The Gravity Station opened on Friday 7 March and, in spite of living down the road, in spite of having waited an age for the day to come, it took me until last Saturday to put my head in through the door. That head was a touch sore following a meeting with Chris Rowlands, aka Beardface, the night before. It turns out Chris used to be a boxer in his youth and after a few too many brown ales at Zerodegrees it felt more like I’d been sparring with him rather than drinking with him.
So I had no intention of going to the Gravity Station on Saturday. No, sir. My plan was to grab some scotch eggs to cure the immediate hunger pangs and a stir fry for tea – dash through town, grab the food, get home and knuckle down on the PS3 with a pot of tea. Of course, the quickest route home happened to take me past the Gravity Station, where I saw Sue Hayward, head brewer and co-owner of Waen Brewery, drinking inside. Well, I thought, if I can survive several rounds with Beardface then one more can’t hurt…
There was a gathering of people drinking on that Saturday afternoon. It was hard to tell if they were two separate small groups or one large group as everyone was seated around the large copper table which forms the centrepiece of the Gravity Station. Whether they knew each other or not there was a good ambience as people sat elbow to elbow, chatting and working their way through flights of beer.
There’s more than enough choice to make a decent afternoon of it. The Gravity Station can handle two kegs and up to eight casks at a time. The casks live inside an impressive wooden cupboard behind the bar and the beer is dispensed through brass garden taps. Intriguingly, the cupboards all have bolt locks on them. Anything locked immediately piques my interest and I tried to blag a sneaky peak inside. Jim, the manager, simply smiled and shook his head. Whatever system they use to keep the casks at cellar condition is evidently top secret stuff. However they manage it, the cask beer was on perfect form when I sampled the Otley 03.
More importantly, perhaps, is the fact the Gravity Station serves beer from pins rather than firkins. The standard cask beer barrel used in the pub trade is the firkin, which contains 9 gallons, or 72 pints, of beer. The pin is half the size, so contains 4.5 gallons or 36 pints of beer. When a cask barrel is tapped the contents have a limited life span, typically three days. In that time the beer changes and evolves, gradually reaching a peak and then decreasing in quality toward the end of its life.
The risk with a small venue like the Gravity Station is having the same cask barrel on for too long and then finding that much of it is going to waste. Cunningly, by using smaller pins, they should manage to turn out beers in consistently good quality.
Both keg and cask beers are priced up the same: £1.75 for a half, £3.50 for a pint, or £3.50 for a flight of three thirds. The third paddles were very popular when I popped in, with almost half of the other drinkers sampling their way across the bar in tiny glass steps. There was something oddly relaxing about a flat pricing policy – it’s no secret that some craft beers can rip a hole in your wallet, and ordering the latest Mikkeller Triple IPA usually requires a lengthy phonecall to the bank beforehand. While the Gravity Station won’t be selling Mikkeller on draught anytime soon, whatever they do sell you know where you stand. It’s a small touch but one I appreciate.
It does mean most of the keg and cask will fall into a ‘session strength’ category, but if you fancy an Imperial Stout then you can always buy a bottled beer from the shelf and pop it open right there and then. They’re quite proud of their bottle choice at the Gravity Station – while there are some familiar labels on the shelves, such as Jever and Orval, there are a few rare creatures indeed, like Offbeat Brewery. Their long term aim is to stock beers that are uncommon, celebrating the small British breweries as well as the beer geek favourites.
That swift half turned into four as I sampled a few of Waen’s beers, going back to their Llager. I could happily drink that all summer, and if I ever want to take some along to a barbecue then the Gravity Station can bag up three pints to go. This is another weapon in the venue’s arsenal: three-pint foil take-out packs – lighter than glass, safer than cardboard, and less hassle than lugging around a growler, though possibly re-usable if you rinse it out.
The fourth half signalled the end of my impromptu visit – the few pounds I had on me had turned to pennies and (perhaps for the best) the card machine wasn’t installed yet (expected to be in place by Monday). Also, my stomach was crying out for those scotch eggs. If not for this I wouldn’t have left when I did – I’d expected a venue that sold a good range of good beer and I found that. What I didn’t expect was how chilled out a place it was. It’ll be interesting to watch the Gravity Station evolve and take shape over the coming months.
Their website lists what’s currently on tap and in bottle and you can follow them on twitter for more info @thegravitystn. You can also meet Sue Hayward of the Waen Brewery on Wednesday 26 March at The City Arms, in Cardiff, where she will be hosting a Meet The Brewer event from 8.30pm.