Sunday evening is a time for resting off a roast dinner while supping a good beer in front of the telly. When you should be winding down, it takes a surge of willpower to gear up for an evening of meet the brewer at Fire Island in Cardiff. Still, when you’ve bought the ticket you may as well take the ride. I fought back the lingering hangover from yesterday’s celebrations, braved the rain, and went out to meet the Celt Experience team.
They had come in full force: Tom Newman, the head brewer, Gav, the lead brewer, and Gav’s wife Kelly. However, there was a broken link between the brewers and the attendees. In the absence of any signage or information on the ticket, or hosting from the Fire Island staff, no one really knew where the event was being held. So, for over an hour I was an audience of one, until Tom went for a wander and managed to round up a mob of clueless stragglers. After that the evening moved into full swing.
It didn’t daunt Tom in the slightest. He was everything you would expect from Wales’ only Beer Sommelier, as well as being Celt’s Head Brewer and Managing Director; whether it was a crowd of one or one dozen, he discussed the beers with passion and clarity, guiding people through the tastings.
Astonishingly, Gav has only been brewing for around 14 months. At least this is astonishing to me, as I’ve been homebrewing on-and-off for years without coming close to professional standards; in the meantime, Gav has progressed from homebrewer to Celt’s lead brewer via Brewlab’s course, and confidently rattles off brewing terms as if he’s been brewing for 14 years. He also hosts weekly online video Q&A sessions , and is one of the leading pioneers on smoking hops (probably for brewing research, I’m sure this has nothing to do with hops being related to cannabis).
Six beers were laid out for tasting: Golden, Silures, Dark Age, Danish Monster, Willow and Ash. Golden is a pale, hop-led ale, with a crisp, refreshing profile and tropical fruit taste making it an ideal thirst quencher. Dark Age is one of their darkest beers, falling somewhere between mild or porter, and is made up of eight different malts. Silures I don’t really remember, while Danish Monster I remember very well. Golden, Silures, and Dark Age fall within the core range, while Danish Monster is part of the Shapeshifter series, a sort of seasonal/experimental range. Danish Monster is a bit special, and worth hunting out. Despite the name, it isn’t an aggressive hop bomb. An ethic that underpins all of Celt’s beers is a sense of balance, even in their stronger drinks.
Ash and Willow are part of the Ogham series, which is the high-end craft geek premium selection. Ogham refers to an old Celtic language, and is part of Celt’s overall brand style of drawing from ancient Celtic history, druidic imagery and folklore. Ash is an Imperial Stout, a 10.5% powerhouse that demanded time and respect when drunk, perhaps while in front of the telly on a Sunday evening after a big roast dinner. Willow is a Double IPA. With so many beers flying around, it’s hard to remember how it tasted, but I do know it made the Danish Monster seem like a gentle palate cleanser in comparison.
It was also interesting to learn about Celt’s growing export market. They ship to Japan, Chile, Mexico, Scandinavia, and have their eyes set on taking over Russia. They’ve recently made a collaboration beer with Boxing Cat Brewery in Shanghai, called Cat Scratched Celt, and they brewed a batch last week, so it should be with the UK market soon.
Meeting the Celt Experience and sampling their newer releases left me wanting to track down all of their beers. That’s what everyone wants from a ‘meet the brewer’ evening, surely? Teething troubles aside, Fire Island is top notch venue for this sort of thing, and this Sunday they are hosting the Waen Brewery. You’ve not lived if you haven’t tried their Chilli Plum Porter. Brave the rain, buy a ticket and take the ride. Just remember to head to the piano room at the back.