focus on distinctive flavours, which people have remarked they recognise as characteristic of our beer. As it says on the label, this is beer without fancy bells and whistles. Just hard work, pure ingredients and distinctive flavours.

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