When you get off a train at Cardiff central on a Monday morning after a rugby international you are greeted first with the sound of the dive bombing seagulls from the River Taff, then the more welcoming smell of beer being brewed from the Cardiff brewery that is S A Brains – it’s a smell that reminds people of many things, for me it takes me back to my first pint of SA in the Athletic club in Pontyclun, many years a go.
Brains are synonymous with the city and it’s beers are seen as a great Welsh traditional not only to rugby fans that descend on the city from the valleys in their droves – but the Kardiffians – who luvs half a dark.
I was invited by Brains to spend the afternoon of St David’s Day with them, not only to celebrate our Patron Saints Day but to celebrate the 1st Birthday of Brains Black , their Welsh Stout, which is doing very well against a certain Irish brand.
The day started well with a tour of the Brewery tour with Bill Dobson, the head brewer, he was very passionate about their bottled SA gold, which I have overlooked a bit in the past – but think it will be a great summer addition to my beercupboard.
I had visited the former brewery on St Mary Street before it closed in the late 1990’s but this was my first visit into the heart of the current brewhouse, which is on the site of the former Bass/Hancock Brewery – of course one my fellow visitors Arfur Daley could tell you the proper history.
We started at the top in the mill and tasted some raw ingredients – why can’t all pubs have malted Barley or even oats on the bar (like the City Arms) for you to nibble on.
The tour carried going through the whole process of brewing the mashing and Fermentation, but you lot know the process better than me.
The fermenting stage was a highlight, the smell of the Dark bubbling away in the tanks was great, some got bananas in the air but all I could smell a sweet/sour flavor like a lambic, of course Dark is not that at like that in its finished state… so maybe it was the heady aromas in the brewery that confused me.
The casking area was hive of activity and their even had a shed, my two loves beer and sheds in one place – yes this was a perfect day.
The tour was completed with a session of their beers in the sample cellar where the products are checked from each batch created.
This is a dream for any beer geek, seeing the barrels stacked up to be tasted being poured by the head brewer – all the main Brains Cask range were on offer and tasted great straight from the barrel.
Brains Bitter (3.7% ABV) – Not had one of these for years (prefer stronger beers) but it’s an easy to drink session beer originally brewed for working man in Cardiff (when there were steelworks and shipbuilding and not sitting on their behinds all day in an office like me) – uses Goldings and Fuggles hops
Brains SA (4.2% ABV) – a stable of the Cardiff pubs with a reputation with traveling rugby fans- Challenger, Goldings and Fuggles hops used.
SA gold (4.7% ABV) – a great refreshing beer late-hopped using Cascade and Styrian Goldings, that’s proving very popular in bottles (and not just with the head brewer)
Rev. James (4.5% ABV) – a great dark copper beer with lots of caramel – named after the founder of Buckley’s Brewery which Brains purchased in 1997.
Milkwood 4.3% ABV – a seasonal ale, not had this before but very nice – the rye crystal and malted oats gives it a great consistency – and yes it tasted milky! – It was brewed in dedication to the renowned Welsh poet & drinker Dylan Thomas.
and finishing with Brains Dark 3.5% ABV– or RD (Red Dragon ) Dark as it’s know in the company – the best Mild in the UK and a favorite of mine – even though its not strong its the prefect pint every time.
We had lunch (a selection of Welsh themed dishes), including a brilliant Red mustard and Bara brith pudding, at their famous Brewery Tap, the Crawshay Arms – the best pub in Cardiff as there is no till;) and is not normally open to the public.
The afternoon ended with a tour of a couple of their great City Centre pubs, which I seem to spend more and more time in nowadays the City Arms and Goat Major.
It’s excellent news for the Real Ale drinkers in Cardiff that Brains is also welcoming more and more guest beers in their pubs – this will pull in more punters not just from the local area but further field who will see Cardiff as a great place to come and drink quality beers.
The evening ended for me quite early (8ish) anyway, in the Yard, which has just been given a make over – for the Birthday party for their excellent stout Brains Black.
I am sure Samuel Arthur would be proud that his name is being used on some great beers, and thanks to him I was spending a day in the company of people as passionate about beer as myself – my other tour members were respected beer writers Adrian Tierney-Jones and Tim Hampson, Editor of the Brew Wales Arfur Daley and youtube beer video blogger Simon Martin
You can see the full set of photos of my afternoon at Brains on Flickr.