Tag Archives: holsworthy ales

Ale in Holsworthy and Holsworthy Ales, Devon

Holsworthy Ales' Tamar Sauce, enjoyed in the Devon sun

Holsworthy, in northwest Devon, is a quiet little agricultural town, largely bypassed by the tourist hordes frequenting the coast 10 miles away. In days of yore, it was a significant market town, having been designated a “port” in the early middle ages. This is slightly confusing for an inland town, but in this older, Saxon sense port meant a safe place to trade.

Holsworthy had a railway line until 1966, when it was closed as part of the Beeching cuts. Some remnants of the railway route are in part being used today for Sustrans traffic-free routes, including the very handsome Derriton Viaduct. The Viaduct is one of the town’s key attractions. The other – for ale enthusiasts – is the beer scene, which is surprisingly vibrant for a town with a population of 2500-ish. Indeed, it’s one of those remarkable British towns with a pub every five yards.

The best beer pub is the Old Market Inn (or Olde Market). Lee, the publican, is welcoming, helpful and knowledgeable. He made a point of installing several handpumps and casks when he took over the pub several years ago, despite naysayers telling him he wouldn’t be able to sell real beer there.

Casks, Old Market Inn, Holsworthy, Devon

The Old Market went on to become North Devon CAMRA’s Pub of the Year 2010 to 2012 (it’s been pipped by the Ship and Pilot, Ilfracombe for the 2013 title). Lee also told me that he was chosen from among thousands to be accredited as one of the top 50 Guinness pubs in the UK although he says “I’m just doing what I’ve always done” – that is, keeping his beers properly. He even does his own beer call BOMB (“Best Old Market Bitter”), which he makes by dry hopping a beer supplied by a local brewery. He couldn’t say which though! He’s also started trying to further the beer education of his punters by stocking a fridge with bottled “Beers of the World”.

When I’m in the Old Market, however, I tend to stick with the most local option possible: which means brews from Holsworthy Ales. On this trip I made a point of sampling more of its spring and summer products, brewed just outside Holsworthy in Clawton. The microbrewery was founded in 2011 Dave Slocombe, who was a home brewer and solicitor who worked in London and Bristol before relocating to Devon. He has a smallholding nearby where he’s planted a vineyard; he says, “We do plan to make wine commercially but it is still some years away.”

Dave says he makes about 11 barrels a week in the summer – that’s 164l UK barrels, so 18 hectolitres. Although he started out using a commercial yeast, he now crops the barm, maintaining his own, unique yeast culture – to give his brews some added distinction. He says his beers are regularly in about eight pubs, adding that they’ve been in about 85 since he started producing in 2011.

A pint of Make me Hoppy at the Old Market Inn, Holsworthy, Devon

I had a pint of Dave’s Make Me Hoppy at the Old Market Inn. It’s his latest beer, a seasonal brew for Spring 2013. A 4.7% ABV beer, it is, as you’d expect, all about the hops – and is made with a blend of three, Green Bullet, Perle and Hersbrucke Hallertau. He says, “I wanted a floral, fairly Germanic beer, as a contrast to the fruitiness of Tamar Sauce, its predecessor.” And it is just that: crisp and floral.

My dad got a load of Holsworthy Ales in at their house, and I also tried the bottled version, which was slightly more carbonated than the cask version. This is natural, but especially so in the summer. Dave explains, “Bottled beers will nearly always be more carbonated, although I bottle out of the fermenter and (usually) at the same time as I cask up.  It is down to two factors: (1) the beer will often have more time in the bottle and kept in warmer conditions so has more time to have (relatively) vigorous secondary fermentation and (2) cask beer is generally kept in cellar conditions slowing down secondary fermentation and in a hand pull situation a lot of the CO2 is forced out of the beer in the pumping process, especially if the pump has a sparkler on it.”

Holsworthy Ales, brewery, Clawton, near Holsworthy, Devon

Holsworthy Ales currently does eight different beers. I wrote about the Autumnal Conker King here. This time round I also had Tamar Sauce, a pale ale with reasonable carbonation (in the bottled version), minimal head and a fairly thin body. It’s made in the summer and is a suitably refreshing floral and fruity drink for a warm weather (yes, the sun was out when I had mine, as you can see from the pic). It’s “hopped with New Zealand Cascade hops. This gives strong fruity notes which are balanced by bitterness from Green Bullet hops.”

Sun Shine (ABV 4%) is another nice summer drink, again with a fairly thin, well-carbonated body and a crisp, dry flavour and finish. It’s not unlike the (bottled) Make Me Hoppy, but is fruitier and less bitter.

My favourite of his beers in this sampling though was Mine’s a Mild. It’s a delicious low alcohol (3.7%) brew that’s great for a refreshing lunchtime drink, just right for when I had to keep my wits about me to go scrumping firewood after lunch in the gloomy, tangled woods nearby. It’s medium bodied, smooth and very malty, with a toastiness I found almost smoky.

Holsworthy Ales' Mine's a Mild

Holsworthy’s changed a fair bit in the 14-ish years I’ve been visiting. The one decent pasty shop closed down years ago, and the town acquired a supermarket – though some good independent shops manage to survive, like a nice little cheese shop and a great cook shop nextdoor. Oh, and Bergerac/Ispettore Barnaby himself has moved in nearby too. Best of all though, the beer scene really has gone from strength to strength thanks to the likes of Lee and Dave (whose next brew is a “Belgian style beer” specifically a “Chimay/Kwak type beer”). Not bad for the middle of nowhere in perennially soggy northwest Devon.

Old Market Inn
Chapel Street, Holsworthy, Devon EX22 6AY
oldmarketinn.co.uk | info@oldmarketinn.co.uk |+44 (0)1409 253941

Holsworthy Ales
Unit 5, Circuit Business Park, Clawton, Holsworthy, Devon EX22 6RR
holsworthyales.co.uk |dave@holsworthyales.co.uk | +44 (0)7879 401073

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A Tale of Two Chestnuts

The second weekend of November, we visited the handsome Tuscan town of Lucca. Avoiding the storms then ravaging much of northern Italy, we dived into a restaurant. After several evenings drinking wine with my oenophile parents, I was pleased to see this place had some beer on the menu and, more specifically, some real, craft beers. I’ve got no time for the big name Italian lagers – ick – but the craft beer movement here is incredibly rich and dynamic.

La Petrognola beers, Lucca

In this case, the beers on offer were from a brewery in Lucca province: La Petrognola. A quick visit to their website gives some idea of what they’re about: “From the most ancient wheat known to man is born a new craft beer, with its own unique and unmistakable taste, like the land from where it was born.” Or words to that effect (Here’s the original if your Italian is better than mine: “Dal più antico frumento conosciuto dall’uomo nasce una nuova birra di produzione artigianale. Un gusto unico e inconfodibile proprio come la terra in cui nasce.”). It’s earthy. It’s steeped in history.

This got me thinking though. Can Italian beer be steeped in history? Surely the warm Med was always a wine region, whereas it was the cooler north of Europe that has a more solid history in beer and brewing. Well, yes and no. Beer, like most of Western culture, has its origins in the (warm) ancient Middle East. (I’m not going to comment on the irony of that region now being dominated by conventions that deny a healthy ongoing engagement with the culture of alcohol.) And like much of that ancient Middle Eastern culture, beer reached Europe, including Rome. In Rome, it was considered a “barbarian” drink. Now, it must be clarified that the word “barbarian” has its origins in a Latin, then Greek, then even Sanskrit word that alluded to stammering, or incomprehensible speech. So, for the ancient Romans, “barbarian” didn’t imply savage so much as foreign. Anyway, as the Roman empire was so massive it also naturally included territories where beer and mead were the everyday drinks though in Rome itself it was a peasant drink, cheaper than the cheapest wine.

So beer has been here in Italy for at least two millennia, though it’s not exactly been at the heart of culinary heritage. Today, many of new craft beers are tied into the more overt culinary heritage by the use of local, traditional ingredients. Of the Petragnola beers we drank in Lucca, one, for example uses 100% malted farro (that is, spelt; though specifically what strain of spelt I don’t know. Wheat taxonomy is a thorny, or perhaps beardy, subject I will tackle at some stage [EDIT: I have now done so, see this post]). Another uses sweet chestnuts. I’m really enjoying chestnut beers these days. Borgo brewery also does one. We ordered it in Oasi della Birra in Testaccio last night, but they didn’t have it – but what they did have instead was Petrognola one, Marron. It’s a smooth, sweet beer (not bitter) with wholesome body, a dark amber colour and a nice depth of flavour. It’s 6.5% ABV, so strong by UK standards, but not that strong by Italian standards.

La Petrognola, Marron

Between these two sessions quaffing sweet chestnut beer, I’d paid a visit to Blighty. My father-in-law had got some decent beers in and among them was this Conker King. A conker, of course, is a horse chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum) and – I didn’t realise this till now – not even in the same taxonomical order as the sweet chestnut (Castanea sativa), despite the similarities in the seed and leaf forms. And indeed while the sweet chestnut is edible, the horse chestnut isn’t: it’s mildly toxic, though has traditionally had medical uses.

So while I enjoyed the superficial connection between all these chestnut beers, the Conker King does not contain chestnuts, sweet or horse. It’s named thus simply to evoke things Autumnal. The blurb on the Holsworthy Ales site says: “Conker King is an Autumnal Ale, the copper brown colour of falling leaves. Made using hops harvested in England, this brew is beautifully balanced and thirst quenching – just what you need after a hard day gathering conkers.” Like the Marron it has a lovely burnt amber colour, but it’s a more bitter beer, with a lower ABV: 3.9% ABV.

Conker King

I’m very much enjoying the emergence of Holsworthy ales, as my family has a house there, in northwest Devon, and I’ve been visiting the area for more than a decade. According to the publican in Holsworthy’s best beer pub, CAMRA champ the Old Market Inn, it was was set up by a chap (Dave Slocombe) escaping London and an office job, whose passion for home brewing has grown into something commercial (though still on a craft scale). My 2013 Guida alle birre d’Italia says something similar about La Petrognola, which was set up by one Roberto Giannarelli, who had been homebrewing in his garage before setting up the brewery. Gotta love the craft beer movement, nuts and all.

(Apologies for the quality of the photos – all taken on rubbish phone.)

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