IN OUR CRAFT BEER STORIES WE REVIEW AND GENERALLY TALK CRAFT BEERS FROM BREWERIES THAT ARE LOCAL TO US, AND FROM FURTHER AFIELD ACROSS OUR BRITISH ISLES. TODAY'S STORY TELLS OF CATS AND MAGPIES WHILE WE REVIEW LLEU WELSH AMBER ALE FROM BRAGDY LLEU BREWERY
I’ve been staring at my laptop screen for a while now, not doing anything particularly productive, just staring.
The sun bakes the world outside my office window, the first sunny day in a week filled with rain. That warm rain you can do nothing in, where when you go outside you get just as wet from sweat as you do from the soaking. Today is a sunny day and Vincenzo is sunning himself on the roof of his shed. Vinny is our neighbour’s cat, who is probably one of the dullest cats I have ever met. I Googled his breed, knowing nothing about cats, apparently he’s a Ragamuffin - and that about suits him. Everybody loves Vinny.
It is early evening and there’s a bottle on my desk, one of those bottles that demand drinking as soon as you get it home. This one has been with me since the weekend, and I’ve been looking forward to it. The eponymous amber ale from Bragdy Lleu.
"It's a golden colour with a burnt bronze finish, sunlight cascades in through my window and sets the ale ablaze"
His image stares out from the bottle, spear and shield clutched to him in a pose of defiance.
The Mabinogi fascinated me as a kid, as I’m sure they did all welsh students. I attended a welsh speaking school, I’m not sure how high on the curriculum Mabinogi were in other schools, but they were certainly a big theme during my learning. They still fascinate me. Bendigeidfran was and still is my favourite, if for nothing else that the name sounds playful and melodic. A welsh giant of a man, or “cawr”, and I’m intrigued to see that Bragdy Lleu has a Welsh Red IPA named after him. One for my list for sure.
I hear a rattle outside my window that I have come to know all too well. Two magpies have taken residence in one of the trees beyond our garden. Each morning they spin their ratchets as they fly from one end of the estate to the next. Relentlessly for about an hour. There aren’t many birds I resent quite as much as the magpie. At that time in the morning, if something wakes you, any return to sleep is impossible, and getting out of bed still isn’t an option. So I lay there planning my revenge on the black and white miscreants. Right now their antisocial behaviour is aimed towards the sleeping Vincenzo, who is no longer sleeping and turning his head with a visible sigh as he must know what is coming.
"In Bragdy Lleu’s amber ale you can most definitely taste the history and legend of the character it embodies."
One magpie lands behind him, just as Vinny is about to turn, the other lands in front of him. They begin their siege. Poor Vinny.
I regard Vincenzo’s plight as I take up Bragdy Lleu’s amber ale and pop the cap, then pour it into my glass. Amber it is, a golden colour with a burnt bronze finish, sunlight cascades in through my window and sets the ale ablaze. It isn’t cloudy or hazy, perfectly translucent. I lift the glass, the smell is sweet and dark. The amber ale tastes more of a stout than I was expecting, distinctly of chocolate and roasted coffee with a subtle bitter kicker. It is full bodied and rich. It isn’t as creamy as a stout but it has a strong, punchy flavour that is unrelenting and epitomized by the celtic warrior who's name has been given to this exceptional ale.
Vinny is starting to panic, still flat on his belly though you can see the muscles in his legs twitch. He might have held his own against one but there are two of the winged hooligans and I wouldn’t want to face off against those long and sharp, black beaks.
I turn the bottle in my hand and read the inscription. “Lleu was a unique, strong, appealing and memorable character, and we have worked hard to convey these features in our beer.” I do love a beer that has a story, in my eyes stories convey more about a thing than any description of the ingredients used to make it. You can taste the inspiration that gave birth to a beer. And in Bragdy Lleu’s amber ale you can most definitely taste the history and legend of the character it embodies. The strong depths of chocolate and coffee along with the subtle sweetness they both give, and a bitterness that harks to the tragedy that was Lleu’s life.
Vinny has been joined by a comrade, a mostly white cat with black markings whose name I don’t know but I identify him - or her, I have no idea - as one of the better cats, one that our own cat associates with, not like that ginger tabby. In the fables, Lleu once transformed into an eagle, and I wonder whether his powers of transformation also allow him to take the form of a cat? I shall now call the white cat Lleu, for his heroic rescue of Vinny, who looks as relieved as his goaders are surprised by the new arrival. The two magpies strut a little, eyeing each other, gauging Lleu and the newly confident Vincenzo, who regards them both with a challenge. One magpie hops closer but Lleu pounces, more warning shot than any attempt at bird-murder. The message is received as intended. Both black and white hoodies-of-the-bird-world retreat into whichever tree they are squatting in, leaving Vinny and Lleu to enjoy the evening’s sun.
I finish Bragdy Lleu’s amber ale and raise a toast to Vinny. Lleu-cat gives a nod that I most likely imagined.
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