Wales has enjoyed a major brewing renaissance in recent years. Dozens of new Welsh breweries have sprung up producing a huge variety of ales and ciders, many using local ingredients and flavours.
Here's a quick guide to finding the perfect Welsh beer.
A brewing heritage
These new operations have enriched Wales’ great independent brewing heritage. Many of these old names are still around. Brains was founded in 1713 and is still owned by the family of Samuel Arthur Brain, who bought it in 1882.
This is the most prevalent brewery in Wales, with over 250 pubs across the country.
It also owns the Buckley’s name, which with brewing origins dating back to the 18th century. Simon Buckley is a name synonymous with beer in Wales, being a 7th generation descendent of that Welsh brewing dynasty. He established the Tomos Watkin Brewery of Swansea, which continues to produce ales of note and popularity. More recently, Buckley has used his wealth of experience to create the Evans Evans Brewery, much loved by ale aficionados, nationwide.
South and West Wales breweries
Another enduring favourite is The Felinfoel Brewery in Carmarthenshire, which has a colourful history dating back to the 19th century. Around this time it was said to be safer in the South Wales Valleys to drink beer than water. The 504 pubs operating in Merthyr Tydfil testified that this theory was given plenty of credence.
The Rhymney Brewery, located in the World Heritage Site of Blaenavon, has brought back a famous brewing name from the industrial revolution and it’s well worth popping into the visitors centre to sample the beer.
Among the innumerable new kids on the block, the Otley Brewing Company in the South Wales Valleys is one of the most distinctive. Otley produces a broad range of ales and has brewing awards a-plenty to show for it.
Tiny Rebel in Newport and Cardiff is an offbeat, brick-walled bar with themed rooms serving craft beers, ciders and creative burgers.
Not only does the Gower Brewery produce a range of bottled, cask and mini-keg beers it is also a winner of the Best British Beer Mat award. Many of these independent operations welcome visitors, including the Gwaun Valley Brewery in Pembrokeshire. A warm welcome (and a sample or two) is also likely to be had at The Kite Brewery in Llantrisant.
North Wales breweries
The North West of Wales is a hive of brewing activity, including Purple Moose Brewery in Porthmadog, Conwy Brewery, Great Orme Brewery in Colwyn Bay and Nant Brewery in Llanrwst. Conveniently, the Albion Ale House in Conwy is a joint venture between all four breweries, so you can sup and sample the rich variety of beers on offer.
Such is the dedication of North Wales Brewery in Abergele to sourcing local ingredients that owner John Wood drilled 500 feet into a mountain in search of pure spring water to add to its casks. Among the range of beers are an alcoholic Dandelion and Burdock, as well as a Chilli beer using homegrown peppers.
But if you want really want to experience the bewildering array of great ales in Wales (add relative newcomers like Brecon Brewing and Tiny Rebel to the exhaustive list), you’re best served by the numerous beer festivals, including the Great Welsh Beer and Cider Festival in Cardiff, the North Wales Beer Festival in Wrexham and an entertaining variety of events surrounding the Mid Wales Beer Festival, including The Real Ale Ramble for walkers and The Real Ale Wobble for mountain bikers.
See you at the bar.