Cardiff comes to life: A year in beer

A year is an interesting length of time. It’s the measurement that means the most to people, with days and weeks being too brief and mundane to count, and decades too long to fathom, it’s that 365 day block that we use as our yardstick. From New Year’s Day and birthdays to “oh my God, has it been a year already…?”, the year is how we measure personal progress.

So what can you do with a year? Roughly two events occurred one year ago which happened again this week. The first is the award presented to City Arms, a Brain’s pub in the heart of Cardiff which specialises in serving a wide range of well-kept beer. Last year they came Highly Commended in Cardiff’s Pub of the Year competition, and this year they won the same award again. In 2012, however, they scooped Cardiff Pub of the Year.

Nothing has changed at City Arms. If anything, they’ve improved. An even better variety of beers, occasional events, consistently great service. So who did win 2014 Pub of the Year 2014? It was The Lansdowne, in Canton, that scooped the award. Since 2012, the Lansdowne has undergone a massive transformation and exists as the go-to real ale venue for that part of the city. The Lansdowne represents the crest of the recent wave of change to Cardiff’s beer scene, one that now keeps a lot of the existing pubs on their toes as newcomers arrive.

It’s not been a smooth wave. The once promising Fire Island proved to be a serious kink in the flow of things. It was about a year ago when Sue Hayward, from the Waen Brewery, travelled down to Cardiff to host a Meet The Brewer event at Fire Island. Thanks to Sue, and beer, it was a fun night, but it’s easy to see now how awkward and poorly organised the event had been. There was a break in communication between staff and customers so that people didn’t really know where or when it was even when they arrived at the pub.

Let’s fast forward to Wednesday night when Sue when returned to Cardiff to host another Meet the Brewer, this time at City Arms. It was a moment that was very much one of those “oh my God, has it been a year already…?” encounters. Though it may have been more chance than design, the merging of CAMRA’s award ceremony followed by Waen’s Meet The Brewer was a cunning combination – different groups with similar interests merging to ensure there was a good turnout.

With beer lovers and brewers and CAMRA members all packed into one half of the City Arms, talk of beer was everywhere. It became concentrated and distilled, and it became a rare moment when you could hold the finished product up to the light and realise just exactly what you had – that Cardiff is starting to mature as a beer city.

It’s come on leaps and bounds from last year. Fire Island shut down but the site is now Tiny Rebel’s tap house, the Urban Tap House. There’s the Gravity Station, the Waen Brewery’s own bottle shop and bar which has recently opened. Also BrewDog’s pending bar opening was discussed a couple of times, another craft beer bar on the craft leyline (pull up a map of Cardiff – the leyline roughly runs down Westgate, diverts along Womanby Street, cuts across St Mary’s and ends up on the Rummer Tavern).

You could argue that leyline is wide enough to incorporate the Millenium Stadium, which will host the Great Welsh Beer Festival in June. From the murk of the Motorpoint Arena to the grandeur of the Millenium Stadium is a proud step forward in just one year, and it’s a fitting recognition of the entire Welsh beer scene.

The Welsh scene is beginning to break out over the border. For various reasons, Welsh beer has rarely made an impact on England. The latest wave of brewers has bucked that, with Waen and Tiny Rebel amongst others now enjoying popularity in England and abroad. 2014 will be a good year for beer in Cardiff and without wanting to wish away the year I’m very keen to see how the scene shapes up.

Do you live in Cardiff? Have you recently visited after not being here for a year or more? How is the city shaping up in your eyes? Let’s share this out. I’m interested to see how the year has been for you – after all, it’s a very personal unit of measurement.

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4 thoughts on “Cardiff comes to life: A year in beer”

  1. whats your thoughts on the price of the GWBCF this year? Its £10 now, plus you get to keep the glass IF your a CAMRA member.? If i remember rightly thats more than the Great British Beer festival last year which is what? 3 times the size.

    1. I’m still looking into this year’s Great Welsh; hard to comment on the price until we know whether it comes with beer tokens or food vouchers. It’s certainly odd that only CAMRA members would be allowed to keep the glass, though if the glasses are as horrible as they were last year then no one would want them anyway.

      This year’s Great Welsh is tied in with one or two other festivals, and is being held at the Millennium Stadium, so I guess the entry fee covers all of the festivals going on – I believe it’s great Welsh, a food festival, and then another drinks element (so keg beer, bottles, even wine maybe, but not sure on that yet).

      A whole tenner to go in is going to make it prohibitive to go more than a once (and given there vast range of beer, two trips are really necessary), but I’m curious to see what the full package is. I certainly want this year’s Great Welsh to be good, and it has potential to become one of the nation’s finest beer and food festivals that given the venue and variety of those involved.

  2. So I might not have to bring my own picnic this year then! The food side can only get better to be honest. I’m sure I saw that you can buy the beers in thirds, half’s or pints so I’m thinking it must be back to a pint glass this year again.

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