Posted: Wed 16th Aug 2023

Swansea’s The Railway Inn takes on brewing after tragic loss, keeping real ale scene alive and thriving /

TAKING on a pub just before the first coronavirus lockdown, learning how to brew beer on the hoof, and becoming parents – twice – have kept Rhys and Becky Floyd on their toes for the last four years.
They got through Covid at The Railway Inn, Killay, and were excited at the prospect of working with brewer Rory Gowland, who ran Swansea Brewing Company from a pub in Gower. A separate brewery annexe was completed at The Railway Inn last summer and Mr Gowland rustled up his first test brew there that autumn.
All was going to plan, with Mr Gowland on track to move his operation from The Joiners Arms, Bishopston, to the annexe. But he died suddenly last November, aged 65, leaving a gaping hole in the real ale scene in Swansea and beyond.
“I only did fours hours brewing with him,” said a rueful Rhys. “Rory had helped most of the brewers in the area in the early days, and we were looking forward to being his apprentices.”
Becky said it was the wish of Mr Gowland and his partner, Liz, for her and her husband to take over the venture and retain the Swansea Brewing Company name. But there was a problem. “We didn’t know anything about brewing beer,” she said.
So she and Rhys did an online brewing course during Covid prior to Rhys and their part-time brewer, Richard Payne, attending one in person at a centre called Brewlab, Sunderland.
One of Mr Gowland’s old friends, who used to run a pub north of Cardiff, came out of retirement to help get the venture at The Railway Inn up and running. “He showed us the ropes – we would have been lost without him,” said Becky.
Now she, Rhys and Richard are doing at least two brews each week, with one brew equating to 648 pints. The Railway Inn, which dates from 1864, is a small pub and the locals have always appreciated a decent pint. Maintaining the standards of Mr Gowland’s staple trio of Bishopswood, Original Wood and Three Cliffs Gold wasn’t going to be easy.
“It’s mostly gone well, apart from a couple of mishaps,” said Becky. One of those was when a brew had to be poured away after it emerged that the yeast was infected. “Throwing 18 casks of beer down the drain – it stings,” said Rhys.
But it was all part of the learning process and it has made them even more meticulous in their preparation and checks.
Becky, 34, said a lot of brewing involved cleaning the equipment. “It’s not glamorous,” she said. “But it’s nice, it’s creative, and we will be learning for the rest of their lives.”
After a spell as a sub-contractor at the Tata steelworks, Port Talbot, Rhys said it was refreshing to work in a pleasant-smelling environment. “It’s great,” he said. “It’s physical, it’s creative and it’s proper science.”
The brewing trio have made a special tipple for the Swansea Bay Beer and Cider Festival, which takes place at the city’s Brangwyn Hall from August 31 to September 2, called Gwyn Reaper. They plan to knock out a chocolate and vanilla porter in due course, and bring in larger kit to make the whole operation more efficient.
Rhys and Becky said it was great when knowledgeable pub regulars gave their seal of approval. “We are constantly getting compliments from locals, and that goes a long way,” said Rhys, 44. “Some of them say, ‘That’s as good as Rory had it.’ I think they’re quite surprised.”
Running a pub, doing it up during Covid, brewing beer and looking after a two-and-a-half year-old and a four-month old – and two dogs – wouldn’t be for everybody, and the couple have recently employed a pub manager, who they described as “a game changer”.
Rhys said he had done a lot of work on the building and would one day love to acquire it from its owner, Swansea Council. He plans to bring a second fireplace into use for customers, and hopes to expand the current beer, coffee and ice-cream offer from a railway carriage outside with a brioche breakfast bap baked by Richard. Rhys said he’d also like to upgrade the outdoor toilet block – another of the numerous things on his to-do list.
For Becky, leasing The Railway Inn in October 2019 had special significance. “I used to work here in my late teens and early 20s, my parents always loved it here, and my brother ran it before me,” she said.
Sunshine floods the outdoor seating area in summer and the sounds of live music on Sunday afternoons wind their way way into the adjacent woods. Set in a hollow, off Gower Road, the pub fire crackles in winter to keep the chill at bay.
It’s strange to think trains used to pass right by The Railway Inn and that the area, which included a brickworks, was known for its industry.
The pub seems to have retained its appeal for people in Killay and further afield, as evidenced by a visiting couple from Birmingham who interrupted our late-morning conversation to ask if it was open. Rhys said technically it wasn’t but that beer could, legally, be served. Becky headed into the bar to slake the visitors’ thirst.
“It’s part community centre, part pub,” said Rhys. ‌​‌​‌​​​‍‌​‌​​‌‌‌‍‌​‌‌​​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌‌​​

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