If Saruman came to Cardiff, he’d enjoy a drink at Zerodegrees. The vast metal fermentation vessels stacked to the roof are instantly awe-inspiring from the first step inside. Gleaming, industrial metal pipes and containers occupy the front window and a whole corner of this large bar. These aren’t merely for show – Zerodegrees is a microbrewery as well as a bar, selling its own unique beers. The previous head brewer was from Germany, and there still remains a definite Germanic influence in the beers sold, such as the black lager, pilsner and wheat beer, alongside the mango beer and pale ale. The current brewer, Alex, is from Italy, and has brought with him a love of hops. The core beers are always crisp, cool, and consistently tasty, while specials come and go very quickly.
If you like what you taste, you can take home a mini-keg of their beers. The self-contained 5 litre kegs are around £18, so £2 a pint isn’t a bad deal (cost will vary depending on what goes inside it). Zerodegrees pitched a bar at the Great Welsh Beer Festival in the Millenium Centre earlier this month and showcased some fantastic beers, demonstrating their underappreciated skill at turning out great beers. For me, those beers are mostly lost in a haze of beer soaked memories, but ask anyone who was there. They’ll have the same gleam in their eye and ear-to-ear smile as they fondly recall the Imperial Russian Stout or American IPA.
In a brief, booze-soaked moment of madness, I briefly imagined all of the fermenting vessels were there for show, and the beer is secretly piped in from somewhere in England. It would explain why all four outlets in the chain are built on a line running from Cardiff to London via Bristol and Reading. It might also explain why, despite being brewed onsite, without the usual transport or mark-up costs associated with distribution, the beer doesn’t price any cheaper than most premium bars. If cost concerns you, visit during one of the “happy hours”.
Although visually impressive and extremely well lit due to the large fronted windows, it does come across as a warehouse from both inside and out (the impressive stone façade actually declares it was the local car garage in a distant life). This may be why the Cardiff branch of the Zerodegrees chain hasn’t won a CAMRA award for its appearance, unlike the Reading, Bristol and London venues. For better or worse, it does mean it can be mistakenly written-off by casual pub goers as nothing more than a “trendy bar” type of place, rather than a brewpub, meaning there’s often a table spare somewhere inside for the shrewd drinker. Sports days are busier than non-sports days, particularly if there’s a game on at the Millennium Stadium.
Don’t let this put you off; it’s a nice place to eat and easy to spot if you’re visiting Cardiff, and you can book tables in advance. The upstairs mezzanines are given over to dining, and you can hands down keep your Pizza Huts, Pizza Expresses and dodgy take-aways – the best pizzas in Cardiff come from the stone bake oven in Zerodegrees. Why have the usual meat feast pizza when you can have steak pizza? The true sign of a creative kitchen is how well they cater for vegetarians and pizzas such as gorganzola and pear (not for me, granted) shows how much effort goes into the menu. Better than the pizzas, though, are the kilo mussel pots. Sublime.
Cardiff, as with any major city, suffers from a lack of beer gardens in the city centre. While they’re far from beer garden territory, there are two outdoor terraces on the upstairs level. They look like they’ll make brilliant suntraps in the summer, providing you don’t mind a view of rooftops, rather than a rooftop view. Located near the train and bus stations, on the way to the excellent Urban Tap House and City Arms, and a close neighbour to the forthcoming Cardiff BrewDog, Zerodegrees is well worth the visit for food, drink or both. At the very least, it’s an interesting experience to do at least once. It’ll make you wonder why there aren’t more brewpubs in the UK, compared with the States.