WITH the nation enjoying the reopening of pubs, restaurants and hospitality venues, Wales’ drinks producers are serving up new levels of quality thanks to a lockdown spent in training. 

Over 90 independent Welsh drinks producers spent ‘downtime’ imposed by repeated lockdowns to undertake sector specific training designed to bolster the skills and innovation within the industry.

Supported by the Welsh Drinks Cluster, which represents the sector in Wales, producers from the beer, cider, wine and spirit industries have spent the last year working to upskill their teams, develop new products and implement ideas in preparation for their sectors return.   

As continued lockdowns halted hospitality, the training was designed to futureproof and expand the skillset within the industry, to enable Welsh producers to overhaul their sales tactics, find new routes to customers, and drive new levels of quality.  

Courses delivered by Food Skills Cymru, Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET), and Brewlab, aimed to enhance the knowledge within the sector in Wales by delving into the many technical aspects of drinks production.

From Wales’ thriving beer sector, 60 breweries completed training with Brewlab, the leading provider of brewing courses, training and analysis. The training explored the potential growth areas within the beer industry, such as low or no alcohol, gluten free and sour beers, opening up new markets to Welsh brewers.

Acknowledged for having similar growing conditions to leading wine producer New Zealand, Wales’ wine industry also honed its skills during the lockdown period. A cohort of 13 vineyards have expanded their knowledge around how to taste wines, using the WSET Level 3 Systematic Approach to Tasting Wine® (SAT). 

Finally, some 18 spirit distilleries have taken part in Level 3 courses studying 11 core spirits, principal production methods, key styles and labelling terms, with a view to developing and maintaining the standard of production in Wales.

Working in collaboration with the Food Innovation Centres across Wales, the Welsh Drinks Cluster also developed a Safe and Local Supplier Approval (SALSA) Training Programme, a type of accreditation which will open up new markets for producers to supply to. Thirteen independent producers are due to participate in the programme, which will more than double the number of accredited Welsh producers if successful.

Andy Richardson, chair of the Food & Drink Wales Industry Board, said: “Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, many of our smaller independent drinks producers have struggled to enter new markets because they do not have the right level of technical accreditation that the retailers and wholesalers require. This programme developed by the Welsh Drinks Cluster will help the producers get up to the right standards and prepare them for the SALSA audit and ultimately accreditation.”

The Welsh Drinks Cluster has also supported the industry throughout the pandemic with a number of initiatives designed to boost sales, including the showcase for the wine industry, Welsh Wine Week, and the current Drink Welsh campaign. 

Lesley Griffiths MS, Minister for Rural Affairs and North Wales, and Trefnydd, said: “Despite the challenges the sector has faced since the start of the pandemic, Welsh drinks producers have used this time constructively to develop their skills and in turn produce better quality drinks. Thanks to the support of the Welsh Drinks Cluster, the industry is continually striving to improve and build upon the excellent reputation it has already created. As a result, the Cluster has fostered an industry that is supportive, willing to develop and producing premium quality products that are putting Wales on the map within the global drinks industry.”