The AlbanyPosted: December 4, 2011
Trudging through the rain-soaked streets of Roath in search of a pub I had been heartily recommended by a man who knows a thing or two about fine Cardiff hostelries, I lifted my head and saw a warm and inviting glow coming from the corner of Donald Street. As I got closer, the sounds of laughter and hustle and bustle seeping out of the doors grew louder and I hoped this was my destination. It was.
The Albany, owned by Brains Brewery, is a true community pub. And judging by the rowdy Friday night I visited on, is not struggling to bring in the punters. Both the spacious lounge and bar were packed to the rafters of this elegant Edwardian corner pub. The Albany was built in 1895 as a pub hotel and the lounge has retained many of its period features. But this was fit to burst on the night I visited, so I made my way round to the larger bar which faces on to Dalcross Street.
The bar is spacious, with wood flooring, proper pub bench seating, Welsh rugby memorabilia lining the walls, a few TVs showing a range of sports (with one outside in the smoking area) and a well used jukebox and Itbox. But more importantly it had a lively crowd in. You can tell if a pub is serving its community by the diversity of its clientele. The Albany had couples, old codger barmaid botherers, singing sports teams, students, teenagers of dubious age quietly drinking in the corner amazed they’re getting away with it, and everyone else in between. It is how a pub should be; a meeting place for all in the area to come and have a good time.
For my first of the evening I went for a pint of Brains Dark(3.5%). I had been recommended Dark by a reader of Cardiff Drinks and was not left disappointed. At £2.45 it was already on to a winner, but when I went in for the obligatory ‘at bar sip’ I got a surprise. In the pint it looks a dark and intense beer, but on the taste it was surprisingly light. As a dark mild it delivers all the bitterness you want from a winter pint but keeps it smooth and exceptionally drinkable. This may seem like heresy to lovers of stout, but I would take a pint of Brains Dark over a Guinness any day.
On my second visit to the bar I kept with the Brains but opted for a pint of one of their seasonal ales, Merlin’s Oak(4.3%) at £2.70. I should at this point mention the brilliant deal The Albany offers designated drivers, another example of its community credentials. For those foregoing the pleasures of the pint in order to drive home, they can get free refills of coke and lemonade all night long. Now that is a deal.
Back to Merlin’s Oak. This is a beautifully smooth autumnal ale with a dark amber hue and nutty notes which I could have stayed on all night if I wasn’t such a conscientious beer taster for you, the reader. The nutty notes aren’t just in the flavour of the pint; the ale’s pump clip also comes with a little quote from Welsh folklore: “When Merlin’s tree should tumble down then shall fall Carmarthen Town”.
Carmathen is said to be the birth place of the mythical wizard Merlin. The town’s Welsh name Caerfyrddin coming from Myrddin, the Welsh name for Merlin, and Caer for fort, named after the Roman encampment there.
Merlin is said to have made the quoted prophecy regarding an old oak tree in the town centre. When said tree died in 1856 the prophecy appeared to come true as the following winter Carmathen suffered their worst floods for years. But there is also a story that a local trader deliberately poisoned the tree for his own benefit as it was blocking access to his shop.
On my third trip to the bar I spied a great little deal for the curious of taste and short of funds – a taster rack of three ales for £2.55. In order to make a clean sweep of the pints on tap I took an SA Gold (4.3%), SA Bitter (3.7%) and Dragonhead(4%).
Dragonhead is a stout produced by The Orkney Brewery on the Scottish island of the same name. It delivers everything you want from a good stout, a deep rich colour, a proud head, and dark intense bitterness. The Scots can definitely compete with their cousins across the Irish Sea when it comes to producing a hearty stout. The two Brains staples that made up the rest of the taster rack delivered their usual smooth beery goodness. I’d like to see more taster racks in pubs. Wetherspoon’s have always led the way on this but it would be great to see it spread beyond the chain establishments.
The Albany is clearly a great pub. But don’t just take my word for it. CAMRA Cardiff named it Pub of the Year in 2005 and 2006 and it was listed in the Good Beer Guide 2006. You can’t argue with the facts.
Mine’s a pint.