The term ‘heavy industry’ is synonymous with Wales. It conjures up the iconic image of South Wales’ coal mining and ironworks, along with the shipping and dock work that went with it. But the north of Wales is also no stranger to a bit of sweat and toil, and though less famous it still had its coal fields and mining – slate, copper, even gold. Now there’s a new heavy industry to add to the list – the aptly named Heavy Industry Brewing, from Denbigh in north Wales.
My first encounter with Heavy Industry was at the Cob & Pen in Rhyl, while visiting my folks. The Cob & Pen was once the Dudley Arms, a cracked-tile boozer haunted by oddballs, misfits and underage drinkers. Some of those underage drinkers would break up an afternoon of double A-Level English with Mr Owen with a lunch time pint of Guinness and a game of pool, before returning to an afternoon of Chaucer.
Anyone familiar with that haunted old boozer will be astonished at the appearance of the Cob & Pen. In what used to be the pool room I mused at the radical transformation from dirty, broken tiles and frayed upholstery to snug carpets and seating while drinking a pint of Heavy Industry.
At the time I visited, around January or February this year, The Cob & Pen had two taps of Heavy Industry beer on the go but one had run out. The other was the smoked porter, a beer so delicious that I may well have had just that regardless of whatever else was on. It left a lasting impression, so I was more than pleased when I found four bottles of Heavy Industry in the Gravity Station: Diawl Bach, Nelson’s Eye, Collaborator and Electric Mountain.
Diawl Bach is a session strength pale ale, weighing in at 3.8% abv, with a bright golden colour. I mean bright in both senses, DiawlBach isn’t bottle conditioned. I’m beginning to wonder if most Welsh bottled ales aren’t bottled conditioned, but that’s for another time. Certainly none of the Heavy Industry beers were bottle conditioned.
Diawl Bach has a sharp citrus aroma of yellow grapefruit and lemon, backed up by a grassy hoppiness and a delicate hint of fruit syrup sweetness. For 3.8% it delivers a surprising big mouthfeel and well rounded body, but the main impact is the bitterness. This is a very bitter drink, deliciously so; hopped with Colombus, Cascade, Amarillo and Citra, it focusses on hop bitterness more than hop flavour. With its clear golden body and sharp refreshing dryness it reminded me of a German Pilsener. Once the palate adjusted to the bitterness hints of stone fruit and grass came through, but by then the bottle was almost polished off.
Next up was Electric Mountain, named after the power station in Snowdonia. I went there on a school trip once. Massive turbines. Also at 3.8% abv, Electric Mountain is the antithesis of Diawl Bach in many respects. Where Diawl Bach is geared up for the hopheads, Electric Mountain feels more like a traditional, real ale drink. Dark gold in colour, it has a sweet, toffee and malt aroma with a toasted note and a zesty hint in the background. On the tongue it balances fruit-cakey, sweet malt notes with a sparking, lemon undercurrent. It was pleasant, though not as impressive as Diawl Bach, but it felt like it really needed to be poured fresh from a cask into a pint glass for it to be truly judged at its best.
Nelson’s Eye (4.5% abv) was the third I tried. Made with Nelson Sauvin hops, the label states “we thought that we would not get our hands on these one of a kind New Zealand hops until Nelson get’s his eye back. Wrong!”
Similar to Diawl Bach, a golden, hoppy, bitter ale, this time with emphasis on the characteristic fruitiness of the Nelson Sauvin hop. A delicious, tropical aroma of blended tropical fruits leads in to the sharp, bitter taste that is balanced on a tight-rope of white grape and pineapple sweetness. It’s built on a sturdy malt base that keeps the dry, lime zest finish from becoming too bitter. A lovely drop, and a tough act to follow.
The dessert to this four course was Collaborator (5%), described as a best bitter. For a best bitter it’s thoroughly modern, with a rich malt profile of Maris Otter, crystal and chocolate malts that reminded me of the Sierra Nevada Torpedo I had the night before – strong, sweet and firm enough to support the spicy hop undercurrent. The malt brought with it plenty of red liquorice and dry berry flavours. It used that extra strength well, and I’d love to try a ramped up version of this recipe, say around the 7% mark.
It’s not often you can pick up several bottles from a brewery (especially a new-ish brewery) and have a clean sweep of successful, brilliant beers. Electric Mountain was the least impressive out of the bottle but has all the hallmarks of being a decent session pint on cask. Everything else put the Heavy Industry Brewery squarely on the map as producing the best beers from north Wales.
If you live in Cardiff, check out the Gravity Station who still have a few bottles left (Nelson’s Eye has now sold out). Don’t hang around, I might have to pick up some more of that Diawl Bach and Collaborator.