Welsh brewery Purple Moose increases tap room sales by 136%

In under a year, Porthmadog brewery Purple Moose has more than doubled its workforce and turned around the fortunes of local pub The Australia, boosting its sales by 136%.

Since its launch in 2005, Purple Moose Brewery (Bragdy Mws Piws) has been instrumental in putting north Wales’ brewing industry on the map. This is due in large part to its founder, Lawrence Washington, although he would be the last person to say so himself.

Washington started out as a keen homebrewer in 1995, creating his own recipes using raw ingredients instead of using ready-made kits, something he is still passionate about to this day.

Originally brewing under the name ‘Purple Moose’, when he moved to Wales in April 2004 and launched his brewery in 2005, he decided to continue using the same name. With brews entitled ‘Dark Side of the Moose’, ‘Chocolate Moose’, ‘Antlered IPA’ and ‘Merry X-Moose’, it certainly lends itself well to beer.

Brewing commenced in June 2005 on a 10-barrel kit and initially 2 to 3 brewing cycles were completed each week. By the time the brewery moved into a new brew house in March 2013, they were brewing up to 10 times a week to satisfy demand. The brewery now has 200 barrels which produce 800 casks of beer a week.

The brewery shop, which had been based at the site since 2006, moved to Porthmadog high street in June 2015, helping to boost foot fall by 65%.

Having previously focused on cask beer, Purple Moose launched three new keg beers just over a year ago – a German style Kölsch lager, a ‘British style’ IPA and a chocolate and vanilla stout.

Washington told db that he’d spent a lot of time researching the style of lager that he wanted to brew at Purple Moose and found that he particularly enjoyed the style of beer produced in Cologne.

“For me it is similar to British style ales as it uses top fermented yeast. We start the fermentation off two degrees lower [than the other beers] and this helps to give a fresher tasting profile.

“The beer spends 10 days at the brewery and another nine to 10 days at the plant before it’s bottled,” he added.

The ‘Antlered IPA’ uses US-grown Mosaic hops and Waimea hops from New Zealand, but Washington describes it as a “proper British-style IPA” more hoppy than the other beers in the range, but not overly so.

In the ‘Chocolate Moose’ Washington uses both chocolate malt and a concentrated chocolate sauce as well as vanilla in the brew.

While the keg beers are performing well, it is the brewery’s Snowdonia Ale, a 3.6% ABV light golden ale that continues to be the best performer. It was introduced as a seasonal summer ale in June 2006 but has since proved more popular that the brewery’s first beers Dark Side of the Moose, Glaslyn Ale and Madog Ale and was incorporated into the core range.

Washington told db that 75% of Purple Moose’s trade is its cask beer beer delivered to pubs while 25% accounts for bottled beer going to shops and restaurants.

When asked about whether he would consider putting Purple Moose in cans, he did not rule it out, but did say that at the moment, cans do not sell well in north Wales.

“We’ve found that at least here, people are put off from buying beer in cans. It’s based on perception and the psychological impact of drinking beer out of one. For a time, we sold cans from another brewery in our shop and found that bottled beer sales were far stronger. At least for now, bottled beer sells better in north Wales,” he said.

Washington also told db that locals were often put off by higher strength brews. Purple Moose’s beers range from 3.6% to 5.2% ABV, with locals tending to shy away from anything over 6%.

Commenting on what he considers is one of the brewery’s points of difference, Washington added that he believes the use of conditioning tanks is important.

“I want our beers to taste fresh and clean, so we rack beer from the fermenting vessels into conditioning tanks before it’s put into casks or kegs. This ensures that just the right amount of yeast transfers into the finished beer,” he said.

The brewery tap

Purple Moose took on its brewery tap at the beginning of last year, and after refurbishments, it opened on 31 March 2017.

Called The Australia, after the historic connections with the Welsh port town, the pub was once owned by Enterprise Inns. It was subsequently taken on by four local breweries – Conwy Brewery, Great Orme Brewery, Bragdy’r Nant and Purple Moose Brewery – but after a quiet winter in 2015-2016, Washington decided to take the plunge and turn the pub into Purple Moose’s own tap room.

After a complete makeover, the pub has been thoughtfully redesigned with the help of the talented Barry Marples. The wooden seating, with the Purple Moose logo scorched onto the surface, is made from reclaimed scaffolding planks, while the supporting pillars now act as tables with the help of some Laphroaig quarter casks.

From the period April 2017 to December 2017, Purple Moose has seen turnover rise by 136% based on the same period last year. From having 18 members of staff working in the brewery, on deliveries and in the shop, Purple Moose has employed a further 20 workers (including part-timers) to man the pub. 

The new food menu, put together by local chef Joe Wilson, has contributed to the pub’s success. Using different Purple Moose beers in many of the dishes, from April to December 2017, food sales have risen by over 200%.

The Australia also has a new gin menu featuring 12 gins, eight of which are Welsh including four sips from north Wales – Blue Slate Gin from Dinorwig Distillery in Caernarfon, Merywen Gin from North Star Distillery and Pollination and Hibernation gins from the Dyfi Distillery.

Future plans

Washington is not resting on his laurels despite his notable achievements in the past year. Opening the brewery tap fulfilled one of his long term goals, but he told db that he hopes in the future to buy the pub outright and to begin developing the upstairs area.

Purple Moose also operates The Albion pub in Conwy along with Conwy Brewery, Great Orme Brewery and Bragdy’r Nant. The four breweries along with a local business from Llandudno also operate Y Bont (The Bridge) in Conwy which they are currently refurbishing in order to convert it into a craft beer bar and wood-fired pizza restaurant. ‘Johnny Dough’s at The Bridge’ is due to open next month.

On touring the Purple Moose brewery, it is evident that there is room to expand as and when required. In the long term, however, Washington said that the brewery will need another local site in order to increase its capacity.

His short term focus, however, is finding a sous chef to help Wilson who has just taken his first holiday since starting out in April.

Apart from that, he has expressed a desire to do some special brews and collaborations in addition to the seasonal beers currently on offer.

“It would be very special to do a collaboration with Harviestoun Brewery in Scotland as they helped us out when we started,” said Washington.

In the future, he also has plans to experiment with barrel-ageing, along the same lines as Decadence, a 10% strong ale aged in Laphroaig whisky quarter casks brewed to celebrate Purple Moose’s tenth anniversary.

“The strong smokey and peaty taste wasn’t for everyone, but for me it was great,” he added.

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