Q&A with Grey Trees Brewery

Ray Davies
Grey Trees Brewery


Please introduce yourself and your brewery...
Grey Trees brewery is right in the heart of the Cynon valley, South Wales. I and my wife, Tracey, set it up in 2011. We are both from the locality, and were inspired to start Grey Trees in response to the lack of well crafted ales in our community. Now, we produce ten brews, a mix of stouts, pale ales, bitters, and so on, one of which - Diggers Gold - recently won the prestigious gold award at the CAMRA Welsh Beer & Cider Festival and is the official 'Champion Beer of Wales'.

Where do you brew from and what is your set up?
We own a copper brew plant in Llwydcoed, Aberdare. 'Llwydcoed' translates as 'Grey Trees', hence the brewery name. It's in the heart of old industrial South Wales. 

We brew using the finest hops, malts, and flavours, using a fresh Welsh water source, and supply bottles, cans, and kegs direct to pubs, cafes, and restaurants. We now also have an on-site shop which is proving very popular.

What was your path into the world of brewing?
Grey Trees began in 2011, when I was working as a pub landlord. I was disheartened by the sheer number of soulless, tepid-tasting, mass-produced beers on the market, and decided I wanted to do something about it. I'd already learned a lot about real ale and was passionate about proper beer. Now, Grey Trees brewery is making its mark, and has lots of loyal friends and customers, but of course myself and Tracey are still looking to expand and grow.

Where do you see your brewery in three years time?
Ideally, we would like the brewery to be bigger, but retaining and building on its reputation as one of the best breweries in Wales. We want to remain in the heart of the Cynon valley, which the brewery is named after, and especially as we are both local people with our family in the vicinity. We may need to expand the premises, however, and might consider a move into Aberdare town. We currently produce ten products, part of the fun will be experimenting with ingredients to create even more - say, 20, in three years time. We hope our children will become more involved in the brewery, too.

What’s the single biggest challenge facing the UK independent beer market?
The biggest challenge to us is the tide of mass-produced beers flooding the market. Creating something more tasty is easy - but it can be a challenge in terms of making profit, when commercial beer is so cheap and those producers not only use the poorest ingredients, but also buy in bulk. Their costs are relatively low, whilst Grey Trees use only the finest hops and malts, imported where necessary, and never skimp on quality. Running a brewery is a 24/7 job, too... But luckily it's our passion as well as profession.

What was the first beer which altered your perception of beer?
Without a doubt, it was Brains SA. Brains are a Cardiff-based brewery, probably the most famous in Wales. We'd drink Brains and joke that the 'SA' stood for 'Skull Attack' i.e. we could get drunk on it. I was pretty young at the time, so it seemed funny. But Brains are brilliant, and their SA was definitely my first beer love.

Which brewery, other than your own, do you most respect?
I respect all small and independent breweries, all the beer makers who are currently getting off backsides and making a difference! It's a traditional craft, with a long and interesting history, and all us brewers are part of that. I really respect everyone who might be viewed as a competitor - we're all putting our hearts into it. So, it’s very hard to name one. There are too many for me to do that, really.

What’s the strangest ingredient you’ve ever put in a beer?
We use oatmeal in our Black Road Stout, but I'm not sure that's very unusual. We also use a few, secret Welsh ingredients... A lot of American hops, too. Which is unusual for a brewery based in the Welsh valleys, I suppose. One of our brews, Chinookan, is named after the Native American tribe of the same name for that reason.

Describe your brewery in six words.
Passion. Pride. Precision. Perfection. Purity. People.

Mike Hampshire