Felinfoel Beer

The welsh red dragon of the Felinfoel Brewery at the Boot and Shoe public house, Kidwelly, Carmarthenshire, South Wales. Photograph © Andy Prosser

The welsh red dragon of the Felinfoel Brewery at the Boot and Shoe public house, Kidwelly, Carmarthenshire, South Wales. Photograph © Andy Prosser

Felinfoel Beer
The brewery has enjoyed many successes with their beers, winning many awards. 1976 was a particularly good year with the brewery clearing the board at the brewers exhibition winning gold medals for ‘Double Dragon’ and ‘Traditional Bitter’ and taking the international cup for the best draught beer exhibited – ‘Double Dragon’ thus Felinfoel can rightly claim to be “Champion brewers”.

The brewery is still an independent family concern and the present managing director represents the fifth generation, with an ongoing commitment to carrying on brewing for many more generations.

Felinfoel beers (colloquially known as feeling-foul) are sold throughout the UK, Double Dragon being a firm favorite with premium beer drinkers, in addition the brewery exports to the USA and Europe.

As the name implies, the brewery is situated in ‘Felinfoel’, a small village adjoining Llanelli. Historians tell us that in the old days the inn brewed its own beer, but only during the winter months. The keeping qualities and the strength of the beers, therefore, were of prime importance and the popularity of ‘ Felinfoel Beer’ led to the local inn brewing for other inns in the locality. This, in turn, led to the present brewery being built in 1878 to accommodate demand.

The founder, David John, owned iron and tinplate works around Llanelli when, in the mid-1830’s, he bought the King’s Head opposite his home in the village of Felinfoel. This was no ordinary pub but an important coaching inn with its own blacksmith’s shop to service the horses. It also had a more worrying feature. Alongside the building, which stuck out into the road, was a toll gate.

In the late 1830’s, this was like a red rag to an angry bull. The Rebecca rioters, the hard pressed tenant farmers who bitterly resented the road charges on their wagons and animals, were rampaging through Carmarthenshire, destroying toll gates. Feeling was running high against the authorities. David John decided to abandon the king and renamed his tavern the Union Inn.

Like most pubs of the time, it brewed its own beer. This proved popular and soon his Felinfoel ale was being sold to other houses. Then, as demand increased, he erected a larger brewery in 1878 opposite the pub in the grounds of his house, Pantglas. The imposing stone brewery was erected on his orchard, right up against the road.

The premises became a focal point of the community, employing about fifty people. A villager later recalled:

“Nearly every family kept a pig in their garden. When the butcher was booked to kill a pig in the back yard, large cans of hot water were carried from the brewery to scrape and clean the pig. Some people living in the vicinity even carried hot water for their weekly washing. Ladders were borrowed, tools sharpened, any excuse to go into the brewery for a drink.

On brewing day, farmers from the surrounding area came for the ‘sog’, the spent grains from the mash tun, to feed their animals. ‘The yards and road outside were crowded with the farmers’ carts, waiting their turn to be served.’ The narrow road came to be known as Farmers Row.

Felinfoel Brewery was actually built astride the River Lliedi, which still runs through the premise today, and in whose waters hundreds were baptised by the Revd Benjamin Humphreys during the dramatic days of the great religious revival of 1905.

The village’s second religion, rugby, was also closely connected with the local brew. Many famous matches were played on the recreation ground and then fiercely argued about afterwards in the Union Inn, once the headquarters of the Felinfoel club.