It’s not though. It’s Devon, in the beautiful south of the country.
I hardly need to remind you that I have had a bit of a “thing” recently for local stuff. You are, by now, perfectly entitled to tell me to go and stick my “isn’t Devon brilliant” musings where the gorgeous Devonian sun (sorry, I can’t help myself) doesn’t shine.
However, before you do, I feel compelled to say that think it is dangerous to look at local food as the pinnacle of food production. There is a lot to be said for local produce in terms of your connection to your local landscape, the reduced number of food miles and the support it gives to your local economy, and I certainly don’t think that it is a bad thing if a large proportion of your food and drink is local, but you will be denying yourself the opportunity to experience (almost literally) a world of wonderful produce if you stick rigidly to that mantra.
Insomuch as this blog doles out advice (which it doesn’t too often, I should really look at adding some sort of disclaimer in case anyone is silly enough to listen to my ramblings), then it certainly doesn’t advocate going local to the complete exclusion of everything else. And this is something that I would like to explore a little further today, through the medium of beer. One of my favourite mediums.
Let us wind back to last Christmas, when my parents sought out their local brewery and bought me a gift pack selection of their best beers. To get to my parents’ house for Christmas I have a 300 mile round trip, which means that you probably cannot count these beers as ‘local’. Not to me at least. But they are very local to my parents.
And it was a brilliant present because I had never tried this brewery before and it turns out that all of their beers were really good (although I am still slightly dubious about the practice of sellotaping a chocolate reindeer to the outside of their festive beer; that was a bit odd). And how can you not love a brewery that calls their lager “I Can’t Believe it’s Not Bitter”. That’s a great name for a lager and it was very tasty too.
I think we can say that this is a fairly easy quandary to resolve. It was a local brewery as far as my parents were concerned, and that makes it pretty easy to slot it into the ‘local’ category. But what if my parents didn’t live where they do? In that scenario, if I wanted to try this brewery, then I would be buying beer (probably via the internet) from a company several counties away from where I live. That would make it a lot less clear cut. And sticking to a ‘local only’ maxim and not trying the beers doesn’t seem like a good option either because, as I mentioned, they were good beers.
Let’s consider another example. For my birthday my brother, who lives in North Wales, sent me local beers from their neck of the woods. Again, this was a really good selection and, again, lots of beers I hadn’t tried before. It also goes to show that I have become a lot easier to buy for over the last couple of years. [Note to family if you’re reading this: I have no problem with beer as a present. Please keep them coming.]
If we work through the beers, then we can see that this selection offers a whole range of different things to try. Wrexham Borders Bitter from the Llangollen Brewery has a very orange colour and is quite carbonated, giving a reasonable amount of fizz when it is poured. It’s nice, but there is not much to it; quite fruity and light with a definite fruity nose. In some ways it reminds me of a wheat beer. Edging ahead of that beer was Cambrian Gold from Stonehouse Brewery. With its musky aroma and dry finish, this fruity golden ale, with a golden marmalade colour, has a lot to recommend it.
Out in front of those two was the Purple Moose Glaslyn Ale. Another beer with a light orange colour, this has a nice malty aroma and a good malty base flavour combined with a decent level of bitterness. I was all set to say that this was my favourite of my birthday selection of beers. That was until I tried the Stonehouse Off the Rails, which was even nicer. It has a nice maltiness in both aroma and taste, is a darker amber colour and is richer and stronger than the other beers.
This goes to illustrate, again, that there are lots of great beers being made all around the country. Some will be local to you, but they are probably not local to me. Should I not try them? Should I not buy them? No, that would be a mistake; but it is all about the balance. A lot of the time I would prefer to buy as much as I can locally. There are several great breweries around Devon and I am a very long way away from saying that I have tried everything that this county has to offer. But I would also like to supplement this local supply with great products from elsewhere. That would be the ideal.
As a final example, here is a scenario where the beers were neither local to me nor to where I was drinking them. Back in the summer, on a visit to Manchester, we visited the city’s Brewdog bar. Brewdog are a Scottish brewery, so being in Manchester meant that they were certainly closer to us than when I am at home here in Devon (by about 250 miles). But the thing is that, if you only drank Brewdog when you were in Scotland, then you would be missing out on some great beers. And you don’t have to go to Manchester either; several of their beers are available in the supermarkets, so they really can be locally available to most people.
Our evening was filled with exciting and interesting beers. Fake Lager, a pilsner that avoids the trap of being weak and watery by actually having some flavour. 5am Saint is their red ale: with berries and a touch of fruitiness, a bitter hit and a sweet body. And then there was the 2014 Mashtag, Brewdog’s ‘democratic beer’. For the last couple of years they have offered the public the chance to vote on the style and ingredients for a one-off beer; Mashtag is the resulting beer. Another red ale, warming and strong, this was a very enjoyable bottle of beer. Crucially, it is not one that I can wander into a bar near home and buy, so it was good to make the most of the opportunity to try it. When in Manchester…
And that is the moral that I am taking away from this. I will not be going out of my way to always search out the far flung, or to buy-in things from all around the country, but if the opportunity is there then it should be taken. And it probably will be. Cheers.