I am a devotee of real ales and have been for years, though I did go through a period of seeking out the strongest lager , as a means to an end.
Now recent reports tell us that more young people and women are trying them, especially the ones produced locally in microbreweries, which have proliferated in the last decade. Gone the archetypal Camra member in dubious t-shirt and sporting a pot-belly to boast about.
From Breconshire Brewery in the north, to Rhymney micro in Dowlais, to Otley in Ponty and Zero Degrees in Cardiff, it seems like the whole of the Taff Trail could exist as booze landmarks for walkers and cyclists to wobble their way by the river. Now there's a really good idea for the Tourist Board : 'Booze Tours'!
The place to savour the Rhymney beers is the Winchester in Merthyr, while The Bunch of Grapes in Ponty always has the various Otley ones in the barrel, with their highly distinctive Continental influences of weissbier and witbier ( OGarden being the best example). Like The Bunch, Zero Degrees doubles as an eating-place and is unique as you are surrounded by the machinery of brewing. I like the idea of sitting inside a micro and eating pizza and supping their unusual Black Lager. The ubiquitous fruit beers are not for me though : a bit like pouring squash into fizzy lager!
I very much like the Belgian and Dutch tradition of serving each beer in its own special glass. Perhaps S.A. ( or 'Skull Attack' ) could come in one shaped like a bomb and the Reverend James in the style of a chalice. Most of the lagers from everywhere would be better served in chamber-pots! It would, however, be a good idea to distinguish between the golden, bitter and dark with three separate glasses and when I open up my Merthyr ale-house, the Gwyn Alf, serving the best ales and veggie tapas, that will be the innovation.
Wales used to be divided up by the larger breweries rather like feudal domains, with Brains in the south-east and Felinfoel in the west. At Richard Thompson's recent concert in Cardiff , he showed that influence. A heckler was giving him a tough time and though I didn't make out the gibes, I think 'O.B.E.' might've been mentioned. Thompson retorted by saying - 'Okay! We'll meet in the......er......Dragon after, to talk it over and have a pint of Brains........raw Brains!'
The names and varieties of the microbreweries fare are so much more interesting and full of taste, with no two beers alike. I recently sampled one from Scotland called Blessed Thistle which is actually brewed using thistles and it's smooth as the flower of that plant.
Unfortunately, the Winchester is an exception in Merthyr as elsewhere, despite the trends. The multi-nationals dominate with their bland brews. Finch needs to visit Chapter again, try something like the excellent Tewdric's Tipple and then recant.
I int no lager drinker,
but I ad no choice.
It didn taste o rat's piss,
it didn even taste o dog's piss.
It tasted o nothin at all,
not even bloody beer!
It woz cheap an alc'olic 'pparently,
but I couldn drink a pint ardly.
I kept thinkin a Cwrw Haf an Braf,
of O1 an OHoHo an ColumbO;
I kept thinkin o Rhymney brews
made in a Dowlais micro.
I kept thinkin oppy an barley:
golden summer, bitter autumn, dark winter.
Spring in Belgium, with Trappist ales
t get any monk boppin.
But it tasted of all them chains
o the Igh Street, o metal links joined.