Good Beer Hunting

Left Handed Giant Invests in Bristol as Crafty Devil Acquires Small Bar Cardiff

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Crafty Devil Brewery—based in Cardiff, South Wales—has acquired the Cardiff branch of Small Bar, one of two specialist beer bars operated by Bristol’s Left Handed Giant Brewing Company, for an undisclosed fee. Crafty Devil reportedly intends to rebrand the bar as “Beelzebubs” while maintaining its specialist beer focus. The acquisition of the site at 17 Church St. comes after Crafty Devil faced numerous setbacks having previously attempted to secure a premises for the bar on Cardiff High Street.

The move comes as Left Handed Giant prepares to invest £2.4 million ($3.18M) into a new brewpub at Finzels Reach at Bristol’s center. The brewery has financed the move with £1.068M ($1.42M) in private investment, the majority of which has been raised via equity crowdfunding platform Crowdcube. The fundraising comes just weeks after the Leeds-based Northern Monk raised £1.5M via the same platform.

As with many of the UK’s urban centers, Bristol and Cardiff have proved to be great incubators for young breweries. Bristol, in the UK’s southwest, is now home to 15 breweries, including the likes of Moor, Lost & Grounded, Wiper & True and Left Handed Giant itself. Cardiff has a rich brewing heritage—family brewer Brains was established here in 1882. It has since seen a new wave of breweries establish a presence in town, including Tiny Rebel with its popular bar on Westgate Street, and Crafty Devil itself.

Fans of the Cardiff beer venue took to social media to lament the loss to the city’s scene, but the general sentiment was one of fondness as opposed to frustration. “Loved having you in Cardiff,” Twitter user Megan Davies said in response to a statement released by Small Bar Cardiff. “Hope the beer scene continues to thrive and develop despite your departure.” The onus will now be on Crafty Devil to ensure the space meets the burgeoning standards of the city’s beer culture.

Small Bar Bristol was established on Bristol’s King Street by Left Handed Giant’s Bruce Gray in December 2013, with the Cardiff bar joining the flock in October 2016. Gray had previously founded Big Beer distribution company in Bristol in June 2013, and co-founded his brewery in January 2015. Gray tells GBH that the distribution arm of his business has also been scaled back, now working with just five UK breweries, down from 45 at its peak—which was around the time that Gray launched his brewery. This, coupled with the sale of Small Bar Cardiff, will allow Gray and his team to focus on the construction of the new brewpub, which has a scheduled opening date of January 2019.

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“This coming year is going to be massively stressful,” Gray tells GBH of his decision to relinquish his Cardiff site. “Left Handed Giant is only three years old, and we’ve only been inside our Bristol production facility for eight months. The new brewpub is a huge step up in responsibility and the Cardiff bar ceased to be a sensible option within the structure of our company.”

The new site will be one of the most ambitious brewery builds the city has seen since the former occupant of the building, Courage, relinquished the property in 1999. Constructed in 1702, the facility was home to George’s Brewery from 1788, before itself being acquired by Courage (which, in turn, is now owned by Marston’s Brewery). Gray plans to install a 15-barrel brewery within the 4,000-square-foot space, which is split over three floors—one of which will be sublet to Michelin Star Chef Peter Sanchez-Iglesias.

Gray also said that there are no plans to close either the current production facility and taproom or Small Bar Bristol, describing both assets as integral to the business. While the original brewery will focus on production and retail for canned beer along with a barrel aging program, the new brewpub will brew exclusively for draft product. In a recent GBH podcast, Gray said that he aimed to sell 70% of Left Handed Giant’s output direct to consumer, with the remaining 30% being sent out for limited national—and some international—distribution.

Gray’s increased focus on Left Handed Giant—and the city of Bristol itself—is demonstrative of the area's buoyant scene, as well as the amount of untapped potential the market still has. It’s also a city that’s fiercely loyal toward local, independent producers, much like U.S. cities such as Portland, OR and Asheville, NC. With a population just shy of 430,000, coupled with plenty of reach into the surrounding small towns and rural areas, Bristol appears to be on a course to become one of the UK’s—if not Europe’s—major beer destinations.

“We have a strong emotional attachment to Bristol,” Gray says. “It’s part of the fabric of Left Handed Giant.”

—Matthew Curtis