Conor Davies-Taylor’s father, Chris, bought established Ascot Brewing Company almost three years ago. Conor has taken a role in not only developing that business, but also helping with the craft element, in the form of Disruption is Brewing. I caught up with him to talk about how the plans for the brewery are shaping up amid the global pandemic.
Chris and Conor with the new brew of Like Father Like Son
Beer Today: You’ve moved from a career in advertising and marketing to be part of a brewery. Have you always enjoyed beer?
Conor Davies-Taylor: I moved to Canada four years ago. When I first lived there I remember going to a pub called The Football Factory and I ordered a pint of Stella. The guy said to me: ‘You’re not going to drink Stella. We’ve got this if you’re new to the area.’ And I said: ‘What’s this?’ ‘It’s a pale ale.’ I went: ‘Ah. Pale ale? I don’t know about that. I’m kind of lagers. Stella, Heineken, Fosters, all of that stuff.’ And I tasted it, and it was just a huge epiphany of: ‘Ah, this actually tastes pretty good!’.
And the more I explored Toronto, the different craft breweries they had there, and all the different flavours, what was in the LCBO [Liquid Control Board of Ontario] and the beer store, I never looked back. It’s all been about craft. It’s like being a kid and going in a candy shop. You’re looking at all the different colours of the cans and bottles, and the names, and the packaging, and the tastes and the flavour profiles. It’s like a whole new world had just opened up for me. I’ve never looked back.
BT: How does the Canada experience influence what you do now?
CDT: Canada has definitely taken inspiration from what is happening in the US. Certainly, a few brewers I spoke to in Canada said they just nip across the border for some market research, they see what they’re doing, and take it back to their own
breweries. I feel like the UK, although we have strong foundations with our history of brewing in England, we’re learning a lot from what’s happening across the pond.
BT: Canadian and American breweries make good use of taprooms. Can you replicate that at Ascot?
CDT: You know that’s the formula, right? If you have a brewery, you open the taproom on the side. It’s the freshest beer you can drink. Also, it’s where you make the best margins. It’s where you can build that relationship with your customers. That is key when you have the brewery, along with the potent brewing aromoas, and the brewers working alongside you, and you can see all the magic happening. It adds to that experience.
I’ve definitely learnt from a lot of the breweries [in the US and Canada]. I was very fortunate to be in the heart of downtown Toronto. My favourites have to Bellwoods, Blood Brothers, and God Speed. Every one of them has their unique characteristics, but most importantly their beer is some of the best I’ve ever tasted. Everything from the way the flavours come together, to the names of the beers, to the set-up of the taproom. So much stuff for inspiration.
Chaos More Chaos, a 5% ABV New England pale ale
BT: You managed to hold a socially-distanced beer festival this year. How did that go?
CDT: It was awesome. The amount of people who came up afterwards saying ‘Thank you so much, we really needed this, we didn’t think it was possible given the circumstances. Not only did we have a great time, but you exceeded our expectations
because we didn’t think it would be as good as it was after everything going on with the rules, regulations, and the social distancing.’ Obviously, it wasn’t going to be like any other beer festival they’d been to before. But it felt really good, and then we thought we should do more events.
We ended up doing an Oktoberfest and then did a Frightfest, for Halloween. For us, the taproom is the epicentre of everything that goes on here, with our customers tasting beers straight from the source and being able to interact with the
team. It enables us to build a much stronger relationship with the customers. We recently won the small business of the year award in our local area so we know we’re having a really positive effect on our community.
BT: Disruption is Brewing. Is this your influence?
CDT: It was Chris who came up with the name, but in terms of targeting a more craft-minded audience, that’s where I come in. Ascot Brewing has a key focus on brewing top-quality traditional ales, golden ales, bitters, and stouts. But we knew where
the market was going when we bought the brewery a couple of years ago. You had to become craft. And we didn’t want to ‘disrupt’ the Ascot side audience.
Our award-winning head brewer, John Willatts, has so many amazing ideas and unique flavour combinations that we didn’t want to stray too far from the heart of Ascot Brewing. Disruption allows us to be a little bit more on the cusp of culture and be a little bit more experimental. We have loads of ideas for 2021. That ‘two brands, one brewery’ thing — it’s tough, but we’re able to attract a much wider audience.
BT: What’s the balance between Ascot and Disruption production? Fifty-fifty?
CDT: Yes. We don’t want to upset our main core. Ascot is how we’ve won our awards, that’s how people know us. It’s making sure we strike the balance between brewing for both brands.
Like Father Like Son imperial stout
BT: You’re heavily promoting Chaos More Chaos at the moment. Tell us about that beer.
CDT: Chaos More Chaos is a 5% New England pale ale. It used to be a session pale ale, but we knew we could do more with it. It needed to be stronger, it had to be hoppier, it’s got to be juicy. It’s a 5% right now and there’s discussions about taking it up even further. We love the design, we love the branding, we love the name. Also, for full disclosure, the name Chaos was born way before all this covid stuff happened — it was first launched in mid 2019.
Given what’s happened with covid on top of the new flavour profile, we’ve had a huge response from it, people are loving it. I think the name really helps, but the bottom line is it just tastes really, really good. It’s currently sitting at 4.20 on Untappd so it’s definitely one of our best performing beers.
BT: Limited edition Like Father Like Son imperial stout went on sale last week. That sounds like a big beer for you!
CDT: There’s a lot of excitement around Like Father Like Son. It’s a big 10.8% imperial stout we brewed with Electric Bear. Last year we did a collaboration with them at their place in Bath called A Ripple in Time, which was a raspberry ripple milk shake beer. Then John had an idea about doing an imperial stout for winter, so they headed over to Camberley. Once it was ready, we bottled 100 limited edition 750ml bottles. All were hand signed and wax sealed, and they just flew off the shelves. I think we sold out in just under 2 hours. We also had over 1,000 entrants on Instagram for a competition we launched. We’ve never had such a fantastic reaction to an introductory beer.
There’s actually a great story behind it — what we’ve done is we’ve taken the malt bill from the imperial stout and used it to create a baby impy stout out of it as well. You’ve got Like Father Like Son, both from the same place, two beers from one brew, two brands from one brewery. Also, to mix it up a bit for Christmas, we’re going to be adding great flavourings to canned versions. For Disruption we’ve got tiramisu, gingerbread, salted caramel and marshmallow, and then for the Ascot we’ve got Peruvian chocolate, Madagascan vanilla, and Indonesian coffee.
BT: That name — Like Father Like Son — riffs on your own relationship with your father, presumably.
CDT: Yes it is. We have a great working relationship and although we may not always see eye to eye, at the end of the day, we know it’s all about brewing the best beer possible and giving our customers the greatest experience possible. That’s our shared vision. If we start with those foundations, then eventually we’ll end up at the same point. Family is hugely important at our brewery. We’ve got friends who work there, girlfriends and boyfriends, fathers and daughters — there’s a big family core to the business, but also for our customers. We want the brewery to feel like a second home to everyone who comes here.
• Like Father Like Son Christmas gift boxes go on sale today, Thursday, 17th December. The brewery is also offering a 15% code and free delivery when you spend over £50. Use SHOPLOCAL-15 at the checkout. Find out more at ascotbrewing.co.uk