Siren Craft Brew
Posted on July 30 2020
At a small industrial estate in Berkshire’s Finchampstead, just south of Reading, it’s buzzing in the mornings with the brewers at Siren Craft hard at work meeting local demand (there's a lot of it!).
It’s not somewhere you’d naturally fall across for a beer. Families come for the day with a picnic; people arrive in taxis; in a car (with designated driver, of course); it’s queuing out the door … with social distancing, of course. Pre-Covid-19 times there’d be live music and food vans (they’ll be back!). And why this throng? A load of great beers to try and that friendly buzz.
How it started
Founder of Siren Craft, Darron Anley, had run a few businesses in his time and in 2011 had his own IT business. He’d always dabbled a little in brewing too, from late teenage years onwards. Then, around 2009, he’d been introduced to beer’s more adventurous side with BrewDog and other smaller start-ups. In 2011, he decided take the plunge – sell the IT business and start a new project – a brewery.
He began his journey with a visit to the States, which led him to the 2012 Craft Brewers Confederation in San Diego. This gave him plenty of ideas and he met lots of brewers, who gave him more. That included some essential tips: "work out the size you want to be … then double it, or even triple it, if you can". He also met Ryan Witter-Mayhew, whom he hired as head brewer and in 2013 started Siren Craft Brewery. After running a number of businesses, where he was promoting other people’s products, he was really excited to be making something himself. That put him firmly in the driving seat of creativity.
All in a name
Why Siren? Greek mythology talks of seductive sirens, luring mariners in with their complex weave of song. And that has always been the aim with the flavours of Siren beers – just look at that hooked barb on the S of the Siren tale!
A bold start leads to top awards
They started out, three people, with four core beers (you can still find them now – Soundwave IPA, Yu Lu Session Pale Ale, Calypso dry-hopped sour and Broken Dream breakfast stout), plus a knockout 11% barley wine, using a blend of barrel-aged beers. They weren’t going to tip-toe into the craft beer world – they wanted to start boldly … in the manner they would carry on.
They certainly made their mark and after just one year, they were awarded Ratebeer.com’s 2015 Best New Brewery in England and 2nd Best New Brewery in the World. Just a year later, they won the same Best New Brewery in England, this time awarded by consumer ratings at Ratebeer.com. Every year, since then, they’ve been included in the Top 100 Breweries of the World by the same online publication. Another top award they’re super proud of is the 2018 CAMRA Champion Beer of Britain for Broken Dream breakfast stout.
Core philosophy in brewing
Right from the get-go Darron has been driven by the style of beer in the glass – start with that, then work out how to get there. He insists on the best ingredients, no compromises, and that each beer needs to tell a story. You certainly see that story in the beautiful Siren artwork and individual names on the packaging.
He wants his beer fans to be clear on his message – Siren produces a whole range of styles and flavours, all bold and keen to make a statement. It’s unlikely that everyone will like them all, but fans of Siren can be sure they’ll enjoy the journey of finding out which ones they do.
And with an average output of 100 new releases a year (it may be different in this Covid-19-affected year), on top of the now-seven core range, you’re bound to love a few. “There’s a style of beer for everyone” insists Darron.
Innovation and inspiration
How on earth do they get inspiration for that many releases? Darron and his team seem to draw ideas from every sphere of life. They are always coming up with new ideas to challenge the taste buds. That’s clear just from their range of Project beers ...
Maiden range: First off, we must mention the Maiden range – it was one such Maiden that launched them in 2013 … their 11% barley wine. Upstairs, above the tap room, is the barrel room – 400 casks in total from a great range of sources … previously holding bourbon, whisky, red wine, cognac, rum … all sorts. And in each one is a different beer. Every year in February, the staff – all 37 of them – have the chance to put together their own blend of them. Each is blind tasted and the winner is chosen as the year’s Maiden release. How exciting for the winner – your own personal blend selected for the year. Each Maiden release is eagerly awaited.
Project Barista: Darron’s second liquid passion is coffee! So, it wasn’t long before Siren launched Project Barista. Darron was out to prove that stout wasn’t the only match with coffee. So collaborations began with four different roasters, each resulting in a different style of beer. There’s Crema – a ‘white’ stout at 4.9%, using green coffee beans, aged in German whisky barrels, then roasted and ground. CapHeine is a kettle sour, brewed with hibiscus, 120kg of raspberries and Kenyan coffee beans. Americano – a super-hoppy DIPA – and finally, for now, a 10% Imperial stout, brewed with £2,500-worth of figs!
Rainbow Project: This is the idea of pairing up breweries from around the world to create ‘forward-thinking beers’ inspired by the colours of the rainbow. It was launched in 2013 with seven UK breweries. Each was assigned a colour and asked them to brew an IPA, inspired by that colour. 2014 saw seven UK breweries partnered with one each from Europe, allocated a colour and asked to work together to come up with an exciting beer. 2015 was the UK and the US, 2016 the UK with the Kiwis and so on … until 2020, and there’s had to be a pause!
Chefs’ Collection: This was all set to launch in 2020 but has obviously been put on hold … hopefully just until 2021. The plan is to team up with four top chefs, probably with a Michelin star or two, create a beer inspired by each and culminate in a gala dinner, “where each chef matches their beer to a cool dish of their own making.” Not only that, the dish would use the beer as an ingredient too.
Since the beginning, they’ve done many collaborations with different breweries around the world – in Europe Sweden’s Dugges, Garage Project and Omnipollo in New Zealand, Green Cheeks in the States. He has a long list of those they are planning to work with in the future, but, obviously, for now, it’s off the cards.
Last year, they also did a collaboration with the Tate for their Van Gogh exhibition, creating a beer inspired by the paintings. It was named Thousand Things IPA. This has led to another interesting launch that ties up with Project Barista above … and also the fabulous Affogata pale ale that many Comrades will have in their cases or can find in the Brew Republic shop.
Due to the Covid-19 situation it was difficult to launch a new Project Barista beer in 2020. Having worked with the Tate in 2019, they knew about the gallery’s special roastery and teamed up with them for 2020. The roastery is a non-profit making organisation, providing funds to the gender-equality charity and buying coffee supplies from equal numbers of male and female coffee growers. Equality in the supply chain has helped support women and families in the community in the coffee-growing areas.
The coffee used in Affogato Pale is from Leda Pereira Lima’s farm, Fazenda Nova Esperança. Leda was widowed in 1973 and quickly had to learn how to run a coffee farm. Now 87, her daughter Arabella is the main driver. Their delicious coffee beans help enhance the hop flavours in Affogato, bring a hint of vanilla sweetness and certainly a coffee punch. Try it yourself.
Output and capacity … and growing
At the start, registering as the 1250th brewery in the UK (there are now 2,700!) Darron bought a 5,000-litre smart new brew kit. Since then they have grown and now produce 3 million pints (or 5 million cans) a year, exporting to 18 countries, but largely selling in the UK. In 2018 they crowdfunded to finance a new canning machine. Up until then all their non-keg or cask had been into bottle. Now all of it goes into can, bar the boutiquey barrel-aged beers … they have stayed in 375ml bottles. As Darron says, the can “offers some much more opportunity for artwork.” Look at their range – we just love them for their cans!
The stars are aligned - Lumina takes off
Excitingly, in 2020, Siren has launched a new core beer. The stars were all aligned to make it the right moment to launch Lumina Session IPA, designed “to be the shining light of Siren’s flagship range.” It certainly got the thumbs up from Jules in the Brew Republic team, who visited (with social distance) recently. Lots of bright, tropical fruit – mango, pineapple – with citrus and a lovely bitterness on the finish. They’ve even held a virtual star-gazing event for their punters, led by Darron and astro physicist Dr Becky Smethurst from Oxford University. A chance to enjoy beer while gazing at the night sky!
Well, Darron has no plans for any huge expansion, only sustainable growth. He wants the team to have the time to keep experimenting and inventing. That keeps the team energised and the beer fans keen. They may open a few Siren bars in the future, too, though Coronavirus has slowed that down for a bit. And otherwise, the focus is to carry on being creative and making some great-tasting, exciting and imaginative beers!
We spent time with Darron to talk more about his brewery and what's next for them. Grab a Siren beer and kick back for 15 minutes to watch our interview, here: