By Matthew Curtis
It’s slowly beginning to dawn on me just how neglectful I have been of the Welsh beer scene over the past few years.
When Pop ‘n’ Hops’ owner Trev McCabe asked me to profile Welsh breweries for his website, I thought it would be a fun endeavor, one that let me make a few discoveries while drinking my way through a selection of tried and tested favourites. I was wrong. When Trev offered to send me a few beers from the brewery I’m writing about today, Bridgend-based Dog’s Window, my immediate response was:who?
But, in my defence, I think this is a good thing. There are over 2000 breweries in the UK after all, with around 120 of these operating in Wales. While it is always important to have a fridge filled with trusty favourites, being able to discover something new keeps beer fresh and exciting. Life without curiosity is dull. And it was a thirst-inducing mixture of excitement and curiosity I felt when cracking open my first can from Dog’s Window.
The brewery was officially established in April 2018 by owner and brewer Lee Ralph in what has become a familiar tale: that of a homebrewer turning pro. In Lee’s case, after experimenting at home, his hobby—as these things often do—got out of hand, and his friends soon convinced him to begin producing beer commercially.
“[Brewing] quickly became an obsession where I was brewing multiple batches, just so I could try new recipes and techniques,” Lee tells me. “I got to the point where I wanted to brew more than I could possibly drink. I gave away a fair bit before a friend said that if I went commercial, he would stock my beer.”
Although when we chatted he didn’t name any specific examples, when I asked about what inspires him as a brewer Lee says he’s more interested in breweries that are genuinely adding something new and different to the scene, rather than “regurgitating the same recipe but changing the hops,” as he puts it. Some of Lee’s own influences are a little off kilter (for example, he tells me how after watching a cookery show he attempted to brew a tomato Saison, which honestly I would love to try). At present what interests him most is taking classic styles and “bringing them up to date.” Most recently he’s been playing around with Barleywine.
Charmingly, the brewery is named after Lee’s pet Jack Russell, Bo, who was adopted via the Dogs Trust. As the name implies, there’s nowhere Bo would rather be than sat in his favourite window, watching life shuffle by. You can spot a silhouette of Bo’s likeness at the top of every can and bottle of Dog’s Window beer.
The story of how the brewery got its name wasn’t the only thing I found myself charmed by. The beer itself was incredibly well made, each one showcasing Lee’s unique take on a variety of interesting styles, and a long way in terms of quality from what the average person might consider to be “homebrew.”
I worked my way through four different beers in the ever-changing Dog’s Window lineup, starting with a Pale Ale called My Favourite Tree (the name perhaps another nod to our old friend Bo). This was the perfect introduction to the Dog’s Window range, combining delicate hints of blackberry and citrus hop flavour with soft, bready malts and a healthy crack of bitterness. At 4.7% ABV, this is a beer that just slips down, and for me it’s the kind of thing I think would work really well on cask; it’s quality enhanced further by the surroundings of a good pub. Perhaps that’s something I can look forward to on my next visit to South Wales.
Next up is Santa Paws, a Black Forest gateaux-inspired stout, which as the name suggests is released seasonally, every winter. Where My Favourite Tree sits on the more subtle “I’ll have several pints of this” side of things, Santa Paws ups the flavour ante significantly. Roasted coffee, toasted almond and bitter chocolate are complimented by a sweet hit of black cherry. But this fruity note, which Lee uses cherry extract to achieve, never becomes cloying, the beer’s roasty character pulling it back into dryer territory, more sippable territory. Fans of Titanic Plum Porter will absolutely love this.
I finish my tasting session with a pair of more intensely hopped beers. Vets Bills V2 (I’m sensing a theme here) is a modern IPA in the hazy and juicy sense, with plenty of apricot, peach, and even a little coconut coming through from the hops. This beer was also fermented with a Kveik strain of yeast, which gives it an interesting strawberry-like note in the finish. Last up is the biggest beer of them all, an 8.3% beast called Beware of the Dog, which Lee describes as a “Welsh Coast” Double IPA. In terms of style it sits somewhere between a New England and West Coast IPA, with plenty of juicy stone fruit and pineapple followed by earthy, resinous hops that lead to a riotously bitter finish. It’s one of those beer’s that’s remarkably easy to put away, despite its formidable strength.
What’s immediately evident from this micro tasting session is that Lee really does know his way around a brew kit. This was a range of super tasty beers—and yes, I do still want to try that Tomato Saison.
But there’s something else I’ve gotten out of enjoying these beers, and those from Wilderness a few weeks ago. It feels as though I’ve barely scratched at the surface of what’s happening in Welsh beer at the moment but I’m already finding a healthy amount of excitement and innovation, and most importantly plenty of great beer. I’m enthusiastic to see what I discover next.
“For a very long time, Wales has been seen as a nation that brews very traditional beer,” Lee adds. “It is exciting to see this start to change.”
Matthew Curtis is a writer, photographer, podcaster, and the co-founder of Pellicle Magazine. His latest book, Modern British Beer from CAMRA Books, is available now.