Clint O'Connor pays tribute to Roger Ryman

Sunday 31 May 2020

Cornwall CAMRA is very sad to have heard that Roger Ryman, Brewing Director, St Austell Brewery, passed away last week, at the age of 52, after a brave battle with cancer.

When Roger was appointed Head Brewer in 1999, St Austell Brewery was a moribund local brewery, producing mediocre beers, and reliant on its near monopoly of pubs in Cornwall.

However, newly appointed Chairman and CEO James Staughton knew that the brewery had to expand and diversify if wasn’t to gradually fade into obscurity.

Step 1, appoint a new Head Brewer. At the interview, the young Roger, from Maclay and Co in Alloa, Scotland impressed James with his enthusiasm and integrity, being honest enough to say he didn’t think much of Tinners, St Austell’s flagship beer!

To quote James Staughton, “The job of Head Brewer was already effectively his, right there and then - we need not have seen anyone else. He was the breath of fresh air our brewery so desperately needed at the time.”

Roger’s first new brew was “DAYLIGHT ROBBERY” brewed to celebrate the total eclipse of the Sun, visible from Cornwall that year (1999). Originally intended as a seasonal brew, it was immediately so successful, that it continued to be brewed, until eventually it was renamed “TRIBUTE”, and became St Austell’s flagship ale.

There then followed a string of successful ales, including PROPER JOB, TRELAWNEY, KOREV CORNISH LAGER, MENA DHU, ADMIRALS ALE (very, very sadly no longer brewed) and CORNISH BEST, creating an entirely new portfolio for St Austell brewery. These beers took the brewery from strength to strength, and St Austell became a major national brewery.

Roger travelled the country and the world to work with and learn from other brewers, bringing back hops, malts and recipes from all over.

At the brewery he created a unique team of young brewers dedicated to brewing ales of the highest quality.

In many ways the quality he created was his most important, but mainly unsung achievement, no longer “St Awful”, a bad pint of St Austell in a pub is now very rare event indeed.

Roger persuaded the brewery to invest in new plant to improve quality and capacity, and also to build a new Small Batch Plant, with a capacity of 10 brewer’s barrels. This gave his team of brewers the opportunity to experiment, and to create new beers. From the Small Batch Plant came the “Small Batch Club”, thirty outlets, both free and tied trade who would each take and sell a firkin (9 gallons) of the beers produced. This enabled the drinking public to share the tastes and delights of new and very different ales from the brewery on a regular basis.

Roger was a very good friend to CAMRA, supporting our festivals and events, with ales and through his colleagues, with financial help. He was always ready to help, advise and support other small brewers in Cornwall.

No tribute to Roger would be complete without mentioning the “Celtic Beer Festival”, held at the brewery in November each year. The first was held in 1999, after Roger had been at the brewery for just six months, providing a showcase not just for St Austell beers, but for beers from all Celtic regions, including, of course, many local beers. Last year’s festival was the 21st, but of course, with Corona Virus, we do not know if it will be held this year. This festival has achieved an outstanding reputation throughout the nation as one of the best beer festivals in the country, (to me it is the best, but then, I am biased.)

Finally on behalf of Cornwall CAMRA can I pass on to Toni, his wife, his family, and to all his friends and colleagues in the brewing industry our most sincere condolences.