Beer in South Wales in 2016: the times they are a changin’
Small Bar Cardiff
I’ve hesitated to write this post (rightly some may say) because I merely drink beer in South Wales. I don’t have the kind of wider knowledge of the beer ‘scene’ that I do (in a limited way) j have in London. Even so since I’m often to be found making comparisons between drinking in London and South Wales I thought a few impressions worth noting.
Starting with the positives the opening of Small Bar in central Cardiff seems to me a significant plus, as does Boss’s Copper Bar in central Swansea. It was a matter of speculation on how Small Bar’s ‘no pints’ approach would go down in what remains very much a pint drinking culture but the evidence so far is that it’s working.
In brewery terms I’ve been seriously impressed with the development of Crafty Devil and indeed their cellar (or tap) which is a really good place to sample their beers. Tiny Rebel of course remain the most important brewer in the area in terms of ‘modern’ beer with a new brewery almost ready to go and the two pubs rebadged as Tiny Rebel bars. Again the range of interesting beers- including sours- has impressed.
There are certainly other breweries of note. Heavy Industry while not South Wales do make appearances and seem pretty decent as certainly is Hopcraft. As brewer and owner ‘Gazza’ rightly notes (quite frequently!) it is difficult to get beers from smaller breweries on the bar particularly with price undercutting.
I have no detailed knowledge of price undercutting in the South Wales market except to note that it’s not new and that Brains in their own pubs very clearly hold out against it. It has been mentioned as a factor in the demise of Waen and Celt breweries (there may be other reasons but I’m hardly in a position to comment). The Celt brands have been sold to Mr Buckley-a well-known figure in Welsh brewing- and Lines brewery has started. So far I’ve tried neither but will expect to in 2017.
Another feature of Cardiff particularly is the off-trade. The unlikely venue of the Discount Superstore continues to have a superb range of up to the minute craft beers in bottle and can and the Bottle Shop (Roath and Penarth) is at least its equal. It’s a reflection of the relative size of the craft beer market in London and Cardiff that its nearly always easier to get hold of that ‘much sought after but brewed in a very limited amount craft beer’ in the latter than the former location.
But what of that comparison? There is combined and uneven development in beer as elsewhere. Craft keg has started to appear in Cardiff and (less so) in Swansea. Prices are a bit lower than London but not that low (a chain of well-known craft beer pubs charges around 50p less a pint in central Cardiff than it does in London for example). Cask beer, mostly quite low strength and drunk by the pint, remains as far I can see on the drinker’s side of the bar a popular drink.
The times they are a changin’ but as is often the case perhaps not as fast as some might think or hope.