It’s not just green hills and mystic legends in Wales. From traditional bitter to canned craft ale and marshmallow porter, the country has plenty to offer in terms of beer.
Author: Malin Norman
Wales is known for its rugged coastline, green hills and national park Snowdonia, and Celtic culture. Author Roald Dahl, who wrote Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, is from here. So is singer Tom Jones, who brought hits such as Delilah and It’s Not Unusual, as well as actors Catherine Zeta-Jones and Anthony Hopkins, to name a few.
But what about beer, what does Wales have to offer? Well, quite a bit. According to the Welsh Beer and Pub Association, there are now some 120 breweries and over 3,000 pubs in Wales. The industry supports around 42,000 jobs and contributes greatly to the economy. Let’s take a look at some of these Welsh breweries.
From Brains to Tiny Rebel
Wales’ leading brewer and pub retailer Brains was founded in 1882, when the Brain family bought the Old Brewery in Cardiff. Although Brains Bitter (3.7% ABV) has been brewed ever since, the range also includes more modern brews such as Barry Island IPA (5.0%), alongside old favourites. In 2019, Brains opened its new state-of-the-art brew site, The Dragon Brewery, and in celebration brewed Red Dragon (5.0% ABV), a red ale which has made a return by popular demand.
Another historic player also still going strong is Felinfoel Brewery, which has produced beers since 1878 with Welsh water and British hops. The brewery claims to be the oldest canner of craft beer in the world, canning beer since 1935, and the first brewery bringing a craft ale in a can. The Welsh ale Dragon’s Heart (4.5% ABV) is a new addition to the brewery’s canned craft range.
You may have heard of Tiny Rebel, the hip award-winning brewery from Newport? Set up in 2012, Tiny Rebel became the youngest and only Welsh brewery to win Champion Beer of Britain at the Great British Beer Festival in 2015 with Cwtch (4.6% ABV), a red ale that put the brewery on the craft beer map. A favourite is Stay Puft (5.2% ABV), apparently the world’s most Instagram’d marshmallow porter. An exciting new collaboration is with non-profit organisation So Lets Talk to launch two no and low alcohol beers in support of the hospitality industry; 86 The Silence (2.5% ABV), a pomegranate raddler, and Speakeasy (0.5%), a hazy pale ale – try them if you get the chance.
A chat with Brecon Brewing
To hear more about beer in Wales, I got in touch with Buster Grant, head brewer at Brecon Brewing, award-winning brewery started in 2011 that brew with “fabled waters” from Brecon Beacons National Park.
How would you describe the beer scene in Wales?
Wales has a small but vibrant brewing community, which has changed dramatically over the last 20 years. I moved to Brecon in 2002 to start brewing there and Wales had 12 other breweries at that time, but this number has grown to well over 100. There is a great mix of old, well established, such as Brains and Felinfoel, as well as modern, successful breweries, such as Purple Moose and Tiny Rebel, and a host of small craft breweries. The nature of bars has also changed significantly, with Cardiff and Swansea developing strong craft beer scenes, and smaller towns also becoming beacons of good beer.
What is happening there at the moment?
The lockdowns have caused a lot of rethinking in most breweries, and small pack (bottles and cans) has become more important. For example, across 2020, we introduced over 20 new beers and ciders in bottle and can across our range, which has helped increase our retail presence.
In 2020 we were proud to announce our partnership with the Welsh Rugby Union and launched two new exclusive beers for WRU. This has led to a new partnership with the Football Association of Wales, and a new Lager and Cider being launched in cans, with draught options rolling out this autumn.
And we have just finished our biggest yet involvement in the iconic Green Man festival. We have been brewing beers for this event for a number of years and this year brewed over 75,000 pints for the festival! This included The Last Mango in Powys, a west-coast style Session IPA brewed with lashings of mango. This went down a storm!
Other breweries for the curious
Some other interesting Welsh breweries (and beers!) to check out:
Pipes Beer: based in Cardiff, this small artisan brewery crafts a wide range of unusual and some more well-known styles. Two of the most popular are Bohemian Pilsner (4.2% ABV), a refreshing session lager, and California Pale (5.0% ABV), a take on West Coast pale ales with whiffs of passion-fruit, pineapple and gooseberries.
Purple Moose Brewery: founded in 2005, this microbrewery is based in the historic harbour town of Porthmadog. Its range of award-winning beers include for instance the delicious dark ale Dark Side of the Moose (4.6% ABV) and the thirst-quencher Snowdonia Ale (3.6% ABV), both brewed from Welsh mountain water and natural ingredients.
Grey Trees Brewery: independent brewery born in 2011, which cleverly adapts traditional with a modern twist. Afghan Pale Ale (5.4% ABV) has repeatedly been named Champion Strong Bitter of Britain, and Digger’s Gold (4.0% ABV) is the chosen Champion Golden Beer of Wales for several years. Black Road Stout (4.0% ABV) with coffee and caramel sounds great too, as autumn is approaching.
Polly’s Brew Co: established in 2018, this newbie creates hop-forward and refreshing modern styles. The triple fruited gose Flora, Fauna, Air & Water (6.0% ABV) with sloe berries, sour cherries and blackberries is tempting indeed. And so is The Butterfly Effect (4.6% ABV), a Sabro-hopped Berliner Weisse soured with lime.
A special thanks to Paul Davies at AleHunters, for useful info and connections in Wales.
Photos: Brains Brewery, Felinfoel Brewery, Tiny Rebel, Pipes Beer, Polly’s Brew Co