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.
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.
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 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’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 | firstname.lastname@example.org |+44 (0)1409 253941
Unit 5, Circuit Business Park, Clawton, Holsworthy, Devon EX22 6RR
holsworthyales.co.uk |email@example.com | +44 (0)7879 401073