There is, I promise, some method to my madness. You may see a man eating and drinking his way, seemingly at random, through the county that he lives in. But, I assure you, I have also been keeping one eye carefully on the progress I am making towards my Devon A-Z challenge.
If you were to take a glance at the challenge’s progress page today, you would find that A to I are covered off. K to T are also crossed off the list, but there is nothing ticked off beyond T. Of the letters that I’ve managed to collect already, E, F, G, I, L and Q only have one entry each, so could really do with a bit of a boost. The current leader is R, with five separate entries covering a deli, a brewery, a cafe in Plymouth, a local food shop in Exeter and a great burger restaurant. Don’t forget that you can click on the logo of each company featured on the Devon A-Z page to find out more about each one.
With this in mind, it was with some determination that I marched through Newton Abbot, Mrs RB hurrying along beside me, as we made our way to the recent Tuckers Maltings beer festival. The festival featured 250 different beers from local South West breweries and offered plenty of opportunity to those seeking to cross things from lists.
With my ‘Devon A-Z’ hat on, I had decided to stick to just Devon-based breweries. This wasn’t going to cut down my options too dramatically, with a great showing from a whole host of different breweries from across the county. In fact, there were several local breweries that I had not even heard of before.
Country Life have been running since 1998 (so I probably should have heard of them) and are based in North Devon. Their website proudly declares that they can be found at the Big Sheep tourist attraction. So there you go then. I tried their Black Boar, a dark ruby porter, which was a smooth, if heavy, drink with a pretty smokey flavour. Deep ruby red in colour, it had coffee hints in amongst the smokiness and some good hops. Another brewery that I hadn’t come across before was Devon Earth from Paignton. Their premium bitter Grounded had a nice malty, biscuit flavour and, appropriately considering their name, also had quite an earthy taste. This had a very nice flavour, even though it felt a little flat when drinking it.
Two drinks in and I haven’t added any new letters to the list, but I have managed to try beers from two breweries that I haven’t experienced before.
Mrs RB had opted to only drink IPAs (you’ve got to have a system) and this led her to Black Tor brewery and Templar’s IPA. With a name like Black Tor they have to be from Devon and as it turns out, are actually based in the Teign valley, not too far from where we live. This is a stronger beer, at 5.8%, and wasn’t one of our favourite IPAs unfortunately. We came to the conclusion that it would probably be very good with a meal, whereas it became a bit cloying when drunk just on its own. I quite liked the dark fruit flavours in it, but I only tried a little bit before handing it back to Mrs RB.
Hanlons brewery have had the cheek to rename themselves (they were O’Hanlons previously), causing me some consternation as to where to place them in the Devon A-Z listings. I think I have settled on H, even though both H and O are currently tying on three entries each. The Hanlons Stormstay was a strong amber ale and was one of my favourites from the festival. It was a dark copper colour with both biscuit and citrus flavours, nicely balanced, and a dry finish. I will therefore forgive them for the renaming controversy.
Whilst we’re on the subject of my list, the next brewery allowed me to add not a new letter, but a new entry to the letter F; singular up until this point you will recall. Forge Brewery are another North Devon brewery, based near Bideford, and I was able to try Litehouse, an award-winning best bitter. This grabbed my attention with the promise of elderflowers but I’m not sure I managed to detect any in the beer. I did get a big fruity hit from it though and I found it nice and light and refreshing. This was another of the beers that I would come back to again, given the chance.
I can now tell you about one of the festival award winners. The Tavy Ales Porter won gold at the festival in the porters category and also came second overall. This dark beer has a bittersweet chocolate taste, with the bitterness really adding to a great tasting beer. I enjoyed this, perhaps not as much as Stormstay, and could see how this was judged so highly in the festival competition.
Skipping over one beer (that’s a story for another day), I can finally reveal that I was able to cross off another letter on my list thanks to the Wizard Brewery. They had four beers at the festival and I opted for Lundy’s Gold, a golden ale. This promised hints of apricot and I was amazed to find that I could actually taste apricot in the beer. What kind of magic was at work here? It is a light beer, with not a great deal of substance to it, but I enjoyed it still. It is well worth tracking down, even if it is just to thank them for choosing a name for their brewery that starts with a W. They also sound as though they have a healthy approach to brewing, which was nice to see.
As we sat on the bus on our way home, I was able to reflect (sort of, just about) on a good afternoon; one in which I had tried several breweries I had not tried before and had crossed a new letter off of the Devon A-Z list. I also realised that I am well on my way to trying at least one beer from each brewery in the county. This is a bit theoretical, in that I can’t actually find a conclusive list of all of the breweries in Devon (you may remember that I tried to do this before), however I’m pretty confident that I have ticked off nearly every one that I know about. I don’t know about you, but that sounds like a mini challenge-within-a-challenge: to try at least one beer from every Devon-based brewery as part of the Devon A-Z year.
One final point, before I head off to ponder how to cross off those remaining letters. I want to tell you about the new Directory pages available on the blog. Have you lost track of that post I wrote about cereal? How about the one where I told you all about Plymouth gin? Well you need worry no more. Just click onto the Directory page and you will find links to the post you’ve been looking for. If you’re after beer, then please select the Beer Directory from the drop-down menu to find a list of the various beers I have written about.
And yes, I am a sucker for lists. Sorry about that.