Originally written by me and published in Hot Rum Cow.
As much as Wales is stereotypically known for its sheep, leeks, dragons and daffodils, the country’s history is also rife with rebels. Take Owain Glyndŵr, the last native Welshman to hold the title of Prince of Wales, who in the early 1400s led an unsuccessful rebellion against the English rule of his homeland. Then there’s Dai The Singer, a poet who was deported to Australia for his role in the Rebecca Riots of the 1830s. And you can’t forget Morgan the Rebel, who waged war against the Lords of Glamorgan in the 1200s, but ultimately submitted to King Edward I. In more recent years however, Wales has given rise to a couple of Newport based brewers who are leading a rebellion of their own against average beer.
Gareth ‘Gazz’ Williams and his brother-in-law, Bradley Cummings, are undoubtedly the craft beer kings of Cymru. Two years in a row they have been awarded the accolade of Beer of Wales and their brewery, Tiny Rebel, is leading a Welsh revolution.
“We just wanted to make good beer in an area that doesn’t have very good beer,” says Gazz. “South Wales was diabolical for beer. The only beer you could really get was Brains. There’s nothing wrong with Brains and some of their beers are the best in the UK for a standard bitter, but generally, when I was growing up in the Valleys, they weren’t served very well and you were left with John Smiths.”
It made sense for them, once they’d spotted the niche, to occupy it, and when the opportunity arose for the duo to turn their home brewing hobby into a living in 2010, they grabbed life by the bottle caps and haven’t looked back, but Gazz’s beer adventure began years before.
A keen home brewer in his early twenties, Gazz grew up surrounded by bottles of his grandfather’s homemade ginger beer. This was the reason why the electrician decided to turn to the ancient art of brewing. “I remember these two litre plastic coke bottles exploding with the yeast and they would bubble over,” Gazz says. “I can remember him home brewing and I was keen on it because he used to do it.” After dabbling with kits, the self-confessed yeast freak started extract brewing and only then did he realise that you could brew beer that’s just as good, if not better, than what’s already out there.
“You start to go on a journey,” he explains. “As soon as you become aware of all this beer, a whole new world opens up.” After embarking on his homebrew journey, Gazz’s crossing over to craft beer started, like many others, with BrewDog. “I’d go to family dos and I’d take Punk IPA because it was readily available in supermarkets,” he says. It was at these family events that the BrewDog bottle piqued his brother-in-law’s interest. “Brad started to get into it then and he was just gobsmacked with Punk IPA and other craft beer like Sierra Nevada. They were the only beers that were readily available. We didn’t have discount supermarkets with all these extreme craft beers; they were never around in Wales. We were behind.” But with Brad now on board this was about to change and the rebellion started to gain momentum.
The boys started home brewing together and were given the opportunity in 2010 to turn their garage tinkering into a commercially viable machine, but like all good rebellions, everything needed to be perfect to ensure victory. They then spent two years putting the cogs in motion, brewing solidly every weekend in Brad’s dad’s garage.
They may have been rebels with a cause at this point, but they were without a name. Gazz says: “We were trying to think of names for ages, it’s the same with beer names; the harder you think, the worse the names are.” But inspiration finally came from Brad’s brother, Lee. A computer games designer living in America, Lee is the owner of Tiny Rebel Studios, and so the pair decided to keep it in the family. “The name just made sense,” said Gazz. “Tiny, being the size of the business because it was a pretty small microbrewery, and rebel, being rebellious, doing something that’s a little bit different.”
This however, isn’t where video games stopped influencing the brewers, as along with retro movies, it is a source that they dip into regularly for inspiration. “Ale has the perception of being for old men,” says Gazz. “Socks and sandals, pipes and flat caps, but our design is influenced by our past, our eras; the eighties, the nineties and the two thousands.” Take for example their saison brewed in collaboration with Dark Star that was crowned Champion Beer of Gothenburg called The Rebel Alliance, or their wood-aged Belgium porter dubbed The Vader Shuffle. There’s no prize for guessing which light-sabre-wielding, Millennium Falcon-flying movie trilogy inspired those beers. Then there’s their ‘Amplified IPA’ Hadouken – named after a Street Fighter finishing move and their collaboration with Hogan’s Cider, Rocksteady.
With a name decided upon and beers in the pipeline, the rebellion officially began in 2012. Gazz quit his day job to concentrate on the beer and a couple of months later Brad followed suit. With the help of volunteers, Tiny Rebel was brewing a couple of times a week.
Two years later, the 12-barrel brewery has a small army of brewers and devoted employees and they are brewing six times a week at full capacity. The imminent arrival of new tanks will increase this and they’ll be brewing twice a day – a total of 18,000 litres a week. “We can’t brew enough at the moment,” says an eager Gazz, but, not wanting to compromise flavour and quality, they don’t have any plans to expand any larger than a 25-barrel brewery.
Now, with a dedicated following across Wales, as well as in Sweden, Denmark, Italy, Poland and Singapore, Gazz and Brad have also reached Australia. But unlike Dai The Singer, it is due to the success of their rebellion and not their downfall.
Their rebellion against a drab Welsh beer scene has gone from strength to strength and their empire is growing. With a bar to their name, considered by many to be Cardiff’s beer mecca due to its seemingly infinite beer supply, as well their plans to slightly upsize the brewery, a ‘(Not So) Tiny Beer Festival’ and a wealth of awards, the boys’ rebellion has proved to be somewhat more successful than their revolutionary predecessors. These rebels are far from tiny.