Q&A with Hafod Brewery

Phill Blanchard
Haford Brewing Company

Please introduce yourself...
Hi, I'm Phill Blanchard, director and Head Brewer at Hafod Brewing Company in Mold, north Wales. In 2011 I built our original 1 barrel Hafod premises just outside of Mold with the aim of bringing first-rate beer to the area. Since then we've built a new 10 barrel microbrewery in Mold town centre as the demand for local real ale has increased. 

I've always enjoyed trying out a diverse range of recipes and we've kept the 1 barrel set-up going to test new recipes and for small-batch brewing. So far since 2011 we've produced over 50 different beers, from an Iron Age Spelt beer to a Belgian Dubbel to a 9.1% barley-wine called Warlord (a one-off brew from July 2013 which I'd love to bring back!)

The business is family-run, like many small micros; everyone knows the products and the business inside out and since the expansion it's been all hands on deck. Brewing's definitely a vocation, not a 9-5 job.

Since then I've brewed no fewer than ten different beers which have all been well received.  I took the decision in August 2015 to leave my IT job behind and start brewing full time which will by the time you read this will have become a reality.

Where do you brew from and what's your set up?
The main (new) microbrewery is based in Mold, our hometown in north Wales. It's been a labour of love to put it mildly. Most people who know Hafod have been waiting for us to finish our expansion for a long time. Doing most of the engineering work ourselves, whilst running the original brewery has taken time so it's great to finally be brewing down there! 

The 10 barrel set-up runs off a Fulton steam boiler; we mill our own grain on the premises and have custom built a lot of the equipment down there. We're not yet open to the public, but there's a lot of interest from people keen to see inside so brewery tours are on the cards if we can find time outside of the day to day running of the business to do them!

What was your path into the world of brewing?
What was your path into the world of brewing?: I was one of those kids that messed about with chemistry sets a lot so the science of brewing was something that interested me by the time I was a teenager. Dad has been making home-brew and wine for decades so the kit was there to learn from. There's a picture of me piggy-backing on dad's back as a kid in the 1980s - he's picking the blackberries to make his home-made blackberry wine.

From home-brew beginnings and a love for all things scientific came training up as a brewer. In 2011 I then took the decision to go for it and build my first microbrewery in some outhouse buildings. Four years on seeing someone drinking a pint of your beer in a pub is still a novelty; crafting something that people really enjoy still gives me a buzz, as it should do really or you're not doing it right!

What was the first beer that altered your perception of beer?
This is going back years now, when craft beer was a phrase that didn't exist and when your choice of ales was a pint of John Smith's or Tetley's. It's got to be Hoegaarden beer for me. The coriander and orange flavours and the style of glass it came in were something else.

What do you drink when you're not drinking your own beers?
Rum! Dark rum.

What beer do you wish you'd brewed?
A weissbier. This has got to be on the cards for 2016, because I love a good weissbier if nothing else. It's been on the wish list for a few years so I'll definitely have to get round to it.

What's the strangest ingredient you've ever put in a beer?
I think that's got to be one of the ingredients from our local mountain range, the Clwydian Range, in north Wales. In 2011 we were asked by the local AONB rangers to experiment with natural ingredients from the Clwydians: heather, heather-honey and bilberries/winberries. I created a bilberry and a honey beer (Moel Arthur Bilberry Brew and Moel Fenlli Heather-honey Ale, named after mountains in the Clwydians), but the heather beer (Moel Famau) was probably the strangest and trickiest to come up with. Heather flavoured products are a bit few and far between; apart from the flowers, consuming the rest of the plant's not high on my list. I settled for making a dark ale with a chocolate malt base to complement the dark earthiness of the plant and found that the best way to incorporate the plant was by using it in a smoker and smoking the grain. The result is subtle and the 4.1% dark ale, Moel Famau, remains a popular core beer in our range.

What's your desert island beer?
I'm going to have to name a few. I'm currently enjoying Life & Death by Vocation - that packs a punch. Toxteth IPA by Mad Hatter was a stand out beer of the summer and for a Hafod beer I'd say one of my own seasonals, Hammer. A 6.6% strong pale ale, with tropical fruit notes in it; great in summer, and seeing as I'd be on a desert island I'd need a few thirst-quenchers like these.

Describe your brewery in six words...
Diverse, modern, quality first, passionate, independent.

Mike Hampshire