Independence Day has come for Welsh Craft Beer
Out amidst our lush green hills and fed by the finest of Welsh spring water a brewing revolution has been quietly taking place for years. Now, finally people are starting to notice. Luke Waterson takes us on a tour around some of the bright stars in the welsh ale brewing scene. Th e watershed came in 2015. CAMRA, the Campaign for Real Ale awarded overall gold to a Welsh brewery at the Great British Beer Festival. Since then Welsh brewers continue to push boundaries in their quest for new, exciting fl avours using everything from seaweed to oysters. In a move not seen since the 1870’s some are even brewing with Welsh-grown hops. Better still you can go see many of them in operation. Scenic brewery settings, such as Tenby Brewing Co’s beach bar and Bluestone Brewing Co’s lovely mountainside farmhouse give the visitor experience a uniquely Welsh character. Today, there are funky indie brewers making amazing beers all over the country. Here are a few that we think really stand out.
Monty’s Brewery, Powys
Comfy armchairs, flagstone floors and beams are not the welcome you might anticipate in a brewery, but head brewer Pam and her husband Russ have bucked trends at Monty’s, since day one. Their convivial visitor centre in historic Montgomery, sheltering beneath the town’s 11th-century ruined castle, might seem a genteel townhouse, but it includes a brewery shop and a development brewery where the latest hops and experimental beers are trialled. Th e visitor centre offers a unique opportunity to buy the experimental brews, and you can expand your palate further with the regular beer-and-chocolate, or beer-and-cheese pairings. Wacky one-off s aside, their multi-award- winning, golden and citrussy Sunshine heads the best of the rest. We also dig the Best Off a, a golden bitter brewed especially as the Off a’s Dyke Path’s official beer.
Buy the beer: Monty’s Brewery Visitor Centre, The Cottage, Montgomery, Powys SY151QT; www.montysbrewery.co.uk Price: £2.20-£3.50 per bottle
Boss Brewing, Swansea
Way before the first sip, this 2015 addition to the South Wales brew scene founded by Sarah John and Roy Allkin impresses. Th e slick website looks like a sequence from a graphic novel for goodness sake! In 2018 the outfit remodelled and moved into a century- old cinema for their new premises. Inside, not only are you treated to the whole grain-to-glass process, but the £20 tour fee covers as much beer as you want to quaff . So, don’t drive there, OK? Th ere is an on-site taproom open Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, plus another, Copper, in central Swansea which also specializes in coffee. Of all their brews, it is perhaps the stouts that stand out. Th e silky Boss Black was Champion Beer of Wales in the stout category in 2016 and 2017. Look out for the comic book-style pump clips.
Buy the beer: Boss Brewing, 176 Neath Road, Landore, Swansea, SA1 2JT; www.bossbrewing.co.uk Price: From £2.75 a bottle
Bluestone Brewing Co, Pembrokeshire
Sequestered away up in the Preseli Mountains along a labyrinth of lanes, Bluestone is not the easiest place to find. But the adventure is utterly ‘wort-while’. (The pun preps you for the wild beer names, which combine brewing terms with the region’s rocky topography, e.g. OutCROP, RockHOPper). You eventually rock up at a 300 year-old farm centred on a courtyard which hosts regular live music events. Here is the casual bar-cum-brewery shop. Set up by a father-and-daughter team, Simon and Amy, Bluestone’s beers use spring water that tumbles down from the mountains through a natural reed bed filtration system and arrives on the doorstep so pure that it is ready to be used for brewing without further ado. Their talismanic beer is Preseli Pils, a pilsner commemorating a battle supposedly fought nearby by King Arthur.
Buy the beer: Bluestone Brewing, Tyriet, Cilgwyn, Pembrokeshire, SA42 0QW; www.bluestonebrewing.co.uk Price: £2.95
Tenby Brewing Co, Pembrokeshire
Tenby is the traditional Pembrokeshire holiday destination. And beer and the seaside combine just wonderfully according to Tenby Brewing Co founders James and Rob – whether it is slaking your thirst in the sun on the sand or huddling over a brew on a stormy winter day. So knock back their perennially popular tropical ale Son of a Beach during the former, or nurse a Black Flag Porter, replete with hints of chocolate, coffee and vanilla-infused rum, during the latter. Tenby Brewing Co relish innovation, too: they have fashioned brews with everything from Welsh-grown chilli to Pembrokeshire-foraged seaweed. They’ve even collaborated with a nearby farm to make a beer with hops cultivated in Wales (not easy, by the way, hops hate damp, wet and wind) for the first time since the 1870’s. A block back from the sandy beachfront, they have opened craft beer and street-food joint Sandbar, sporting seven craft keg lines, a range of UK indie beers and some Welsh artisan ciders to boot.
Buy the beer: Sandbar, 4-5 Upper Frog St, Tenby SA70 7JD; tenbybrewingco.com Price: £2.40/£3.40 bottle/can
Grey Trees Brewery, Mid-Glamorgan
The Welsh Valleys were once one of Britain’s most important areas for breweries but ale’s golden age came and went with the mining industry. If ever there was a brewery to boost beer’s profile hereabouts however, Grey Trees would be it. It is one well-decorated brewery, with the shining star their Afghan Pale Ale, an American pale ale styled beer with some real character and depth. Gold in the Champion Beer of Britain’s strong ale category and overall gold in the Champion Beer of Wales in 2017 testifies to its success. Staff are enthusiastic about showing visitors how they make what is jestingly referred to as their liquid gold (as opposed to the black gold, aka coal, mined in the nearby hills for centuries). Behind-the-scenes tours include malt and hop samplings and the chance to pour your own pint (or more) from a selection of Grey Trees brews.
Buy the beer: Grey Trees Brewery, Units 5 & 6, Gasworks Road, Aberdare, Rhondda Cynon Taf, CF44 6RS; greytreesbrewery.co.uk Price: From £2.20
Purple Moose Brewery, Gwynedd
In the rapidly-evolving craft beer world, Purple Moose, based in the fetching seaside town of Porthmadog on the Llŷn Peninsula, is a grandfather of the movement, tracing origins back to 2005. They have won more awards than most other Welsh breweries, with eight of their range decorated multiple times. Th e unusual Elderflower Ale won Champion Specialty Beer of Wales two years running, while Dark Side of the Moose has come second in Champion Winter Beer of Britain. Th e brewery taproom is in Th e Australia pub on Porthmadog’s High Street and, in an unprecedented partnership with three other North Wales breweries, Purple Moose operates Conwy’s famous craft beer bar, the beautifully preserved 1920’s Albion Ale House.
Buy the beer: Albion Ale House, Uppergate Street, Conwy LL32 8RF; purplemoose.co.uk Price: £2.59 per bottle
Crafty Devil Brewing Co, Cardiff
There is no visitor centre at this up-and-coming Cardiff brewery, established by best mates Adam Edinborough and Rhys Watkins in 2014, and started initially in a garden shed. But beer aficionados’ heavy-heartedness at this news will be assuaged by the knowledge that the out-of-the-ordinary beers are available at two very cool Cardiff bars: Craft y Devil’s Cellar Bar and crowd- funded Beelzebub’s, with a cosy American-style vibe and Brobdingnagian portions of American comfort food like Philly cheese steak fries. Opt for Safe as Milk, a coffee flavoured stout, or the Triple AAA, a sweet- but-hoppy American amber ale.
Buy the beer: Craft y Devil’s Cellar, 16 Llandaff Rd, Cardiff CF11 9NJ; www.craft ydevilbrewing.co.uk Price: £3.90 per can
Untapped Brewing Company, Monmouthshire
Alongside one of South Wales’ mightiest fortresses in, Raglan Castle, Untapped has been going strong since 2009. These guys spend the majority of their time making beer and so concentrate less on the visitor experience, although they do have a brewery shop and will arrange tours and tastings, where you can slurp from your very own cask. Th eir Ember, a silver award-winner in the Champion Winter Beer of Britain and a slightly sweet and spicy brown ale, is our recommended refreshment. Unusually for any brewery, Untapped off er two organic beers in their range too: Monnow, a best bitter, and U.P.A, an IPA.
Buy the beer: Untapped Brewing Company, Raglan, Monmouthshire, NP15 2BX; www.untappedbrew.com Price: £3 per bottle
The Glamorgan Brewing Co,
In the 1990s, when virtually no indie breweries in Wales were around whatsoever, the Glamorgan Brewing Co were. Now with 25 years’ experience and located in Llantrisant, home to the Royal Mint, the brewery is still stamping its authority on the craft beer business with some wonderfully idiosyncratic off erings. Bravest is their boozy version of the Welsh cake, the griddled dried fruit-stuff ed rounds that rank as one of our country’s foremost traditional sweet treats. The Welsh Cake Stout has oats and raisins mixed in to yield a unique heavy, biscuit result. Their Welsh Lager, meanwhile, was made to show would-be drinkers that lager can be lovingly made and produced with quality ingredients. A newly-built bar above the brewery serves a great range of their beers.
Buy the beer: Glamorgan Brewing Co, Llantrisant Business Park, Llantrisant, Mid-Glamorgan CF72 8LF; www.glamorganbrewing.co.uk Price: £10 for 6-bottle selection pack
Tracing its lineage back to 2002, Brecon Brewing is run by a stalwart of the Welsh beer scene Buster Grant who is one of the daddies of modern Welsh brewers. He’s served on the board of industry body SIBA and the Food and Drink Wales Board and he’s an old brew dog, having garnered a masters in brewing, not afraid to learn a few new tricks. So whilst the range includes traditional, award-winning ales such the golden Welsh Pale Ale, Golden Beacons and the light and refreshing Welsh Dark it also extends to modern, full-fl avoured beers in its Artisan and Heritage ranges. Go for the deliciously complex Red Beacons which sits very nicely between a traditional Welsh Red Ale and the hoppy, zesty hit of an American IPA.
Buy the beer: Squire Drive, Brynmenyn Industrial Estate, Bridgend, CF32 9TX www.breconbrewing.co.uk Price: £2.99
Tomos Watkin, Swansea
Originally brewed in Llandeilo, Tomos Watkin has been part of Swansea based Hurns Brewing Company since 2002 and has grown into West Wales’ most popular range of beers, belying its family-owned status. Historically Tomos Watkin’s repertoire has consisted of more traditional albeit well-craft ed ales which include OSB, a classic rich red bitter and Cwrw Haf, a fine zesty summer ale. More recently they’ve pushed the envelope with more idiosyncratic brews, a doff ed cap to the craft beer movement no doubt, such as the citrusy Blodwen’s Beer and Delilah, a light, golden ale that uses American hops. What to go for? Though tempted by Pecker Wrecker, if only for its cracking name, the sensible choice is Delilah, a lovely blend of classic and modern.
Buy the beer: 3c Alberto Rd, Valley Way, Swansea Enterprise Park, Llansamlet, Swansea SA6 8RP www.tomoswatkin.com Price: from £1.79