Devon LivingIssue #04
In good spirits
We raise a glass to the array of fantastic drinks producers across Devon, from distilleries and breweries, to vineyards and orchards.
Here at Devon Living, we’re foodie fanatics and one category that never fails to impress is the array of ardent drinks producers countywide – alchemists, expertly honing their craft to produce liquid gold. Devon has it all, from award-winning breweries and distilleries to vineyards and orchards producing a rich and varied selection of drinks. Faced with the sheer abundance of wonderful producers, we could only give a flavour to whet the appetite. Without further ado, the bar is now open so let the tasting begin…
With the country enjoying something of a gin revolution of late, we’ve made this our main focus. As you’ll see, Devon has been at the forefront of the gin renaissance with several trailblazers helping put the region firmly on the map. Often, the bottles themselves are things of real beauty too, as warm and welcoming as the contents they hold.
A particular favourite of ours is Wicked Wolf Gin, a small batch handcrafted gin from Exmoor (www.wickedwolfgin.com). We recently met co-founder Julie Heap, who set up the venture with her husband, Pat Patel. “Each aromatic is prepared by hand, infused and distilled separately resulting in 11 individual distillates, which are then skilfully blended,” explains Julie. “This approach allows us complete control over the strength of each flavour, and enables consistency from batch to batch. The gin is filtered at each stage, producing a smooth, full-bodied and elegant spirit.” We’re informed it’s best enjoyed with ice and lime, over a sprig of thyme, which enhances all the flavours. But, Julie says, “it’s equally at home neat with a block or two of ice, mixed with a quality tonic and garnished with pink grapefruit, in a classic gin martini or mixed with ginger beer.” Sounds good to us! Look out also for the limited edition varieties produced periodically throughout the year, which so far have included Silver Bullet and Full Moon.
Salcombe Distillery, home to Salcombe Gin, has racked up a hugely impressive array of awards in its relative infancy (www.salcombegin.com). These include, most recently, Devon Chamber of Commerce’s ‘Small Business of the Year’, and last year’s Double Gold at The San Francisco World Spirits Competition for ‘Start Point’, Gold at The World Gin Awards, 3 stars at The Great Taste Awards and Best Producer at the Food Drink Devon Awards. Learn about distillation at the Gin School and use a mini copper still to develop and distill your very own 70cl bottle of gin.
Our tasting tour continues with Dartmoor Distillery, home to its original blend Black Dog Gin and, with a bit more of a kick, the ‘Navy strength’ Dartmoor Beast Gin (www.dartmoordistilleryltd.com). The team say: “We’re lucky enough to have Dartmoor as our back garden, which serves up brilliant local resources for crafting our unique products. Our gins are made with pure Dartmoor water and a carefully selected and curated mix of Dartmoor botanicals to bring flavour and distinction to every sip. In the summer you can often spot our master distiller, John Lawton, foraging for botanicals on Dartmoor, his faithful black labs, Taff and Tarka enjoying the walk by his side.”
In our June issue, we discovered that a glass of Agnes Arber is the perfect accompaniment to a day in the Devon countryside (www.lwc-drinks.co.uk). Inspired by the great botanist, Arber Gin brings together a unique blend of nine botanicals including juniper, angelica, coriander, cassia, lime, grapefruit, lemon, orange and liquorice to create a delicious, crisp taste – a true delight for the taste buds! With an impressive rating on the popular app Ginventory, and third place out of 250 artisan gins at the 2018 International Spirits Challenge, its credentials are assured. Head to the Seven Stars in Totnes or the Royal Castle Hotel in Dartmouth to sample the magic yourself.
Another to try is Quick Gin, born in the Exmouth spirits bar, Spoken (www.quickgin.co.uk). Owner George Nightingale, who sells 350 different gins at the bar, tells us more: “The name arose when customers kept asking for a ‘quick gin’ before their spouses came to collect them – not available until now!” Impressively, in just a year, the gin is now already available in 500 venues across the south west. George explains how to enjoy the perfect tipple. “Quick Gin should be served with a slice of orange which brings out the best of the 11 botanicals used in the recipe. The citrus forward gin is full bodied and pairs perfectly with tonic water.”
Give it a go
Nothing beats sampling the taste for yourself and many of the breweries, distilleries, vineyards and orchards featured have tasting tours available to book – you might even get a go at creating your own tipple! Visit the websites for all the details.
Devon Distillery was founded in 2013 by Cosmo Caddy, someone with a great pedigree in drinks production (www.devondistillery.com). “I was brought up around the food and drink world in Devon,” explains Cosmo. “My grandfather Maurice founded Sharpham Wine and Cheese in the year I was born, and I was picking grapes there aged four! I was introduced to grappa from Italy by my mother and have always loved it. Knowing I could get grapes’ skins, Pomace, from Sharpham each year I set out to make the UK’s first grappa.”
Dappa proved a hit, and the distillery started winning awards from the offset, including Silver at IWSC in 2014, a two-star award with Great Taste and a Silver Outstanding with IWSC as well as a silver and bronze in San Francisco. An exciting addition is the UK’s first and only mobile gin distillery ‘Still on the Move’ aboard ‘Ginny’, a 1973 VW T2 Pickup van, which launched publicly in 2017. “Being able to make a custom gin for anyone, anywhere in the country, has proven to be very exciting. We’ve even made gin for the Royal Navy on board the flight deck of HMS Ocean with one of those bottles being presented to HM The Queen.”
Other developments include the Devon Gin School at new premises in Dartington, as well as the release of Devoncello, a wonderful version of limoncello, crafted from the distillery’s Dappa, redistilled and then steeped with organic Sicilian lemons. Keep an eye out for the release of SloeD Gin, as well as the world’s first four-head gin still, which can produce a bottle of gin in as little as eight minutes! Click here to find out more.
Traditional ales and craft beer have a real depth of flavour that you won’t find in typical, mass-produced beers and lagers. There’s a lot to brewing beer, with different variations and combinations of hops and grain creating unique flavours and intensities. For many a brewery, its yeast is a key part of its identity, integral in maintaining consistency of taste, character and quality. When it comes to beer, it’s serious business and the breweries across Devon are clearly devoted to their craft.
A good place to start is the award-winning Red Rock Brewery based in Bishopsteignton, with its artisanal approach to producing beer since 2006 (www.redrockbrewery.co.uk). We heartily subscribe to the brewery’s ethos: “to brew the finest and most innovative beers around and that remains at the heart of everything we do. We hope that you enjoy drinking them as much as we enjoy making them!” Red Rock Brewery has three distinct ranges of beers, catering for all tastes from the traditional to the more contemporary: the Craft Range, the Traditional Range and the Slow Range. What unites them all is the expert craftsmanship, quality ingredients and careful balancing of flavours to create unique and delicious brews. The team explain more: “As brewers, we enjoy making all varieties of beers and experimenting with flavours, but there really is nothing quite like a good old fashioned quality pint of foaming real ale fresh from the pump.” Discover more about Red Rock Brewery and the team behind the beers here.
Dartmoor Brewery in Princetown, in the heart of the breathtaking countryside, lays claim to being the highest brewery in the British Isles, at 1465ft above sea level (www.dartmoorbrewery.co.uk). Dartmoor Brewery’s flagship beer is Jail Ale, “a full-bodied, deep golden brown with a well-rounded flavour and rich moreish aftertaste.” Managing Director Richard Smith tells us more: “We try to source our materials locally, such as barley grown by Tim Cox who farms at Drewsteighton. His land is relatively sheltered in the ‘Dartmoor Shadow’ and has a mix of clays and grit, one of the few areas on Dartmoor capable of growing grain to the high standards demanded by maltsters. We use Tuckers Maltings in Newton Abbot, who have been producing floor malted barley since 1900 at their current malthouse; one of only four malthouses in the country producing malt in this traditional way. The other ingredient is our people and the passion our brewing team have for making consistent great tasting beer.”
Another fine independent Dartmoor brewery is the equally thirst-quenching Black Tor Brewery at Christow, with a growing reputation for producing quality full-flavoured ales available in cask and bottle. (www.blacktorbrewery.co.uk). Black Tor recently launched its new pop-up bar at Dartington Food Fair and is now offering bars for private and corporate events, including the Budleigh Literary Festival in September. Owner and Head Brewer, Jonathon Crump hails Devon’s thriving foodie scene: “Devon is rich with a wealth of fantastic and innovative food and drink producers, and we are proud to be part of that and to fly the flag for Devon!”
The south west’s milder climate makes it one of the best places in the UK for growing grapes, and Devon has several vineyards well worth a visit and tasting. One to put on your list is the aforementioned and award-winning Sharpham Wine and Cheese, occupying a beautiful position on the edge of the River Dart (www.sharpham.com). Sharpham produces a fabulous range of wines for every palette, including whites, reds, rose and sparkling varieties.
Just south of Exeter, Pebblebed Vineyards began as a community project in 1999 and has grown into a fabulous business with over 20 acres of vineyards, producing stunning, award-winning wines (www.pebblebed.co.uk). According to the team: “In a good year, close to 50,000 bottles of Devon wines are produced. English Sparkling is now widely recognised as some of the best in the world and tastings have shown Pebblebed Sparkling is amongst the best in England. Our vineyards are managed with careful attention to encourage wildlife and reduce the impact of farming on the environment. Pebblebed wines are similarly made with great attention to detail and in a ‘natural’ way with the minimum use of additives to best exhibit our great Devon ‘terroir’.”
Orchards and cider makers
The West Country has a strong and widely recognised heritage of cider making. Every farm would once have had its own cider press, producing much needed refreshment for the farm workers from the abundance of apples. Whether you like it sweet or dry and crisp, still or sparkling, you can enjoy delicious cider in all its guises across the county, with a whole host of fantastic producers out there. Sample the authentic taste of Devon cider at Green Valley Cyder, located at Darts Farm (www.greenvalleycyder.co.uk). So what makes it so special? Well according to the team: “Green Valley Cyder is made only from freshly pressed Devon apples. In a county with near perfect conditions for apple-growing, we see no sense in bringing in apples or juice from outside. One of our aims is to encourage the development of farm orchards locally, particularly the replanting of traditional old cider apple varieties.”
Well, it’s time at the bar and we really have barely scratched the surface of the staggeringly vast array of drinks producers here in Devon. In raising a glass to just a few of them, we hope to inspire you to begin your own tasting session and make a few discoveries of your own – cheers!
Do you have your own bar, restaurant, cafe or shop? For all your drinks needs, contact LWC Drinks in Newton Abbot, the UK’s largest independent drinks wholesaler, stocking a huge range of handcrafted drinks.