Swansea is brand new – and a little behind – the bigger cities like Bristol, Manchester and Cardiff when it comes to craft beer, but in a bottle shop/bar located just off the bustling Wind St is The Gravity Station. Usually found sitting behind the bar or discussing rare sour beers, talking about the merits of keg over cask or just trying to flog you some Waen or Hopcraft beer is James ‘J’ Starkey, a bearded beer enthusiast with an infectious love for all things beer and brewing.
J says he has been drinking real ale and craft beer for about 7 years now, “although I was fairly clueless back then – actually, that’s a lie… I was completely clueless.” He was living in Chorlton at the time, a suburb of Manchester, which was a good place to be in 2008 when this ‘Craft Beer Movement’ was getting serious. “I wasn’t there yet, I wasn’t serious at all, but as the months past by I was enjoying the beer I was drinking but I knew absolutely nothing about it”, he says that as he drank more and found out more about the beer, whether by reading anything available, watching videos, or talking with people “that’s the best way, really” he started to realise “there were flavours that I enjoyed a lot more than others, and some I did not enjoy at all” and that’s when he started to learn about what was what within the beer itself. Fast forward a few years now, it’s 2011 and J has found himself living in Bridgend, South Wales, working at a small pub called “the coach” it was here that he developed his love of craft beer: “they would keep the pump clips for all of the various beers they’d had in and I had the opportunity there to taste a lot of beer without having to pay for pints – of course, I’d pay for pints, but i’d also have to make sure the beer was OK and know the beer well enough to talk about it with customers”.
At this point J started to identify brewers that he really liked, or didn’t, and became acquainted with Gazza Prescott, the founder and head brewer of Hopcraft. He found out he was a man down and was working on his own and couldn’t find an available volunteer, So J stopped working at the coach and offered his time in exchange for some brewing knowledge. “Gazza very quickly saw my passion and offered me a job, he nurtured that passion with information and encouragement of my ideas”. Hopcraft was still a fairly small operation back then, cooking about 10BBL a week, so there was only the 2 of them which meant J got a lot of practice and experience of running a brewery, as well as making beer in a small amount of time with a small setup.
During J’s time at hopcraft they opened a bar in cardiff “the Hopbunker” and this meant that I also got to spend a fair bit of time with Sue Hayward, the head brewer of Waen brewery and founder of the Gravity Station, another Cardiff bar. “Around this time I also met Siouxie Evans – we all hit it off well and the four us (Sue, Siouxie, Gazza and myself) spent a fair few drunken evenings chit-chatting around bars during promo events.”
“Sue asked Siouxie and myself if we would run the second Gravity Station, over in Swansea where there is no craft beer scene just a few big brands knocking around in various bars and supermarkets, and quite a lot of traditional style real ale, the stuff CAMRA likes, but none of this craft kegged beer!” So, J went for it, and here he is. The Second Gravity Station opened in the middle of August this year, and just over 3 months later they’re still fighting the good fight with 20 beer lines – 8 of which are traditional (sort of) – and 12 for kegs. This “craft beer movement” that’s happening across the UK, it’s growing so fast, with new breweries opening every week. “I think the reason for this has a lot to do with the craft keg beer, it’s cooler in temperature and slightly carbonated just like a bottle conditioned beer from the fridge, only they’re mostly unfined so still have traces of yeast. This means it isn’t always clear, for these reasons the beer is vegan friendly, and some say more appealing to lager drinkers”.
The Gravity Station and Waen on Social Media
For the latest news on availability and his plans keep an eye on the Gravity Station and Waen on social media sites:
Follow the Gravity Station on Twitter twitter.com/GravStnSwanseaLike the Gravity Station on Facebook at facebook.com/GravityStationSwansea
Visit the Gravity Station at thegravitystation.com
and Waen at thewaenbrewery.co.uk