Brains Brewery

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search
SA Brain & Company Ltd.
FounderSamuel Arthur Brain
Wales, UK
Area served
South & Mid Wales, and the West Country in England
OwnerChris Brain

Brains (S. A. Brain & Company Ltd.) is a regional brewery based in Cardiff, Wales. It was founded in 1882 by Samuel Arthur Brain.[1] The company controls more than 250 pubs in South Wales (particularly in Cardiff), Mid Wales and the West Country. The company took over Crown Buckley Brewery in Llanelli in 1997 and Hancock's Brewery in 1999. In 2000 Brains moved to the former Hancock's Brewery just south of Cardiff Central railway station. The Old Brewery, in Cardiff city centre, has been developed into a modern bar and restaurant complex.

The company produces a range of beers under the Brains, Buckley's and Hancock's names. As part of their marketing strategy, Brains use shirt sponsorship for the Wales national rugby union team and the Crusaders Rugby League team.[2]


The Brains logo in stained-glass

Samuel Arthur Brain was born in 1850 and brought up in Bristol, England, before moving to Cardiff to train as a brewer. A talented brewer, he quickly rose to become Manager of the Phoenix Brewery in Working Street. In 1872 he married a girl whose father owned Thomas's brewery in St Mary Street, Cardiff.[3] In 1882 the Thomas brothers sold the Old Brewery in Cardiff in order to pay debts. Samuel Arthur and his uncle Joseph Benjamin Brain, Chairman of the West of England Bank, founded their business by buying the brewery from the Thomas brothers. Part of the building dated from 1713 and it had been a brewery since at least 1822.[4][5]

In 1882 the brewery produced 100 barrels of beer a week and operated 11 pubs. By 1900 this had grown to 1,000 barrels of beer a week, supplying 80 of their public houses. The company became a limited company, S A Brain & Co Ltd, in April 1897 and purchased the business for £350,000.[6] Interior of the Golden Cross, Cardiff (8).jpg Brains expanded the Old Brewery was expanded in 1914 by having a new brewery built in St Mary Street.

In 1997 Brains took over Crown Buckley in Llanelli. It closed Crown Buckley's brewery and transferred production to Cardiff. In 1999 Brains bought the former Hancock's Brewery just south of Cardiff Central railway station. In 2000 it moved production there, and in 2003 the Old Brewery was redeveloped as a bar and restaurant complex.

The Old Arcade pub on Church Street in Cardiff

Until September 2009 the multi-millionaire chairman of the company was Chris Brain.[7] The chairman is now John Rhys, the great great-grandson of company founder Samuel Arthur Brain.[8]

The Duke of Wellington pub on The Hayes in Cardiff

In March 2019 the new Dragon Brewery, at the Pacific Business Park in Tremorfa, was opened by Prince William, Duke of Cambridge, who was taken on a tour of the new facility by head brewer Bill Dobson.[8]

In December 2020, Brains handed over the running of its 156 pubs via a 25 year lease-back deal to Marston's[9]


In September 2011 the company diversified into coffee shops, buying the Cardiff-based coffee house chain, Coffee#1.[10] In mid-2018, SA Brain announced that they wished to sell a majority stake in Coffee#1, after a strategic review. In January 2019, Caffè Nero bought a 70% stake in the business, which at that time had 92 outlets.[11]

Beer brands[edit]

Beer taps with badges of some of the Brains range

Brains brand[edit]

Brains SA, the company's flagship brand, is a light-coloured malty best bitter which is colloquially known as "Skull Attack". Its formulation has undergone several revisions since the beer was launched in the early 20th century; the most recent revision was launched in early 2006 and increases the quantity of hops in the brew.

Brains Dark is a dark mild ale with an emphasis on roasted malts. There is also a 'smooth' variant.

Brains Bitter is the brewery's standard bitter and the most commonly available in Cardiff. Many Brains' pubs serve only bitter from a cask. When served pasteurised and nitrogenated it is termed Brains Smooth.

Brains IPA, an unusually malty example of the India Pale Ale style, is usually seen on cask only in the valleys outside Cardiff, although some pubs stock it as keg beer or in bottles in Cardiff proper.

SA Gold, the newest addition to the line, is – according to a release note sent out to Brains pubs in early 2006 – Brains' attempts to branch out into both the English and youth markets, areas in which Brains is visibly struggling. Its official launch was June 2006, but many houses retired it in favour of the bi-monthly guest ale rotation. The beer is hopped with Cascade, Target and Styrian Golding hops.

45 was a keg beer at 4.5% ABV. It was launched in 2006 in Cardiff as a competitor to strong lagers such as Stella Artois. In March 2007, the recipe was radically altered from the original used in the January launch after slow market growth and poor in-house response. It was discontinued in 2011.[12]

The Rev. James is a 4.5% ABV dark best bitter carried over from the Buckley's range after the two breweries merged.

Brains Black is a 4.1% ABV stout launched on St David's Day 2010.[13]

Buckley's brand[edit]

Brains bought the Llanelli-based Crown Buckley in 1998. It continues to brew three Buckley's beers, all at its Cardiff brewery: Buckley's Bitter, Buckley's IPA and Reverend James best bitter.

Hancock's brand[edit]

Hancocks HB is a 3.6% session bitter first brewed by Hancock's brewery. Formerly Wales' biggest brewer, the brewery was founded by William Hancock (father of Frank, Froude and William Hancock) and bought by Bass in 1968. Brains bought Hancock's in 1999, but initially Bass kept the rights to the brands.[14] Production later came back to Cardiff.[15]

Seasonal beers[edit]

Seasonal beers' include St David's Ale', which is brewed to celebrate St David's Day and is available in February and March. Taff End is available in June and July and celebrates sponsorship of the Glamorgan County Cricket Club. Brains' Bread of Heaven, named after a traditional Welsh rugby anthem, was launched in 2005 in commemoration of the sponsorship, and is mostly sold during the Six Nations Championship and autumn internationals.

Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau (Land Of My Fathers) was launched in 2006 to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Welsh national anthem. It is a golden ale brewed with Welsh honey.


Railway bridge over Penarth Road, Cardiff: one of several painted with Brains advertising slogans

Brains sponsored a number of railway bridges over roads in Cardiff to have its advertising slogans painted on them. They include "It's Brains you want!" in Clare Road and Leckwith Road and "People who know beer... have Brains" in Penarth Road.

The Wales national rugby union team's dressing room with the Brains SA logo on the shirts

Brains was the shirt sponsor for the Wales national rugby union team from 2004 until 2010. As French law forbids alcohol sponsorship logos from appearing on rugby jerseys, when the team played in France the branding was changed. In 2005, "Brains" was replaced with "Brawn",[16] in 2007 it was changed to "Brawn Again", and in 2009 it was replaced with "Try Essai", a pun on the invitation to "try SA".[17]

The Old Brewery Quarter[edit]

In 2003, Brains vacant Old Brewery was redeveloped into the 85,000 sq ft (7,900 m2) "Old Brewery Quarter" .It is a mixed development of 55,000 sq ft (5,100 m2) of leisure space around an open-air piazza in the heart of Cardiff's growing city centre, together with 42 long-leasehold loft style apartments and penthouses.

The development has attracted a range of bar and restaurant operators including Chiquito, La Tasca, Lava Lounge, Nando's, Pancake House, Starbucks, Thai Edge and SA Brains own flagship venue, the Yard Bar and Kitchen.

Chronology of Brains Breweries


  1. ^ "The Beginning". SA Brain. Archived from the original on 2014-12-04.
  2. ^ "Welsh Rugby". SA Brain. Archived from the original on 2014-12-04.
  3. ^ "History & Heritage | S.A. Brain & Co Ltd". SA Brain.
  4. ^ "SA Brain & Co Ltd". The Directory of UK Real Ale Brewers. Quaffale. 24 April 2011.
  5. ^ Glover, Brian (2007). Brains: 125 Years. Breedon Books. ISBN 978-1-859836064.[page needed]
  6. ^ Lesley Richmond; Alison Turton, eds. (1990), The Brewing Industry: A Guide to Historical Records, Manchester University Press, p. 77, ISBN 0-7190-3032-3
  7. ^ Blake, Aled (August 11, 2009). "Christopher Brain recalls a life in beer". WalesOnline.
  8. ^ a b Hughes, Marcus (March 16, 2019). "Brains has a new brewery and Prince William just opened it". WalesOnline.
  9. ^[bare URL]
  10. ^ Chris Kelsey (4 October 2011). "SA Brains buys Coffee#1 chain". Wales Online. Retrieved 10 January 2015.
  11. ^ Morris, Josh (30 January 2019). "SA Brain sells majority stake in Coffee #1". Insider Media Ltd. Retrieved 29 March 2019.
  12. ^ Gaskell, Simon (18 February 2011). "Brains to discontinue premium lager '45'". South Wales Echo. Retrieved 1 March 2011.
  13. ^ Wilcox, Andrew. "Brains Black Welsh Stout – Guinness beware in the Welsh valleys". Blog.
  14. ^ Evans, Jeff. "Putting the ales into Wales – Regional Focus". Retrieved 15 August 2012.
  15. ^ "William Hancock's & Co Ltd". The Directory of UK Real Ale Brewers. Quaffale. 24 April 2011.
  16. ^ "Rugby stars swap Brains for brawn". BBC News. 21 February 2005. Retrieved 15 August 2012.
  17. ^ Henry, Graham (26 June 2010). "Business – Business News – Brains rugby sponsor deal ends". South Wales Echo. Retrieved 15 August 2012.

External links[edit]