Monday, 3 June 2013

Westward ho

Back in 2002 I spent several months diligently travelling around Devon and Cornwall visiting every brewery (apart from Sharps for some reason or other) for the purpose of my first book West Country Ales. It was great fun and it gave me a snapshot of the beer scene in the west as it was at the time. Challenger seemed to be the most popular hop, but several breweries were using US varieties including Mount Hood, Willamette and Cascade. There were IPAs, most of which were low-alcohol session beers in the tradition of Greene King’s, though Teighworthy at Tuckers Maltings produced a citrus-tinged East India Pale Ale (they also brewed an Arctic Ale and a Russian Imperial Porter). That was then. Now, all manner of beers are being brewed in the West — sure there are trad bitters and some are very good, but there is also a sense of exploration (and maybe bandwagon jumping as well…) and consolidation.

The reason for this train of retrospective thought? Last week I was sent some beers by Penpont in Cornwall, a brewery that first came to my attention last year after they attempted to brew a white ale, which was apparently popular in south Devon around Newton Abbott in the 19th century (I think they left out the pigeon droppings, which were supposedly to be added to the brew). 

So here goes. The immediate impression of Penpont Porter (5.8%) is as if someone has sprinkled an earthy, not so sweet cocoa powder on the top of the nose of this creamy but slightly acidic (in a good way) beer. 19th century porter says the brewery, but who knows what the beer of that time tasted like? Meanwhile back in the present, there was a ringing, singing tone of bitterness going on in the finish that brought me back to take another taste. I swooned over the juxtaposition of the sweet, slightly bitter chocolate character in the mouth and the accompanying acidity that sat in the middle of the palate; meanwhile I doted on the nuttiness that wasn’t too overwhelming (hazelnut dipped in cocoa perhaps), the nudge of mocha coffee, and the boost of bitterness that made me think that this beer would prove to be an excellent appetiser for something like a juicy frankfurter. 

Then there was 1127 (6.4%), Penpont’s take on Abbey beer. The nose was sweet and crystalline, leathery and petrolly (Riesling?) with a chime of delicate fruitiness (no single fruit but just a universal fruitiness); it was aromatic on the palate, aromatic woodiness perhaps; it was sweet and boozy; dry, vinous, berry-like; with a fat mouth feel — I discovered that it went furiously well with an artisanal Red Leicester, urging out the cheese’s elemental creaminess.  I liked it. 

Finally, there was An Howl Reserve IPA (7%), which sadly I wasn’t so impressed by. This felt a bit flat in the glass, with a cut apple greenness on the nose, with some accompanying solvent notes; on the palate it was boozy, thick and viscous, bittersweet, with some banana and papaya, with a dry, bitter and boozy in the finish. It wasn’t a disaster but I wasn’t moved and it also made me wonder, what on earth is an IPA these days? Does anyone really know?

So there you are — a couple of excellent beers along with something that could be called a work in progress perhaps. Maybe it’s time for me to update West Country Ales.


  1. A 'Craft Beer West Country' app, like wot Will Hawkes dun for London, would be a huge hit.

  2. what a good idea — I did ask Will if he was going to do a Craft Beer Britain app but I think he palled at the idea of the work involved — would be a good gig for someone who doesn’t have to work