North Devon trip report

9/03/08. North Devon trip report: Another great trip to breweries in the South West. Simon Palmer reports on this excellent weekend trip.

Branch Trip to NORTH DEVON – 7th to 9th March 2007 by Simon Palmer

A small (sadly depleted by illness) party departed for North Devon bright and early on the Friday morning. These included Rich G, Rich B, Rich (Raddle), Phil, Harvey, Jackie and Andy, Colin and Delia and Simon and Penny.

Thanks to brilliant navigating by Rich “Is this map the right way up?” Bates and a helpful outbound dray we arrived at Otter bang on time. Idyllically located on the side of a valley northeast of Honiton the brewery has recently moved out of its cramped original farm buildings into a new brewhouse.

Otter brew house

Beautifully finished in stone and timber cladding the building houses all the brewing process except racking and a new cellar is also being built to replace a collection of hired chilled containers currently used to store the output. This will have a living grass roof so that it will blend into the surroundings.

We were greeted by Luke who handed us over to Martin, one of the brewers for a tour. He led us through the spotless German built plant and answered all our questions.

Martin waxing lyrical

Next stop was the Reform in Barnstaple; the tap for the Barum brewery located behind the pub. Having sampled Original (4.4%), Breakfast (5%) and an excellent new mild we were shown the 5 barrel plant by Tim.

The Reform, Barnstaple

He was very honest about the problems faced by small craft brewers such as the impending shortage of malt and the aggressive marketing tactics employed by some breweries.

One old long held myth was finally broken I had always imagined that Barum was the roman name for Barnstaple.

In fact, as Tim informed us it comes from an old cartographers trick. When faced with having to write a long place name on a hand drawn map they just used the first three letters followed by the suffix “um”; so Dorchester would be “Dorum”, Weymouth “Weyum” and Ayr……er “Ayr”!

Tim and Harvey

We then adjourned to the sampling room in the old buildings. There were 2 batches of Bitter (3.6%), Otter Bright (4.3%), Otter Ale (4.5%) and Otter head (5.8%) on offer. In addition we were lucky enough to be able sample the bottle conditioned Hoppy Otter at 7%, a brew exclusively for the American market; and dangerously moreish!

We now departed for our second stop of the day and having negotiated Exeters traffic were soon at the Beer Engine at Newton St Cyres.

Once Jan the very enthusiastic landlady had established that we knew something of the brewing process we had a quick look at the very compact 3 barrel plant before adjourning to the bar for some Rail Ale (3.8%) and Piston Bitter at 4.3%.

After an excellent lunch we remounted our steed (minibus) for the very scenic drive following the Tarka trail up to Torrington. The next port of call was supposed to be Clearwater but on arrival at the industrial estate we were faced with a decidedly “locked up for the weekend” looking unit. Accordingly plan B was put into effect; The Kings Arms a GBG listed hostelry on the quayside at Bideford where Grenville’s Renown and Sharps Doombar quickly restored morale.

As the afternoon was getting on we repaired to our base; The Cedars Inn on the outskirts of Barnstaple. Once checked in to this very comfortable and welcoming hotel we discovered that as Greene King house the bar afforded Abbot and GK IPA as well as a comprehensive and reasonably priced wine list; which was extensively tested during an excellent dinner.

After a “full English” on Saturday morning we set off for our first visit of the day; Wizard at Ilfracombe. Sited on a rather unpreposessing industrial estate we were hosted by managing director Mike who explained that he had relocated from Warwickshire in 2007 after many years running a successful brew pub. Any hopes of a quiet life had been dashed by having to make frequent return visits to the Midlands to supply an eager clientele and service his holiday cottages!

He also opined on the advantages and disadvantages of plastic kegs and the general state of craft brewing in England. Unfortunately there were no casks on site to sample and he was unsure of where in the neighbourhood his beers were currently available due in part to the virtual stranglehold on local pubs by St Austell; their huge distribution centre on the same estate bore witness to this.

Our next stop was the Beaver Inn in picturesque Appledore for another excellent lunch. Cotleigh and Exmoor were on offer to a nicely full bar enjoying the rugby on the TV. After a bracing walk along the river Torridge due in part to the unreliable memory of yours truly we set off for Country Life. This 15 barrel plant relocated from the Pig on the Hill pub to the “Big Sheep” an ovine based tourist attraction on the outskirts of Bideford in 2005. this ensures a “captive” audience of holiday makers in season. We were hosted by the brewers wife (whose name escapes me)(We’d had a few by then!!). After a look at their plant including a busy bottling plant, we sampled a wide range of their pig themed beers including the delicious 10% “10der”. Most of us took the opportunity to stock up from their extensive range of bottle conditioned ales.

We then returned to “The Cedars” before hitting the fleshpots of Barnstaple (quite literally on a Saturday night!!). first stop was Marshalls, a busy town centre pub offering Exmoor and Cotleigh. By a lucky stroke of fortune while we were there the Exmoor was replaced by a Wizard brew allowing us to try the light and hoppy “One for the toad” before adjouning to the “Panniers” a busy (aren’t they all?) Wetherspoons. Having been deafened by the hubbub we embarked on a 10 day camel hike to our pre booked Indian arranged by Rich “Its just along here” Gabe.

After a great curry washed down by Cobra we taxied back to the Cedars for our final night before an easy drive back to Darzet on Sunday morning.

It was tremendous to meet so many passionate and committed brewers and huge thanks are due to Rich Gabe for organizing and driving, Rich Bates for co driving and Phil for arranging the hotel and everyone for their good company. Roll on next year!!

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