Welsh Beer… Finally!

Our first day in Wales was about finding Welsh beer. We landed at Holyhead mid-day Friday and drove towards our first destination. The first stop was Conwy Brewery which we found quite easily. Merideth and I walked into an empty tasting room. There was a sign that indicated to push the button for assistance which we did… and waited. We could hear activity in the back but no one appeared.

After about 15 minutes and three button pushes, I decided to ring them with my cell phone. We could hear the phone ringing in the back and someone did answer. I asked if it would be possible to taste their beer. The person in the back replied that they were in the middle of bottling and could he have my number to arrange a more convenient time later in the day. I explained that we were actually standing in their tasting room and that unfortunately we were staying 40 miles away so later in the day wouldn’t be convenient. We chuckled as we left and pushed on to our final destination.

We stopped in the touristy village of Betws-y-Coed for a late lunch. Here I made a tactical error. We passed on a restaurant serving Cardiff-based Brains and another south Wales brewery and continued a search for some local brew. We ended up at a cozier restaurant that had only English beer.

The village we are staying in, Beddgelert, has three pubs. While a very quaint and picturesque little community, there is no Welsh beer to be found. The pubs are all tied to an English brewery, Robinsons. The beer is OK. Well, some of it is but we didn’t come to Wales to drink English beer. Our first day in Wales ended without tasting any local brew.

Our big break came on Saturday. While hiking on the trails above the village of Llandberis we came across a traditional Welsh tea room with a Conwy Brewery sign out front. Needing a little break, we decided to check out Pen Ceunant.

Situating ourselves in front of a cozy fire in the front room, we ordered two Conwy beers, Welsh Pride for Merideth and Celebrator Ale for myself. The beers were absolutely wonderful!

Located on one of the main trails to the top of Snowdon, Pen Ceunant gets a steady stream of friendly hikers and cyclists. While enjoying the fine ales from Conwy, we chatted with a lovely couple from Liverpool who frequent the Snowdonia Park and are regulars at the tea room.

With the first Welsh beers under our belt, it was time for out first Welsh brewery to add to The List. That distinction goes to Snowdonia Parc Brewpub. Snowdonia Parc was an interesting place. Their facility included a campground and it was the first place that we heard Welsh being spoken in a conversation.

The first beer we tried was Snowdonia Ale, a 3.8% Pale Ale. It was nice but not as nice as the 4.4% beer I tried which was called Karma Sutra or Carmen Sutra. We couldn’t quite see the name on the handle behind the bar.

On our way back to our hotel, Merideth spotted a sign that said “9 Real Ales 9 Days a Week”. I know it doesn’t maker sense but, of course, we had to stop. Turns out the pub, Cwellyn Arms in Rhys Ddu (don’t ask how to pronounce either.) was CAMRA’s 2000 Pub of the Year. And it’s in the CAMRA Good Beer Guide. Thumbs up to Merideth for her eagle eyes!

Before a nice fire at Cwellyn Arms, we were able to try a cask version of the Celebration Ale from Conwy as well as Honey Fayre, their Golden Ale flavored with Welsh honey, and Rampart, a darker beer whose style I am unsure of.

It was time to call it a day. The big hike was the next day and we needed some rest. But we finally had tried Welsh beer!


Ireland and Wales Preview

We are finally making our first big beer trip of 2009, a journey to Ireland and Wales. Originally, the idea was to go over to Ireland for St. Patrick’s Day but an Irish friend told us to wait and come over for Easter.

Easter is when the ‘best’ beer festival in Ireland happens in the city of Cork. Put on by the Franciscan Well Brewery, the Easter fest is the largest gathering of the Irish craft beer community on the calendar.

And this trip keeps evolving. At first, we were going to spend the whole time in Ireland. But the offhand comment by the friend a couple of weeks ago, “haven’t you seen it all…” got me thinking. Though we haven’t ‘seen it all’, maybe something different was in order. My first thought was Cornwall. Another Celtic nation, Cornwall has been on our list of places to visit for years. Unfortunately, Cornwall is not that easy to get to from Dublin.

But Wales, a short three hour ferry ride from Dublin, is virgin territory for us. If we spend the whole trip in Ireland, we can only add, at the most, three new breweries. But with six days in Wales, we will be able to add hopefully a dozen new breweries to The List. Our knowledge of Welsh brewing is limited to Brains Brewery and its sponsorship of Welsh rugby. We are really curious about the Welsh brewing scene.

After a few days of getting acclimated and seeing friends in Dublin, we will cross the Irish Sea to Holyhead, our gateway to Wales.

Our time in Wales overlaps with the National Cask Ale Week in the UK. We have the opportunity to attend a kickoff event at Kilverts in Hay-on-Wye. While Merideth is not too excited, any chance for a real ale event has me salivating.

We will also be climbing, weather permitting, the highest mountain England and Wales, Snowdon. At a mind-boggling 3,560 feet, the round trip journey takes five to seven hours from what I have read. Hopefully, there will be some beer at the top.

Returning to Ireland on Good Friday Eve, we will be confronted by a soon-to-be dry country. Good Friday is one of three days in the year that the pubs and off licenses are closed. And even the grocery stores get into the act by roping off their alcohol section. Luckily, it is only for Good Friday.

Staying in Wexford, we will have the dual responsibility of getting some pints in us as well as hitting an off license to stock up for Friday. On Good Friday, we are off to Cork. Since the pubs are closed, we will do a few touristy things, like visit the Kennedy homestead.

The main event of our trip, Franciscan Well’s Easter Festival, takes place in Cork. And the festival is actually on Easter Sunday. It will be a good opportunity to sample Irish craft beer all in one place as well as hanging out with our Irish friends again.

Cork is also home one of our favorite beer bars in Ireland, the Bierhaus. And, from what I hear, there is a new one too, Abbot’s Ale House that we will have to visit.

We will return to Dublin for one more day before flying home. It should be a good trip. Seeing friends and adding breweries to The List is what beer travel is all about.