Spirit of the Dragon

Tom Jones, coal mining, sheep, leeks, male voice choirs, daffodils, rugby and hard-to-pronounce place names.

There, that’s all of the clichés out of the way in the first sentence, so now we can move on and talk about the beer.

I didn’t realise it at the time, but my overall impressions of the Welsh brewing industry were set very early on in my visit. As I was being shown around the Breconshire Brewery by brewer Justin “Buster” Grant, he pointed to a chap washing out kegs. “That’s Clive – he’s the company secretary,” said Buster. ‘Industrious chap, turning his hand to anything,’ I thought. It was a thought that reoccurred with surprising frequency over the following couple of days.

Buster Grant barely looks old enough to have legally attended the Great British Beer Festival in 1992, but he did, and it clearly had an influence on him. A decade later, Breconshire’s Golden Valley made its first appearance there.

Six years further on, the pale golden beer is still one of its best sellers. It uses only British ingredients, something that Buster is passionate about, but not as passionate as the idea of using locally sourced Welsh malt and hops. “Welsh hops are still a few years away, but I hope we’ll get there” he says. It certainly won’t be at the expense of quality, though.

Moving quickly from the sublime to the ridiculous, Buster takes me through to the storeroom and shows me two comically huge whisky casks, each holding many firkins of Ysbrid y Ddraig (“Spirit of the Dragon”). It’s all due to be casked, although after seeing my imploring expression, Buster says that “some” might get bottled. If its final packaging is a reflection of the rest of the range (90 per cent casked, 10 per cent bottled), there should be some Welsh caskaged beer available in bottles soon.

If you’ve ever tried any beer from family-run Otley Brewery at Pontypridd, you’ll have had an impression about it even before the beer was poured. Its sleek, modern branding, based on the initial letter of the family name, is a clear statement of intent. Nick Otley explains: “We were determined from day one to be different, we wanted to appeal to a different market.” It’s an approach that has served them well, but all the branding in the world would be wasted on a sub-standard product. But with awards given to Otley on a seemingly monthly basis since it was founded in 2005, form and function are clearly in happy harmony. Add to that its recent first batch of exports (to Copenhagen, on the back of their presence on the British stand at the 2008 European Beer Festival, as covered in these pages last year), and it becomes clear that the Otleys have their sights set high.

This Article is from Beers of the World Issue 25, and the rest can be found here. 



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