CRAFT BEER STORIES ARE MUSINGS AND OBSERVATIONS ON DAILY LIFE WHILE INCORPORATING A CRAFT BEER REVIEW FROM BREWERIES THAT ARE LOCAL TO US, AND CRAFT BREWERIES FROM FURTHER AFIELD ACROSS OUR BRITISH ISLES. TODAY'S STORY TELLS OF BRECON'S RUGGED WILD POINT, WE REVIEW AN AMBER ALE FROM A CRAFT BREWER OPERATING CLOSE TO THE SWANSEA VALLEY, AT THE FOOTHILLS OF THE BRECON BEACONS, 9 LIVES BREWERY.
We came up here not so long ago when the distant peaks were still caked in snow. Sheep nuzzled into the scant cover, Connie lunged towards them, pulling at her lead. We had an incident on Pen Y Fan where she did her best impression of a sheep dog, no sheep were harmed, Connie lost her free roaming rights that day but she did gain a fancy new extendable lead which gives her a false sense of freedom, still, I feel bad restricting her.
"I drain the bottle, savouring the last mouthful, teasing it around my tongue trying to pick up any missed flavours"
I hear the bottles clink in my backpack and look up towards the higher points where I know the views are magnificent and the beer will be most enjoyed. If l look hard enough and the day is clear, I might even be able to make out the site of 9 Lives Brewery which birthed the Amber Ale I’m about to enjoy.
This place is a secret, poorly kept, well enough that it’s still quiet, locals know it, and since lockdown it seems others have learned the secret too: for a while it seemed the car park, big enough for many vehicles, though only ever having two at a time, was full, and the hills beyond bore the weight of many new pairs of booted feet as people discovered the jewels hidden in their local areas.
Presently enjoying their well earned retirement, these mountains are no stranger to masses of people, and as we walk to where I shall sit and savour a local craft beer, it’s easy to imagine the past of this place, its surface so beautifully scarred with history.
Today the sun is shining, the early spring afternoon is still cold enough that I need an insulated jacket and woolen hat, but pleasant enough to sit and enjoy a beer while Connie snuffles at the wildflowers.
In the town of Ystradgynlais, small, sleepy, with some great pubs, and host to an annual music festival. The day is clear and I watch the road disappear further south towards the coastal city itself.
There’s one other couple up here with us, even when the hills are busy the highest points require a little off-piste walking, and so you can usually find some solitude on them. We watch as the two other walkers stroll along the old quarry line in the far distance. The most obvious clue as to the industrial past of this place, the line stretches all along the area, once feeding the quarried stone to the railway near the car park. The remains of the quarry can be seen all around here, veering off the path takes you into pockets surrounded by vast rock cliffs, with concealed entrances to caves that exude a dark mystery and compel me to think of ancient welsh creatures wandering these grounds at night. Some are gated and locked, some are not. The quarry itself sounded it’s death knell around the second World War. The line has long since been reclaimed by nature, nursing the wounds, smoothing over the scars, leaving traces that only heighten the wildness of this place - it seems too rugged now to house industry, and I can only imagine, from my vantage atop a rock overlooking the glorious view, the hardship of working here. On a cold windy day it feels almost as if the landscape is trying to banish you.
I pop the cap with a bottle opener on my keyring, shaped like a guitar, bright red; I forget where I got it but I’ve had it for years and recently rediscovered it in a box in my garage. The smell of the Amber Ale is sweet, I take a sip, there’s a distinctive taste of banana, I’m not sure I should be tasting banana but it’s the best I can describe it; it’s pleasant, moreish, there is a definite hint of biscuit. I take a longer pull, the beer is slightly warm from being in my backpack but personally I prefer ales a little warmer, the sweet, earthiness is comforting in this vast openness, a welcome hug, a cwtch, it is almost the perfect pairing for where I’m sat, like red wine to a steak, this ale compliments these wild hills. Beers are a product of their environment, and given Ystradgynlais, the home of 9 Lives Brewery, is a few miles down the road, this Amber Ale tastes, smells, and feels like it was born here.
I glance to the left towards the old inn, used now as private accommodation for cavers, who explore the vast systems that extend beneath my feet, used also as a filming location for Doctor Who and Torchwood. I let my gaze linger further across towards the other buildings, whose fate was not as kind as that of the inn, succumbing to nature, the remaining stone work reveals the ruins of a once rich past. I picture the famed Madame Patti, once owner of the nearby Craig Y Nos castle, reputedly haunted, boarding her private train at the station which can still be seen, her history entwined with that of Swansea’s - the Patti Pavilion, in the city’s Victoria Park, was once, remarkably, part of Craig y Nos castle, dismantled and moved to its current location. Up here you can feel a closeness to the decorated opera singer, where she made her home.
"I hold it up and regard the liquid in the sunlight, and point the bottle in the direction I approximate the brewery to be"
I drain the bottle, savouring the last mouthful, teasing it around my tongue trying to pick up any missed flavours. Connie is getting bored, never enjoying a peaceful stop for long; for a short moment she rested by my side but she’s up now, pacing back and forth, giving the odd whine and nudging my hand.
I hear the faint noise of tyres and in the distance I see another car making its way up the white gravel path.
I pack the empty bottle away.
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Buy craft beer directly from local breweries: At Love Our Craft we support not only our local craft brewers, but all brewers across the British Isles, we promote those craft brewers nearest to you so that you buy the best local craft beer directly from the brewers themselves, and the craft breweries in your area benefit from the support of local beer lovers. During the pandemic we saw the effect lockdown had on our favourite craft producers in our local town of Swansea, Wales, and desperately wanted to help them.
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