From coast to mountain top, valley to city, Wales has more than enough beers to satisfy the thirst of even the most adventurous beer explorer!
There are currently around ninety Welsh breweries, some more than a century old, but many founded as part of the craft beer revolution of the past decade. Here are a few suggestions of how to get to the heart of the modern Welsh beer scene.
Welsh breweries in North Wales
One of the best places to drink Welsh beer is in the many micropubs that have sprung up around the country in the last few years. Micropubs are usually small places where you can expect to find friendly conversation, simple bar snacks and lots of local ale.
Mold Alehouse was recently crowned the best pub in Wales in the annual CAMRA Pub of the Year competition. Situated in the centre of the market town of Mold, in a Grade 2 listed building, this micropub serves a fantastic range of beer, much of which is brewed in Wales. Whilst there, look out for beers from local favourites, including Polly’s Brew Co. and Geipel Brewing. Known for their contemporary, hop-forward beers, Polly’s is the top-rated Welsh brewery on the influential rating site, Untappd, whilst Geipel specialises in the production of lagers using water drawn from its own borehole.
The holiday town of Llandudno is home to Wild Horse Brewing Co., a brewery lauded for its range of modern beers including Nokota New England IPA which has been described by beer writer, Adrian Tierney-Jones – himself born in Llandudno - as 'a beer that sings on the palate like a choir at an Eisteddfod'! You can buy the beer direct from the brewery shop, or you’re highly likely to come across some in the town’s award-winning micropub, Tapps.
Purple Moose Brewery has been brewing traditional ales in the harbour town of Porthmadog since 2005. It’s named after the legend of the purple moose, fur dyed violet from eating heather, that apparently roamed the foothills of Eryri (Snowdonia) many centuries ago. You can drink Purple Moose beer in The Australia pub on Porthmadog High Street, which serves as the brewery taproom, or in Conwy’s Albion Ale House, a joint venture between Purple Moose and three other breweries: Snowdon Craft, Nant and Conwy. Its heritage interior maintains many of the original 1920s features and that, together with a great line-up of Welsh ales, make it well worth a visit.
Four miles from the foot of Yr Wyddfa (Snowdon) you’ll find the Snowdonia Parc pub. The onsite microbrewery produces traditional cask ales which, due to its location right beside Waunfawr station, can be drunk whilst watching the narrow-gauge steam trains of the Welsh Highland Railway puffing by.
If you want to sample a number of different drinking holes without the need to drive, the Ale Trail Company offers a bus tour of Eryri (Snowdonia) pubs. Once you’ve booked your ticket, you can start and finish at any pub along the route by simply hopping on and off the buses that pass by regularly on tour days.
If you’re walking the coastal path around the Llŷn Peninsula, Cwrw Llŷn, in the attractive village of Nefyn makes a perfect stopping-off point. The tap room is open most days and has a viewing window through which you can watch the beer being made as you drink. Brewery tours are also available throughout the week.
Read more: Check out these great routes for pub walks for inspiration for walks with a decent pint at the end of it.
Welsh breweries in Mid Wales
The town of Montgomery, and the remains of its thirteenth century castle, sit around a mile from the Welsh-English border. It’s there that, in 2009, Monty’s Brewery was founded by husband-and-wife team, Russ and Pam Honeyman. The brewery produces a range of cask conditioned, bottled and kegged beers, and offers pre-arranged tours.
Just a few miles away in Newtown, Wilderness Brewery is producing some of the most interesting beers around. The beers – which are packaged in beautiful cans and sharing bottles - are modern ‘farmhouse’ beers, many of which are barrel-aged or sour, and some of which contain seasonal ingredients such as wild honey or locally-grown plums. Look out for their beers in bars and bottleshops, such as Cardiff’s Pop’n’Hops.
Llanwrtyd Wells is the smallest town in Wales, and it’s there that the Heart of Wales Brewery sits in a former stable behind the Neuadd Arms Hotel. The brewery produces traditional real ales using pure Cambrian water from their own borehole and, should you want to linger, there is accommodation in the area and the Cambrian Mountains are on the doorstep.
Welsh breweries in West Wales
Bluestone Brewing Co. is located on a working farm in the Preseli Hills, where the onsite taproom hosts regular live music and comedy events throughout the year. A mere five or so miles down the road, Gwaun Valley is a traditional microbrewery producing award-winning real ales. They also host regular acoustic music sessions.
Felinfoel Brewery, near Llanelli, is the oldest brewery in Wales. Established in 1878, it’s known for its Double Dragon, a premium Welsh Ale, that the brewery proudly claims as the ‘National Ale of Wales’. In 1935, inspired by the Welsh tinplate industry, it became one of the first breweries in the world to package beer in cans. Felinfoel beer can be found in numerous pubs across southern and western Wales.
Gower Brewery produces a core range of traditional beers and a newer, more ‘craft’ focused range called ‘Gower Brews’. Tours are available and finish with beer tastings in the brewery tap. If you’re staying over in Swansea, you can also tour Tomos Watkin Brewery to get a glimpse into the brewing process and a tasting session in the private tap room, or sign up to a UK Brewery Tours walking tour of some of the best independent craft beer venues the city has to offer.
Welsh breweries in South Wales
S.A. Brain is a name long associated with the nation’s capital. Founded in 1882, Brains Brewery is now located in the purpose-built Dragon Brewery in Cardiff Bay, a site capable of producing 20 million pints a year. You can find Brains beers right across the city, including at the traditional City Arms, a pub described as a ‘beer lover’s paradise’. And if you fancy exploring more good beer haunts, UK Brewery Tours offer a Cardiff Beer Tasting walking tour that takes in some of the city’s craft beer bars and taprooms, providing time for sampling at each one.
The Ale Trail Company offer real ale pub tours by bus through the Vale of Glamorgan. The trail allows drinkers to sample up to ten specially selected pubs and microbreweries without the need to drive. It’s a great way to get a flavour of both Welsh beer and the Welsh landscape.
Rhymney Brewery is in Blaenavon, a UNESCO World Heritage Site which houses the Blaenavon Iron Works and the Big Pit National Coal Museum. The brewery has its own visitor centre where you can have a beer or even see live comedy, whilst at Kingstone Brewery in Tintern you can take a tour, join in a tasting, or even become a brewer for a day.
Over in Newport, the first Welsh brewery to claim the coveted title of Champion Beer of Britain, Tiny Rebel, has been brewing up its imaginative beers since 2012. You can taste brews such as their Jam Doughnut Pale, Marshmallow Porter, or their award-winning Cwtch red ale at the brewery, and at Tiny Rebel bars in Newport and Cardiff.
Beer festivals in Wales
The Mid Wales Beer Festival is held each November in the small town of Llanwrtyd Wells. There are more than 100 ales on offer during the 10-day festival. The Real Ale Wobble (for mountain bikers) takes place during festival week with trails of differing lengths, with checkpoints featuring food and, of course, real ale.
A ‘festival within a festival’, the Welsh Beer & Cider Festival forms part of the Green Man Festival which takes place every August near the small town of Crickhowell in the Brecon Beacons. As well as more than 100 Welsh beers, visitors can enjoy music and arts at this very popular event.
The Cwrw ar y Cledrau / Rail Ale Festival takes place in early summer at the historic Dinas railway station near Caernarfon on the edge of Eryri (Snowdonia) National Park. Part of the Ffestiniog and Welsh Highland Railways, visitors can enjoy the steam trains whilst sampling some of the very best in Welsh beer.
In a land that effortlessly combines legend with innovation, it’s no surprise that a beer scene rooted in both is positively thriving. From small brewpubs making beer solely for their customers, to internationally recognised brands, through to modern, creative brewers pushing the boundaries of what beer can be, Welsh beer has never been so varied, so exciting, and so very tasty!