Reflecting on Devon Beer

Vintage map of Devon showing Beer Head.

About two years ago, when we still lived in Penzance, we were approached by the editor of Devon Life magazine. He wanted to introduce a monthly beer column and reckoned we were the right people to do it.

We pushed back: we didn’t know Devon well, although Ray spent some time there as a kid and we’ve often vis­it­ed; and the fee they were offer­ing would bare­ly cov­er the cost of research­ing the col­umn. Still, he was insis­tent, and there was some­thing inter­est­ing in the idea of focus­ing on one coun­ty and fer­ret­ing out what there was to be fer­ret­ed. So we said yes.

Over the course of 20 months we wrote about notable pubs, brew­eries, bot­tle shops, nuggets of his­to­ry, and spe­cif­ic beers. We made spe­cial trips to Cock­ing­ton, Exeter, Exmouth, New­ton Abbot, Ply­mouth, Tavi­s­tock, Teign­mouth, Tiver­ton, Top­sham and Totnes, and con­vinced peo­ple from var­i­ous oth­er places to come to us at The Impe­r­i­al, AKA our Exeter office. We don’t claim this makes us experts – you have to live in a place, ide­al­ly for years, before you can real­ly say that – but it did give us a deep­er sense of what is going on than we’d oth­er­wise have acquired.

When the col­umn came to an end at Christ­mas, we took a bit of time to reflect on what we learned, and to draw some con­clu­sions.

Con­tin­ue read­ing “Reflect­ing on Devon Beer”

Raw, rough and rude

Kingsbridge Inn, Totnes, Devon.

Many of the new brew­eries from the 1970s ‘real ale rev­o­lu­tion’ did­n’t sur­vive the 1980s but But­combe did, and their Bit­ter is, as far as we can work out, one of the few beers from that time (1978) still read­i­ly avail­able in British pubs.

At its best (as at the Kings­bridge Inn in Totnes, Devon) But­combe Bit­ter illus­trates per­fect­ly why peo­ple were so excit­ed by real ale in the 1970s: a lean­ing, Fal­staffi­an mound of froth; a rather stern, chalky bit­ter­ness; and a raw, rough-edged rude­ness. Com­pared to some of the beers we enjoyed in Bris­tol (of which more lat­er) it might seem a lit­tle fud­dy-dud­dy or sepia-toned, but that would not have been the case when the alter­na­tive was bor­der­line sick­ly-sweet, weak, smoothed-out keg bit­ter. (Infla­tion of expec­ta­tions.)

It tastes like the first time I tast­ed beer, when I was five, and I dipped my fin­ger in my Dad’s pint,” said Boak.

It smells like the cold air that used to waft out of the door of New­mar­ket on a sum­mer after­noon,” said Bai­ley.

It’s real­ly… beery.”

Regard­less of how it tast­ed, after a cou­ple of pints, we were ready to dash our mugs to the floor, board long­boats and set sail for new lands. Rargh!

Does any­one know of oth­er beers from brew­eries that opened between 1972 and 1980 which are still on the mar­ket?