Last Updated : 21/07/10
Ffordd i maes Gorllewin (Way out west)
2010 Updates here!
had occasion to be in West Wales with my job and, after two nights in Cardiff, I took advantage of staying in Carmarthen for the Thursday night; I’d scooped two Felinfoel beers in the Drover’s Arms a full 15 years previously and was intrigued as to how my very vague memories of the place would stand up to the length of time since I’d visited. Work very kindly booked me into a hotel (Ivybush) right in the centre which would, hopefully, make my scooping a lot easier and save me a lot of walking!
So, with my job finished by 11:00, I took a wander around the town to see what was occurring. It soon became obvious that Carmarthen is blessed with a vast array of pubs; I must have counted over 30 just in the centre! I tried to find as many as possible and made notes as to what they served and whether real ale might be available before I made my evening trip around to see what the beer scene in this way out west town would be like.
I started on John Street, just behind the pedestrianised centre, with the Coracle inn. Badged as a James Williams pub, it looked like some W&D influence was in progress as the beer range comprised of Jennings mild, Marston Old Empire and a guest; Tom Wood old timber. The music playing was slightly alternative, and the general feel was of a well-run, sociable pub so a good start to the wander! Obviously, I tried the Tom Wood, which was a good russet ale, richly malty, with a dry bitterness and was in good condition.
I wandered along to Barn Road where I indulged in the evening’s first bout of loitering; I’d decided that as there were so many pubs to look in I didn’t want to be drinking any crap and so had settled on the idea of loitering outside, casting glances through the windows, and trying to see what real ale was available! The Market tavern claimed to serve real ale, but the solitary handpump was empty. Mind you, said sign also claimed it was a Free house with a “friendly atmosphere”; maybe so if you like fizz and shit music by the looks of things, so I quickly abandoned my lurking manoeuvre and crossed the busy road to the Tanners arms.
This long, narrow pub was a quiet, sociable place and reminiscent of being back in the 80's. The promised "wide range of real ales" turned out to be one, Brains Buckleys best (3.7%) – a sweetish, dark brown, toffee-malt brew, with some chocolate in the finish, an okay session beer served a touch cold, but in good condition. The locals sat at the bar were engaged in some amusing banter which mainly concerned slagging off one of their number as he liked Coronation street – which is fair enough, if you ask me.
I moseyed on along to the Mansel Arms on Mansel street, behind the market, which I’d noticed on my recce mission was a nice stone-built locals pub tucked away off the main drag which had some promise of decent beer - three pumps were on the bar, but only Worthington bitter was available, which I thought was a waste of a good-looking little pub; Shame. I then went back into the centre and had a quick shufty through the windows of the Blue boar and the 3 Salmons – both seemed to be keg only and very “yoof” oriented, despite the Salmons being a Brains tied house! The chippy across the road smelt very tempting, but I had £17.50 to spend in the hotel later on and so, with stomach complaining most indignantly at not being fed, I recommenced my perambulation down the wide Lammas Street which I remember from my not-so-recent visit.
The furthest hotel, the Golden Lion, was keg - I think, as I didn’t want to go in and feel like I had to buy a drink as I had much more to do that evening as it was! I’d been told by Uncle Knobby that most Felinfoel pubs didn’t serve real ale and so, not seeing an obvious handpump, I retraced my steps to the bar where I’d scooped Felinfoel all those years ago, the Drovers Arms. It’s still as I vaguely remember it was; a cosy, wood-panelled bar with bad music and a relaxed atmosphere. Strangely, everyone within, the barstaff included, seemed to be English or Polish! There were the same two Felinfoel beers on handpump as 15 years previous and so I tried them both; the Felinfoel bitter (3.8%) was a copper beer with strong pear drop and banana tastes, then a thin and slightly bitter and fruity finish, whilst the Double Dragon (4.2%) was much the same colour, but a lot richer and not as bananary, although still with some peardrop. Overall, Felinfoel tasted like very old-fashioned regional brews, a bit out of step with the current scene.
Back towards the centre I went, into the Rose & Crown, still on Lammas Street. This was badged as a Vaughany inn (whoever they are) and absolutely wedged with 30-somethings drinking Stella and other such crud dispensed from huge metal keg taps. The music was typical “yoof” brainless shite, but on the upside there was plenty of scenery to letch at, Ben Shaw pop on draught, and although the permanent cask ale seemed to be Bass there was a weekly guest, on my visit Evan Evans Cwrw (4.1%), a copper beer, rich and malty, fruity and bitter in finish.
My beer finished, I vacated the steamy, boisterous atmosphere of the pub for the much more relaxing and chilled vibes of the Boar's head hotel bar. This cosy old bar claimed to have real ale but, with a Felinfoel sign outside, I wasn’t convinced – until, after dodging around passages, I eventually walked in to be confronted with 3 handpumps; Double Dragon, Bitter and – amazingly - Stout! I quickly checked my mini-Aston and found that I’d never had anything remotely like that and so tentatively asked if it was on… it was, and so I relaxed with my glass of stout in a corner feeling very happy with the evening so far. In contrast to the dodgy standard beers, the stout was deep red/black with a very roasty nose, leading to a very burnt, roasty flavour and a burnt nutty bitterness in the finish, giving a well-flavoured and characterful stout – and a scoop too!
I’d been disappointed thus far in that I’d not heard any Welsh spoken at all; maybe Carmarthenshire wasn’t the Cymraeg yn areithio (Welsh speaking!) region I’d thought it was… until an old bloke came in and sat near to another elderly man; after preliminaries in English, the newcomer asked if the other spoke Welsh, which resulted in the two of them launching into a torrent of Cymraeg! I sat and savoured my stout, listened to the Welsh being spoken (which thankfully was drowning out the awful muzak) and reasoned that this was the best bar I’d been in that night so far! Maybe the huge scoop had something to do with it, but it somehow pushed all the right buttons for me on that occasion.
Next up was the Queens, a GBG-recommended pub right slap-bang in the centre. It looked good from the outside, but a quick glance into the bar revealed only Bass and two Archer’s beers on handpump; as Archers are on my boycott list I quickly withdrew myself from the door and tramped along King Street to the local McSpoons, the Hen Dderwen. This is a modern building on the outside, but once inside it’s a case of “Been in one...” and you know the rest! Curry night was in full-swing and so the barstaff were busy taking orders for food, but I still got served in what, for McSpoons, is a decent time of around five minutes. Six beers were available; Elgoods Cambridge, Bateman Strawberry Fields, Abbot, something I forget and Evan Evans Original Welsh (3.8%), which is an exclusive beer for McSpoons by the Llandeilo-based brewery. Obviously, as it was a scoop, I chose the local brew and found it to be a very fruity, quite tasty malt beer, solid if a bit unrefined, and with too much earthiness in the finish which kind of spoilt it.
My last call of the evening was the Stag & Pheasant on Spilman Street, opposite my hotel, and another GBG pub. Apparently it’s the old stables of the Spilman Hotel next door and was a rather strange locals pub, with the bar propped up by characters who spent the time I was there talking about guns and other gibberish, which wasn’t really the best backdrop for my scooping! The beers on offer were 3 cask ales; Worthington, St Austell HSB and Camerons Castle Eden ale (4.2%) - deep amber, a sweetish nutty and peardrop tasting beer with a sweet, fruity, and slightly bitter finish; it tasted to me reasonably similar to old brew from Castle Eden.
My pub crawl complete, I returned to the hotel to see – amazingly – Brains Merlin’s Oak (4.3%) on handpump! If I’d not had this on the Monday in the Old Cottage in Cardiff then I’d have scooped a beer in a hotel for, in the UK at least, probably the first time ever… so I had a pint anyway with my absolutely superb fillet of Welsh Black Beef, ending the evening’s exploration of Carmarthen on a high note when, if the truth be told, I’d expected very little and certainly no winners – it just proves there is usually decent beer around, you just have to look for it!
Overall, Carmarthen’s beer scene isn’t too bad, but in my opinion there’s too much Bass around and not enough outlets for local micros, although just a few miles outside the town there’s the Coles brewpub and an outlet for the new Ffos-y-Fin beers... maybe next time!
Updates from June 2010.
The Coracle now seems to stock just W&D beers (Jennings Bitter, bizarrely!), the Market Tavern and Tanners have been demolished to make way for a hideous shopping centre, the Mansel had Marstons and cider on cask, 3 Salmons was closed and Blue Boar was badged as a "bistro" pub - looked well dubious to me! The Drovers is exactly the same, Rose & Crown still sell a guest - Newman's Red Stag on my visit, Boars Head still do Felinfoel stout although none of the Felinfoel beer I had tasted real all night (all had a carbonic bite to it), Queens had Evan Evans Warrior and an Archers beer (so more E-E then!), Stag & Pheasant has been horribly refurbished and has only Marstons, and Ivybush hotel bar had Felinfoel beers on "cask". McSpoons had nothing of interest on the bar although, sadly, still had the best range in town.
I also visited the Coles brewpub which, despite the website saying it would be open, was closed - cheers then! it's around 7 miles out of town just off the main road.
© Gazza 05/11/06