Welsh Micro-brews Missing in Beacons. Dastardly Carlsberg Plot Uncovered?

Nobody ever leaves their pint, do they? Not in real life. It annoys me when I watch TV and there’s a scene in the pub and the characters go to the bar, order a couple of beers, take a gulp and then leave. That actors are probably drinking cold, stewed tea is no excuse; it’s just not realistic, is it? In the real world, it doesn’t matter if the last train is about to leave, or the taxi arrives, you drink the rest of your pint – or at least, everybody I know does. Until last night.

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I’m on the annual weekend away with five mates from school, but it’s not meant as a boozy few days away from families. We choose places where there’s good hill walking and occasionally, we cycle. Beer is always involved; no mistaking that it is a social weekend, and five out of the six of us like a properly-kept pint of cask ale. So this year’s trip to the Brecon Beacons promised a good deal of beery delights, given the upsurge in craft brewing in Wales, along with scaling its highest point: Pen y Fan. What it delivered was also the lowest point in the Beacons: probably the worst beer in the World.

No, it wasn’t Carlsberg lager, although it was brewed by that brewing conglomerate. In Taybarns, the restaurant associated with Premier Inn where we were staying, I wasn’t expecting to find anything from a Welsh micro. I plumped for a Stella, which was OK: refreshing and certainly drinkable after an early start, a quick hike up the Sugarloaf Mountain, followed by the beautiful, wooded valley of the Pontneddfechan Falls, and a yomp across marshy heathland after failing to agree which was the best way back to the car.

I didn’t even see the Tetley’s Smooth on the first round, and I might not have chosen it anyway, but it’s a manageable ABV at 4-something per cent, compared to the 5% ABV Stella Artois. Perhaps wise to change down on an empty stomach. I took one sip of my shaving foam-capped pint and scowled. Was there something wrong with it? Two sips and no sourness or other off flavours. It tasted fresh but horrible. To paraphrase Douglas Adams: almost, but not quite, exactly unlike beer.

I felt a strange and uncomfortable feeling rise up. “I’m not going to finish this”, I thought. Worryingly, I was in danger of turning into soap-opera pub man. I was going to leave my pint! Quite why I didn’t think of taking it back to the bar, I’m not sure. The Tayburns staff certainly proved to be very friendly and helpful, and I’m sure they wouldn’t have begrudged my request. Perhaps I was afraid they’d think I was a real ale snob. I don’t remember why I didn’t – I was in shock.

I used to drink Tetley’s in Sheffield as a cask ale, years ago, and enjoying it. What had they done? Was it a ploy by Carlsberg to make deliberately bad beer to trick youngsters into thinking all ale was like that? Then the taxi arrived to whisk us off to the nearest pub recommended by the Good Beer Guide. All other pints were swiftly demolished by my former school buddies, including the Tetley’s. Reality restored.

Award-winning Welsh Beers

Here’s a list of the winners from the last Great Welsh Beer and Cider Festival. Even the website address looks like it’s in Welsh: www.gwbcf.org.uk. Sadly, I didn’t find any of the medal cwrw all weekend.

Top Three Beers:

  • Gold – Otley, O-Garden (Pontypridd)
  • Silver – Bragdy’r Nant, Mwnci Nel (Llanwrst)
  • Bronze – Rhymney, Export (Merthyr Tydfil)

Category winners:

  • Mild – Bryncelyn, Buddy Marvellous (Ystradgynlais)
  • Bitter – Bryncelyn, Holly Hop (Ystradgynlais)
  • Best Bitter – Breconshire, Cribyn (Brecon)
  • Strong Bitter – Rhymney, Export (Merthyr Tydfil)
  • Golden Ale – Great Orme, Celtica (Colwyn Bay)
  • Speciality – Otley, O-Garden (Pontypridd)

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