From Moose to Hay

On Monday, we headed south to explore other parts of Wales. On the journey, we had a couple of breweries to visit before reaching our final destination and attending the opening of Cask Ale Week.

First stop was a short drive from our village to Porthmadog, or as we called it in our own version of Welsh ‘Port Mad Dog’. Porthmadog is home to the Purple Moose Brewery, one of the newest breweries on the Welsh scene. Our visit wasn’t the earliest recorded brewery visit but it might have been the shortest.

Purple Moose had two beers available to taste, Dark Side of the Moose, a dark Ale, and their Easter Ale. Served in little medicine cups, both were very nice. We gulped down our tastes, bought some Dark Side and departed. Five minutes of our day was thus completed.

Then it was time to head south in earnest. Already handicapped by being on the other side of the car on the other side of the road, I heard this deafening roar from behind that was approaching quickly. Within a half a second, a RAF fighter appeared in front of us doing high speed, low altitude maneuvers. Definitely something my nerves did not need. We learned later that the RAF uses Wales for flight training.

After being targeted by the RAF, I definitely needed a beer – a full beer – not something dispensed in a medicine cup.  Relief was provided by the Heart of Wales Brewery housed in the Neuadd Hotel in Llanwtryd Wells (We never translated the town name into version of Welsh).

Situating ourselves in their cozy lounge room, we enjoyed a nice fire and a couple of house brewed cask ales. Of note was Aur Cymru (Welsh Gold) a Golden Ale brewed with cascade hops and Welsh Black, a 4.4% Stout. We still get a kick out of the ABVs of the beers over here because things are kind of out of hand in the States. Both beers, despite being in the low 4s, had great flavor and depth.

Nerves calmed, it was on to our final destination of the day Brecon, home to Breconshire Brewery. I give kudos to myself for my beer networking. I contacted a few UK-based beer people and asked for Wales recommendations. One name I got was Buster Grant who is the brewer at Breconshire and the chairman of the budding Association of Welsh Independent Brewers.

Buster gave us a warm welcome to his brewery and we tried a number of his beers over a couple of visits. All his beers are made with UK ingredients and my highlight was Night Beacon, a 4.9% Stout brewed with some smoked malt.

The main event of the day was the opening of Cask Ale Week at Kilvert’s in Hay-on-Wye. Joining Buster, his missus and a friend on the bus, we headed over to the bookstore capital of the world. Hay boasts something like 40 bookstores with a population of 1,300.

Cask Ale Week, April 6-13,  was the brainchild of a number of people and is based, I think, on the successful (Insert City Name) Beer Week model from the States. The goal was to recruit a million new cask ale drinkers. As someone who recruited events for SF Beer Week, I applaud Kilvert’s for scheduling a number of events during Cask Ale Week.

It was a great evening of cask beer, chatting and meeting new friends. The local MP even bought us a beer. A politician has never bought us a beer before! Merideth got behind the bar and pulled her own pint of Kilvert’s Ale, a beer brewed for them by Breconshire. Kilvert’s was also presented with CAMRA’s Local Pub of the Year honors, an award well-deserved from what we could see.

With a full day put in, we retired to our comfy four poster bed at the Griffin for some much needed rest.


Our Ascent of Snowdon

Sunday was the day we climbed the highest peak in England or Wales, Mt Snowdon. It’s height, 3,560 feet, doesn’t sound that impressive, but Snowdon is where Sir Edmund Hillary trained for his climb of Everest. We were told it was ten miles and a six hour round trip.

There a number of trails to the top but we chose to go up the Llanberis trail, a trail the parallels the steam railway. Steffan, the owner of Pen Ceunant, let us park at his cafe. Not only did save the walk up a steep hill from the village but we also knew there was beer when we returned.

We were on the trail at half past ten joining a small crowd of hikers, runners and mountain bikers with the same aim in mind. Well, I am not sure about the beer part.

The weather was bearable, temperatures in the high 40s/low 50s with a mixture of clouds and sun. As we set off in the cool morning, I was reminded of what a hiker told us the day before at Cwellyn Arms; dress warmly because it is really cold and windy at the top. This then reminded me of the conversation Merideth and I had in the car on the way to the airport. Merideth said she forgot her gloves which I replied that I thought about bringing them but decided not to because it was going to be warm. Oops. I forgot to take the Snowdon climb into account.

The trail was very similar to Croagh Patrick. All rocky with smooth rocks towards the bottom and looser stone at the top. As the trail got steeper, which it dramatically did just past the Halfway Cafe, the number of hikers thinned out. The wind also picked up and the temperature dropped. We could have used the gloves right about now.

As we began the last great stretch uphill, we did meet an American woman who went to graduate school at Berkeley. She noticed my bear tattoo as she was passing us and we stopped and chatted for a few minutes. Besides being a much needed rest, she told us about a number of other hikes in the area including a 35 mile, 15 peak extravaganza that a hiker apparently does in one day. Judging by the speed in which she continued up Snowdon, the 35 miler didn’t seem to faze her as extraordinarily difficult. Only moderately so.

As we got a few hundred yards from the peak, our trail was joined by another and a traffic jam ensued. If our trail had been busy, the one that joined us, the Miners trail, looked like a single file line of hikers, one after another. Having so many people with the same goal wasn’t going to lessen our achievement, but we were dumbfounded by the number of people. If it was this crowded in April, granted it was a holiday weekend, what would it be like in high summer? We jostled our way up the last stretch pinballing off fellow hikers going both directions.

We reached the top, joining several hundred other hikers, first in resting and then checking out the pinnacle. Just like when we climbed Croagh Patrick, the cloud cover was thick. On a clear day, one can see Ireland from the Snowdon summit. We could barely see the next peak. The lack of gloves somewhat hampered our time on the summit as our hands were quite numb at this point. Plus, there was no beer so with pictures of our accomplishment taken, it was time to head back down the hill.

Four and a half hours after we started, we were back at Pen Ceunant enjoying Welsh hospitality; Homemade scones with jam and cream and Welsh craft beer. We were quite pleased with our accomplishment. All that is left is the highest peak in Scotland and we will have conquered the peaks of the British Isles.


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!


Drinking in the Day

After  a series of uneventful flights, we arrived in Dublin early on April Fools Day. We’re familiar with the city and there is something very comforting about Dublin for us. It was a nice place to recover from a long day of flying and start a European journey. We left our bags at the hotel and went to get some coffee. Then it was off to meet our friends Ute and Wolfgang.

Our first beer stop was The Palace on Fleet Street at the opposite end of Temple Bar from the Porterhouse. The Palace, a famous old Victorian pub, is one of the few mainstream Irish pubs that stock Irish craft beer. This was important, as our theme of the Ireland portion of this trip is to try to forgo the mass-produced, foreign-owned Stouts and drink only Irish craft beer. The Palace pours two craft beers, Galway Hooker IPA and Temple Bräu, a lager from the Porterhouse.

Ute and Wolfgang came over from Germany to meet us and they love Dublin as much as we do. Both Guinness drinkers, they surprised us and ordered Galway Hookers along with us. In the ten months since I last had the beer, I had forgotten how good it is. After a few rounds of beer and lots of catching up, we all moved on to the next pub.

At the Porterhouse we met our Irish friend John, better known as the Beer Nut. Not only a genuinely nice person, John is part of Irish Craft Brewers and a great resource on the Irish beer scene.

And, as if the Porterhouse knew about our theme, our time in Dublin coincided with their Independent Irish Beer & Whiskey Festival. Not only could we get Porterhouse beer, but also brews from the other Irish craft producers.

I was particularly excited because I had my favorite Porterhouse beer, Wrasslers XXXX, as well as, cask beers from the Northern Ireland brewery Hilden.  Merideth was pleased because Porterhouse brewed a Chocolate Truffle Stout, a beer she compared very favorably with Young’s Double Chocolate.

After a number of beers at the Porterhouse, Ute and Wolfgang needed some rest and we needed to check into our hotel and shower. We decided to meet back up later at the Porterhouse to watch some football.

On our way to the hotel, we decided to take the scenic route and stop by the Bull & Castle to drop off some Russian River beer to the manager, Declan.

Declan was there. So, of course we ordered beers and started talking. One beer led to another and next thing we knew, it was time for us to be back at the Porterhouse. So much for showering… it’s overrated anyways.

At the Porterhouse, we met back up with John, other ICB members, and Ute and Wolfgang. While enjoying a few more beers, we watched Ireland score a late equalizer in their World Cup qualifier versus Italy.

We finally made it to our hotel around 11pm, 12 hours after we had dropped off our bags. Tired from the jet lag and beer drinking, these are our favorite kind of days here in Europe… drinking with friends.


New beergeek.TV Episode – Rolling to Boulder

“Rolling to Boulder” is the latest episode of One Pint at a Time.

We were back in Denver to meet up with our friends and fellow beer travelers, Matt and Michelle, who we had not seen in almost a year. Over a long weekend, we drank beer in Denver, Golden and Boulder and attended the Beerdrinker of the Year contest. It is meeting up with good friends that makes beer travel all the more enjoyable.

So enjoy our adventures…

For all the episodes of One Pint at a Time go to beergeekTV.