Collaborations and creativity are the touchstones for today’s brewing trendsetters, and none more so than Siren Craft Brew. We caught up with Darron Anley, Siren’s founder, to talk chefs, coffee and wood spirals
'We take ideas from everything.' That might seem an exaggeration from most people, but as someone who witnessed Siren’s 30-strong tap takeover at the Covent Garden Craft Beer Co earlier this year during London Beer City, with ingredients as diverse as mango pulp, black treacle and nutmeg, it seems more than apt.
An IT refugee, Anley sold his business in 2011, and went off 'to play with flavours'. He’d come across BrewDog in 2009 and was aware there was a different beer world out there.
Research took him to the 2012 Craft Brewers Conference in the USA, where a couple of bits of particularly useful advice came his way.
'Whatever the size of brewery you have in mind, double it. Or treble it,' Jasper Cuppaidge, Camden Brewery’s founder, told him. Then came the sage wisdom of Kelly Ryan, then of Thornbridge, now back in New Zealand: 'No matter how good a brewer you are, you'd best get a brewer for the business.'
Taking both these points on board, Anley recruited the inventive, charismatic Ryan Witter-Mayhew, and Siren was born the following year. Witter-Mayhew is now back in the USA, and brewing is headed up by Kyle Larsen, ex-Double Mountain Brewery in Oregon.
In four years, the brewery based in Finchampstead near Reading, has seen sales grow north of £2.5m. The most recent brewhouse upgrade sees a smart American brewkit in place, giving Siren greater brewing flexibility and almost doubling production capability.
Known for being adventurous, Anley clearly enjoys playing with ideas.
Siren in Numbers
Core beers: six
Beers created since opening: 300
Brews per week: seven to eight
No of barrels: 400
Quantity produced, 2016: 9500hl
2016 turnover: £2.7m
Split: cask: 15-20%; keg: 50-60%; bottle 25-30%
'I love coffee – we’ve always used it [in our beers],' he said. 'We’ve had Broken Dream, a 6.5% coffee stout, from the start.' But they wanted to go one step further. 'We want to take people on a bit of an arc,' he said. 'So Siren partnered with four different roasters and came up with Project Barista, a quartet of beers each with their own twist.'
Crema, a 'white' stout (4.9%), had a whole sackful of green coffee beans which had been aged in German whisky barrels – before roasting and grinding. CapHeine, a kettle sour (6.2%), proved the trickiest to pull off, with hibiscus in the boil plus 120kg of raspberries in the fermentation, with Kenyan coffee added at the end, so as not to lose the berry notes. Americano is a super-hoppy double IPA, while the winter addition, Turkish, a 10% Imperial Stout, has had £2500 of figs thrown in. I can confirm, from my taste at Indy Man Beer Con, it adds 'incredible richness'.
Next year will see the arrival of the Chef Series. Chefs such as Brett Carter, of Birmingham’s Michelin-starred Carters of Moseley, are in discussions with Siren. The idea being not only to plan a beer with Larsen, but also to use the bespoke beer in a specially devised dish. This series will culminate in a gala dinner, with each beer served alongside its corresponding course.
And it’s not just ingredients. Parts of the process get the magician’s touch too. Siren, for example, uses a spinbot in the fermenter. This device spins the liquid at the top in one direction and at the bottom in the other, creating a vortex in the process, thoroughly maximising the mixing process. Couple this with Siren’s 'discovery' of the impact of wood spirals – literally spirals of different sorts of wood, cedar or cypress, for example – and there’s a whole new flavour realm opening up for exploration.
Sitting and sipping with Anley, the opportunities seem endless.