On the map: Conwy County
Colin Drury's monthly tour of the UK’s lesser-known beer hotspots continues in North Wales
Saturday 19 November 2022
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Ask Dave Faragher why there is a growing craft beer scene in Conwy County, North Wales, and he offers an interesting theory. Partially, he reckons, it’s because of the area’s reputation for outdoor activities and coastal adventures.
“People come here cycling, climbing, swimming,” he says. “After a day doing that, they’re looking for something really refreshing and packed with flavour. They don’t just want a pint of Carling.”
Small towns and unlikely regions are at the forefront of the UK’s current craft beer revolution – and Conwy County is very much part of that charge.
The area – stretching from Snowdonia to the coastal towns of Conwy, Llandudno and Colwyn Bay – has become home to a thriving scene over the last decade. Breweries such as Snowdon, Bragdy Nant and Geipel, as well as brewpubs (the Black Cloak), taprooms (Mash) and micro bars (the Bay Hop) have all turned the region into an unexpected beer jewel.
Faragher, himself, runs one such brewery: Wild Horse in Llandudno. Its most popular drink – a hazy IPA called Noktoa – arguably backs up his outdoorsy theory. “It’s very more-ish, very drinkable and it’s only 3.8 per cent,” the 41-year-old says. “I think it hits the spot after doing something active.”
He set up Wild Horse with wife Emma after they’d spent four years living in the beer utopia of Calgary in Canada. When they moved home in 2015, they realised all the incredible things they’d been drinking there didn’t really exist in this corner of Wales. “So, we thought we’d make them ourselves,” he explains.
How is running a business with a spouse, though? Do the pair end up discussing beer recipes in bed? Not quite. “Emma’s the finance director so we mainly end up talking numbers,” says Faragher.
Fortunately, the figures are good. The brewery has just expanded its capacity by 40 per cent to keep up with demand, while there are now plans afoot to open a tap room.
One person who’s already done just that in Conwy County is Andy Randles.
Small towns and unlikely regions are at the forefront of the UK's current craft beer revolution
He was one of three former employees at the well-known Heavy Industry Brewing (in neighbouring Denbighshire) who set up the Black Cloak brewpub in Colwyn Bay in 2018.
“What’s made it a success?” he ponders today. “Blood, sweat and the beers,” he quips.
The bar is so small it has almost as many keg taps (17) as it does seats (36), but the drinks made here are nothing if not big: especially popular is the 8 per cent DIPA (Everything Louder Than Everything) and 6.5 per cent NEIPA (perhaps aptly named Big Corruption).
Andy himself has his own theory as to why Conwy’s scene is thriving – and it’s to do with Liverpool and Manchester.
“You get people from the big cities coming here on holiday or at weekends,” the 40-year-old says. “And they want the same standard beers they can get at home so that almost forces North Wales to up its game.”
It is a point Becky Taylor agrees with.
She’s bar manager at Conwy Brewery’s onsite tap room Mash. “Our locals love their beer but, as a bar in this part of the world, you definitely need to be aware of what visitors want,” she says.
Conwy Brewery itself is something of a giant. What started as a husband-wife operation in 2003 now produces 1.2 million pints of real and craft ale every year – a significant number of which go to Wetherspoon pubs across the country. Mash, meanwhile, has gone from a spit-and-sawdust side room to a destination venue with six hand-pulls, nine keg lines, a live music room and a glorious beer yard with views over the bay in one direction and across the Mynydd y Dref hills in the other. “Sunsets with a drink are something else,” notes Taylor.
They want the same standard beers they can get at home so that almost forces North Wales to up its game
One other factor, too, may account for this North Wales beer-y boom: the water.
Nearby Wrexham Lager was famously founded in the late 19th century by two German immigrants who saw the potential of the area’s soft water to make Bavarian-style drinks. For the exact same reason, Erik Geupel – from the US but of German stock – set up his own lager-focused Geipel Brewing here, in Llanfor, in 2013.
Hang on, though. He’s Geupel but the brewery is Geipel? “No-one can ever pronounce my name,” he replies. “So I spelt the brewery the way it’s pronounced to give them a fighting chance.”
He himself was working in Warrington when he lost his job in 2008. As a passionate home brewer, he decided he’d attempt to go pro. He chose to focus on lager partially as a nod to his German ancestry and partially to differentiate himself from most other craft brewers.
“North Wales was an ideal place,” he says. “Because the water here is so pure.”
He thinks about this for a second, perhaps pondering on how his seven-barrel facility is based in an old farmstead in the foothills of Snowdonia. “But the whole area is so beautiful,” he adds. “How can you not be inspired to make great beer?”
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