Crafting Beer in the Preseli Hills

For several years now, brewpubs, microbreweries and nanobreweries have opened across the U.S. at an almost unprecedented rate. In fact, this year's sold out Great American Beer Festival (which starts today), is likely to include quite a few attendees who have transitioned from beer enthusiasts to full-fledged professionals. Next year, as many as 725 breweries are poised to join the craft beer movement. And while this growth is certainly remarkable, the excitement isn't limited to the 50 states. All over the globe, the tastes of drinkers are evolving, and brewers everywhere are working hard to keep up with demand.

Elsewhere in the Western Hemisphere, South America has joined the flavor revolution, and signs of change have begun to appear in Asia, too. Which isn't to say that the traditional brewing nations are standing idly by while the rest of the world races toward the future. In the U.K. for instance, where reports of shuttering pubs might be cause for concern among real ale campaigners, more than a few entrepreneurs have recently ventured into the business of beer.

I saw evidence of this phenomenon myself on a trip through Wales last September. Hand crafted cider had determined my driving route, but along the way I discovered determined Welsh brewers selling their small batch beers at farm shops, food festivals, and in some cases, right from the source. One of my favorites was the Gwaun Valley Brewery, a family operation in Pembrokeshire that opened in July 2009 near the town of Fishguard. I dropped by on my way to St Davids, and spent some time chatting with Sarah Davies while sampling the three beers brewed by her husband, Len. As a porter guy, I especially liked the mild Dark Ale (4.2% ABV) made with chocolate malt and local spring water.

Hop bines grow behind the converted granary, and visitors can also see the pigs that happily consume the brewery's spent grain. According to Sarah, "Sometimes they get some waste beer in their water trough and have been known to get tipsy! One of them in particular (the biggest) has developed a liking for this Real Ale and leaves his food to come sauntering over for a pint." Could beer bacon be destined for Welsh pub menus? 

Gwaun Valley Brewery welcomes visitors seven days a week from 10am to 6pm. On the occasional Saturday night, Sarah—who painted the watercolors that appear on the labels—also organizes free acoustic music sessions.

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