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If I Only Had A Brain's

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By James Geneau

For many, the need for Brains is traditionally associated with the Tin Man from the Wizard of Oz. Along with Dorothy, the Scarecrow and the Lion, they made their way up the Yellow Brick Road in search of the famed Wizard of Oz. The Wizard could grant many wishes and it was promised to the Tin Man that if anyone could provide him with Brains, the Wizard was the man. In Mid-Wales, one could argue that the Wizard can be found at a wealth of pubs and taverns dotting the countryside from Cardiff to Llanwrtyd Wells. Here, asking for a Brain is a tradition that has been passed down for generations.

In 1882, a man by the name of Samuel Arthur Brain began making beer in Cardiff. According to historians, he stumbled onto this venture with his uncle when, due to the gambling debts of the owner, they purchased the Thomas Brothers' brewery which had been producing ales since 1713. This was the birth of SA Brain & Company Ltd., and their famous Brain’s beer.

As an independent local brewer, Brain’s has a long history in Wales. In 1914 the company built a new brewery on St. Mary Street in Cardiff, significantly expanding their production capabilities. With this expansion, the Brain family continued to brew their beer for the remainder of their 126 year history without any major changes to their traditional formulas. Over this time, the company added pubs to their business model and soon became the favored beer of the Welsh people. Today, all across Wales, you can hear the locals asking the barkeep for a brain. Anywhere else on earth this would somewhat amusing for the fellow patrons to hear, but not in Wales.

Brain’s produces a wide range of beers from their Cardiff brewery. By far, their most popular is Brain’s Bitter Ale. They use Goldings and Fuggles hops from The Welsh marches along with their unique yeast strand to produce this ale. This ale is golden amber in color and has an initial sweet-malt flavor followed by the characteristic well-hopped finish the brewer is known for. It was originally called a light beer due to its golden color in comparison to the dark ales produced in the region. Their traditional dark ale, known as Brain’s Dark, is a blend of dark and chocolate malts. When you first sip a Brain’s Dark Ale, you will notice a slightly malty and nutty taste but it finishes very dry and refreshing. This ale was their staple for many years and was an important part of daily life in Cardiff.

If you ask the locals, however, many will point to Brain’s SA as the best ale from the brewer. This is a strong ale with hoppy notes and a bitter-sweet finish. It is made with a combination of pale and crystal malts and the bite of this beer along with its rich copper color makes it a delightful pint after a long day of hiking through the Welsh countryside. They use a combination of local hops to produce this ale including Challenger, Goldings and Fuggles.

Whatever the choice, Brain’s has certainly made a name for themselves in Wales, especially in the past 10 to 20 years. In 1997 the company purchased Crown Buckley, at the time South Wales' other leading independent brewery. Crown Buckley had been formed by the merger of the Crown brewery of Pontyclun and the famous Llanelli based Buckleys, founded in 1767. Today, the company produces the full range of Brains and Buckleys ales at their Cardiff brewery. In the same period, the company has opened and operates over 200 pubs across Wales and the West Country along with being the official sponsor of the Welsh Rugby team. Clearly, they are a big part of life in Wales.

Looking back at the Tin Man’s wish to find a brain makes me reflect on the success of the Brain’s brand and the loyalty it has with the hard-working people of Wales. While this story is not unique, it is refreshing in comparison to the manner in which we consume beer in many parts of the Western world. When a Welsh farmer heads out to the fields to herd his sheep, plow his fields, or milks the cows, he heads to the pub in the evening for a pint of Brain’s. It is a part of his heritage and his way of life, one he shares with thousands of other Welsh residents. For many in the Western world, this is not a part of our daily experience. Many of us have lost any family traditions or loyalties to a specific brand of beer or spirit our parents or grandparents may have enjoyed. Instead, we run after the latest trends or the flashiest ads with little value being placed on tradition and heritage.

For many, a drink is a symbol of their taste or sophistication amongst others in society. For others, a brand of beverage promotes inclusion. It is the beer the team drinks after a game or the one that always shows up at summer barbeque. Unfortunately, these change over time as we grow older, meet new friends, or aspire to new goals. When we make a drink choice, we rarely do it based on anything else but the moment at hand, one that can change and impact our decision in the short time it takes to saddle up to the bartender.

For the Welsh farmer, his quest is to work hard and at the end of the day be rewarded with a pint of Brain’s. His father and grandfather did the same thing and he continues the tradition in the same fashion, albeit in a more technologically advanced society. Which makes me wonder, was the Tin Man really looking for a human brain or a reliable pint? Perhaps what he really wanted was the ability to do a hard day’s work and be rewarded time and time again by something that was consistent and familiar? Maybe it was the need to feel like he was keeping a legacy alive, like his forefathers, and not the ability to carry the one in math class. I guess we will never know. Until then, a pint of Brain’s will have to suffice.


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