Bath Ales fresh from installation of state-of-the-art brewing facility

Roger Ryman is renowned for his brewing capabilities – having created blockbusters like Tribute – but he is less known for his engineering prowess, which is on full show at Bath Ales brewery on the outskirts of the Georgian city.

On a tour of the site it is clear that the brewing director of St Austell (parent of Bath Ales) is very proud of the shiny new operation that incorporates some of the latest developments in brewing kit. It is certainly a world away from what existed when St Austell bought the brewery two years ago in a deal worth around £6.5 million.

Ryman says it was a deal that needed doing for Bath Ales as it was an operation with good brands but like other brewers of its size and vintage it needed some investment in order for It to move on. With around £6 million invested in the business Ryman has been able to build a state-of-the-art facility.

He selected British operation Musk Engineering as the supplier of the kit over German manufacturers Krones and GEA because although they have “fantastic” product he suggests dealing with them can be rather like buying goods from a catalogue. Instead, he wanted to build a bespoke brewhouse that had the flexibility to brew a variety of beer styles including cask.

What he has ended up with at the heart of the operation is a mash conversion vessel, lauter tun and whirlpool with a 85hl brew length. “This does not increase the batch size from the old brewery but that was all manual. With the new kit we can make small lengths and it’s a rapid production,” says Ryman.

Whereas previously it could handle nine brews in a 24-hour period it’s now possible to do 10-12 brews per week. “The capabilities we now have are significant,” he says.

At present this kit feeds into 12 fermenting vessels with a total capacity of 170hl and there is room for a further six FVs to be added when required. At present the annual output from Bath Ales is 34,000hl but there is the capacity to crank out double this amount.

There is also the prospect of a canning line being added although he says this will not be a replacement for the bottling line (that also bottles St Austell beers).

Wandering around the facility Ryman seems to almost constantly highlight the interesting bits of kit such as the filtering system, the yeast flow control system, and the valves on the bottling line as examples of equipment that would typically have only been found within much larger brewing facilities.

He says access to such cutting edge equipment is down to the big suppliers like Krones scaling down their technology in order for it to be available for craft brewers: “They’ve recognised that they now need to sell to these smaller companies.”

Although he has plans to produce a variety of styles on the kit including some German style Pilsners and wheat beer – that will complement the recently launched English lager Sulis – Ryman says Gem represents 60% of Bath Ales’ production. This sits slightly above the 50% of output that Tribute accounts for at the St Austell brewery. This figure has been gradually reducing as other beers grow and it is probably going to be the same story with Gem over time.

The acquisition of Bath Ales has not just enabled Ryman to get his engineering teeth into building a new brewery but it has given St Austell a beachhead from which to broaden its reach in the South West of England. This also includes building its pub estate, which was boosted by the eight properties that came with the Bath Ales deal.

The most notable is the Graze bar adjacent to Bath Spa train station that also includes a two-barrel brewery. Another two pubs are in the process of being acquired that will add to the 180-plus properties that St Austell operates across the business.

This is one of a number of deals that have taken place in the sector and we can be absolutely sure that there will be more as the craft beer category grows and consolidation accelerates.

Glynn Davis, editor, Beer Insider