An eye on the ball

Shay Waterworth meets purity brewing’s Florent Vialan to talk rugby, cycling – and a bit of brewing for sport.

BEER AND RUGBY have been in a long-term relationship spanning more than 170 years. Since the game developed its first set of rules in 1845, rugby club bars around the world have filled up with players and supporters after a match to drink beer, mostly responsibly, and sing songs in unison. However, this relationship is evolving.

Rugby players have a reputation for being big, burley men with cauliflower ears and black eyes but nowadays, elite players such as Dan Carter of New Zealand, spend more time appearing at fashion shows in Paris than they do on a rugby pitch, and the beer industry has seen a similar movement. Traditional beers, or ‘real ales’ ,are being out-muscled by more fashionable craft IPAs and pale ales carrying funky names and exciting, sometimes excruciating, labels.

The Six Nations, one of the biggest annual international sporting events on the planet, is currently underway and this month France will host reigning champions England in Paris. But from the intensity of an 80,000-seater stadium in France to Purity Brewing in the English midlands, the fierce competition will be just as great.

Florent Vialan, director of brewing at Purity, has played rugby since he was 10-years-old and now the Frenchman will be watching the match from behind enemy lines.

“Rugby has always been a big part of my life and it still is today,” says Vialan. “I’ve played for a few clubs over the years in different countries and now I’m still coaching.”


Vialan is binding the relationship between rugby and beer. Standing just below 2m tall, the brewer joined Stratford-upon-Avon rugby club when he started working at Purity Brewing in 2006, playing second row for

nearly a decade. Affectionately known as ‘Flo’ by his teammates and colleagues, Vialan now coaches the under-12 side every weekend and, naturally, the beer in Stratford’s clubhouse is provided by Purity.

“I enjoy coaching the kids at the weekend because it’s a nice way to stay involved with the club without the added commitment of playing, although I still run out for our veterans side occasionally.”

Vialan clearly has a decisive character. His leadership in the brewery and on a rugby pitch are interchangeable. For example, he objectively coaches his son in the under-12s and, despite being married to a Cornish woman, he is yet to add cider to Purity’s core range.

Every year Vialan invites the junior section of the rugby club to the brewery for a tour of the site – probably the only brewery tour in the world without any alcohol consumption – and Purity’s rugby and beer crossover doesn’t end with the Frenchman. The brewery is official sponsor for Wasps, one of the world’s richest and most established rugby clubs, based 20km from the brewing facilities in Warwickshire.


Vialan was born in Lyon, France and during his biotechnology studies he took a three-month placement in Finland. From there he has worked for Archers and Larkin Breweries in southern England before winding up in the midlands where he has driven the development of Purity Brewing.