Monday, 25 October 2010

Hit the North (Wales beer scene)

The Conwy Feast. A food festival overlooked by the Edwardian stone scowl of a castle built to subdue the locals; a food festival that recognises the role that beer and local breweries have in this place that washes up against the hard fastnesses of Snowdonia; a food festival that is rather good.

Some recollections. A pasty faced chap in an army surplus, knee-length, well-washed parka with a West Germany flag on the shoulder wandering about holding a gnarled new staff (I later passed him doing something that smacked of new age nonsense and Celtic cobblers); a wispy bearded thirtysomething bloke in medieval robes standing on a corner and holding an owl on his gauntleted hand — as we queued to pass, a Scouse voice suggested that this sage of an ancient craft might have chosen somewhere else to stand, more colourfully that I would have voiced; in the beer tent a ‘Celtic folk’ band sung a song by (or about) Bobby Sands, which seemed a curious throwback to the 1980s when Irish rebel music was all the vogue; meanwhile outside on Conwy quay all sorts of marquees, performers (including a Brazilian, sorry, Liverpudlian, street band in massive white flares and local teenagers trying to pretend they were Britons — or Taffs — getting talent) and food booths vied for the attention of us masses who passed through the narrow streets of Conwy with the pressure hose persistence of piss down the stainless steel, single-sided canyons of your local pub’s jakes.

And in one of the food tents, a stall offering direct beer sales was doing its best for promoting beer as a comedy event. Bottle-conditioned beers (from whence I know not) were labelled Horseshit, Dandelion & Birdshit and Big Cock (amongst other names) — an attitude that would probably be defended as humour but felt totally out of place in an event where food producers were rightly proud of what they did (the crab from here was wonderful). And then I had a reunion with fellow deckchair warrior Tim at the beer tent. Four breweries — Purple Moose, Great Orme, Bragdy Nant, Conwy — had their beers on sale, and their brewers were in attendance, something I found heart-warmingly wonderful, collaboration and collusion.

Look, there’s Gwynne from Conwy, one of the first in the reawakening of North Wales’ beer culture (those that tried and failed before include Cambrian and Ynys Môn). His Autumn Gold (Hydref Aur) was a reddish bittersweet delight, that both soothed and sorted out the palate with its mixture of dark crystal and Chinook. I would also recommend his Telford Porter, named after the chap that built the first Conwy Bridge. Great Orme’s Welsh Black was its usual dependable creamy, mocha coffee self, a delicious drop that is now bottled. It’s only 4% but CAMRA in their wisdom gave it an award in the strong mild category. Another beer from Great Orme, Celtica, was a citrusy heaven.

Amongst its selection of award-winning beers, Purple Moose had Myrtle Stout — a minty, peppery, herbal beer that reminded me of Froach. Where do you get the myrtle I asked brewery founder Lawrence, hoping he would say that he picked it himself  — which he did, though he wouldn’t tell me there (a bit of mystery always gives the beer a story). Then there was the big surprise for myself, who always wonders if small breweries get it right: Bragdy Nant over near Llanrwst, a small market town up the river Conwy. Their Chawden Aur was a robust flinty beer with Cascade all the way through, while Mwnci Nell was a strong-armed, hefty big hitter of a bitter that drank far too easy for its 5.3% strength. All in all this was all good stuff and a demonstration of a healthy beer culture in the part of the world where I started my drinking career (Greenhalls or Ansells bitter top…). And as if to make it absolutely clear how things have changed since those miserable days, a loose remark on my part that the four breweries should make a collaborative brew for next year’s feast met with a positive reaction. Hit the north.


  1. The Bog Myrtle beer sounds fascinating! I'm enamored of gruits at the moment-- though that's just in my mind as they are hard to find. Did you have particularly lucid dreams after drinking it?

    Hit the North!-- one of my favourite Fall songs and my mantra as of late.

  2. No lucid dreams I’m afraid, just the normal rubbish about beer, I find gruit a hard one at times, especially if the spices are too over spiced.
    One of my first ever music press interviews was Mark E Smith back in the 1980s and I still cringe at the embarrassment of it all — big gaps, single word answers from him and me just being rubbish.

  3. Hello Adrian,

    I've thoroughly enjoyed reading through your blog posts, you've got a great writing style. Do you by any chance have an email address that I could contact you on regarding the possibility of swapping links?


  4. I think you really enjoyed that big surprise ??....I also want to try that beer "Chawden Aur"...