All around the pub people sat in small groups, engaged in animated conversation. They would hold their beer up to the light and squint at it. They would swirl the beer and, sticking their nose into the glass, take a deep appreciative sniff. They would take a sip, a mouthful, a gulp and pause for a moment to consider the taste of the beer. It had been a long time since I had seen such intense scrutiny applied by a pub full of drinkers to the beer in front of them. We were there too: tasting, testing and talking. And it was a great way to spend an afternoon.
Welcome to the official launch of The New Lion Brewery.
It was a bright and cold November Saturday when Mrs RB and I made our way up the steep hill that runs through the centre of Totnes to reach the Bay Horse pub. The Bay Horse is a really nice pub with a good-sized beer garden at the back and this is where we found the mini beer festival that signalled the launch of a new Devon brewery.
Stepping out through the back door of the pub however, our attention was immediately diverted to the amazing smells coming from the barbecue to our right. All thoughts of beer temporarily forgotten, we had to choose from a range of exciting-sounding burgers and sausages. We opted for the beef and parsnip burgers, served with a celeriac slaw and some colourful hummus. Absolutely delicious it was too. If you spot The Kitchen Table setting up for an event near you then I would heartily recommend their food.
Having put in our burger order, we turned our attention back to the main event. On the bar were six different beers, all brewed by The New Lion Brewery: two versions each of their launch beers on cask, as well as two keg beers. Mat Henney, the brewer behind the beers, recently explained more about their beers in the brewery newsletter:
Mane Event, a modern session bitter. Inspired by the bold use of hops in American craft brewing, it will be packed with flavour.
Pandit IPA is named in honour of Pt. Ravi Shankar, who first dedicated himself to music at Dartington Hall, saying “in the summer of 1936 we spent a few months at Dartington Hall, in Devonshire, England a beautiful, open place…Inside me, I sensed something new and very exciting. I felt that I was coming close to music and that this music is what I was meant to devote my life to.” An intricate recipe, containing four malts and three hops, gives this beer great complexity and flavour.
Both versions of the bitter were really strong (in terms of quality, rather than ABV, although they do clock in at 5.2%). One in particular stood out for us: a well balanced bitter that seemed to be a hit with all of the people in the pub. A classic, clear, copper-coloured bitter appearance, it had some great malt tastes with an attractive hoppiness. The second version we tried was similar and was also a very strong beer, but lacked the all round balance of the first version. Scribbling our thoughts on the feedback cards, we made our way back to the bar for some more beer.
The two pale ales were also very tasty (although I have to say that I’m a sucker for a really good bitter and my loyalty had already been given to beer number 4). Of the two, one had a sweeter, almost butterscotch hint to it and the bitterness of the alternative version played better with Mrs RB and me. Not everyone agreed, however, and the great thing about this event was the conversations springing up between all of the pub-goers about the relative merits of the different beers. For example, we fell into conversation with the people next to us, who had the polar opposite view on the pale ales, preferring the less bitter version.
Mat explained that our favourite version of the pale ale had been brewed with Belgian yeasts for a different twist. One of the nice things about this event was the ability to meet the people behind the brewery, as well as the man brewing the beers, all of whom were happy to have a chat about their plans and their beers. Having worked at Dartmoor Brewery for the last couple of years, Mat is looking forward to crafting his own beers. They are also keen to perfect both cask and keg versions of the beers, as that will give their beers greater access to a wider audience, with restaurants being possible customers for a keg version.
With that in mind, we finished our tour of the beers with the keg version of the bitter. Based on the (in our opinion) best version of the cask bitter, this has been dry hopped, which gives a bolder hop aroma and flavour. This beer is also full of flavour and gives the cask version a run for its money in the “best of the beers” stakes. It is a hazier beer, as it has no finings added, meaning that it is also vegan-friendly. From the feedback around us, people certainly didn’t seem to mind the haziness and were happily knocking it back.
By this point in the proceedings, we were all a good few beers into the afternoon, and I fear that the feedback being given at this stage may be less useful to Mat and the team that it otherwise could be. Overheard nearby was the thought that beer number 1 took itself too seriously, whereas 4 had a much better sense of humour. Great feedback, but good luck in working out how to build that into refining the beer.
Overall, we were really impressed by the quality of all of the beers on offer and with the enthusiasm of the people behind this new brewery. We also had a great time at the Bay Horse and met some really friendly people, who were more than happy to chat to complete strangers about beer.