Two beers from Tavistock
Sir Francis Drake, Tavistock's most famous son, once said "There must be a beginning of any great matter, but the continuing unto the end until it be thoroughly finished yields the true glory".
May 2012 was the beginning for Mark Smith and his wife Janna Sanders, who along with Janna's brother Nathan started Tavy Ales. Both Mark and Janna had worked for Associated Press (and occasionally still do, as an engineer and producer/manager respectively covering the world's trouble spots, but it was when a sniper's bullet grazed his scalp after he had set up his equipment in Tripoli's Green Square that he decided a change of career might be in order. Nathan had been an enthusiastic home brewer for many years, so on returning to their Devon home Mark and Jenna were inspired to team up with him, and after some training at Brew Lab in Sunderland, to make it into a business. Mark had been a fan of real ale and craft beer for some time so it seemed a very natural thing to do.
Incidentally as an interesting aside, Mark and Jenna first met while covering the Pope's visit to Guatemala and by coincidence are,at the current time of writing both in Rome covering the Papal Conclave that will lead to the election of a new Pope.
The list of pubs taking their cask beer has slowly increased with country hotels and reastaurants taking the bottle-conditioned versions, and although I've yet to see them in a pub near me in sunny Essex, Mark was generous enough to send me some bottles of the Best Bitter and the Porter to try. There is also a 4.8% abv IPA which has recently been added to the range, but unfortunately for me this proved so popular it had sold out, but I'm certainly anxious to try it.
Their labels are evocative of those 1930s Art Deco railway posters which I have a particular soft spot for, all show images of the River Tavy from which the brewery takes its name. These were designed by a company called Graphicwords.com who are based in Peter Tavy, the same village as Mark and Jenna.
The Best Bitter is brewed using Fuggles and Goldings hops over eight hours with the malted barley, as with all their beers, coming from Tucker's Maltings, a traditional floor maltings from nearby Newton Abbot. It is fermented for three days before being conditioned in a secondary vessel for about a week.
Pouring a faintly red-hued copper with thin white head, the initial aroma of creamy milk chocolate is followed by some inviting cookie dough and fig notes. Quite prickly over the tongue and maybe a little on the thin side, this 4.3% abv bitter sets out it stall with little bursts of plum, fig and fizzy cola bottle sweets popping gently in the mouth. The underlying maltiness conjures images of early Autumn woodland walks following a brief cloud-burst, with a sprinkly of wholemeal breadcrumbs completing the picture. More sweet shop goodness awaits you in the finish, but this time it's red berry wine gums leaving a slightly oily fruitiness behind.
There's lots of subtle but cheekily delightful little bursts of flavour running through the fresh maltiness of this beer. It's a very accessible Best Bitter with no one taste overwhelming the other, all just waiting their turn to shine then fade. I could see myself sinking a few pints of this very easily at a country pub after a bracing afternoon walk on Dartmoor which is, I'm guessing exactly what it was brewed for.
The 5.2% abv Porter is a different beast of a beer altogether. Pouring an 'oh-so-nearly-black' dark brown with a thin but sustained head, the aroma has bucketloads of espresso and fruity bitter chocolate. A brief but clearly defined prickle of dark chocolate mousse with perhaps a shaving of grapefruit peel, is washed away with a bustling and mouth filling full-strength espresso mixed with a few drops of concentrated cherry juice. The intense dark chocolate coffee flavour builds to its bitter crescendo before abruptly finishing in a malty Horlicks dust storm. The ghost of that prickly chocolate mousse comes back out to play at the death leaving a very satisfying and full coating in the mouth with a few faint whisps of wood smoke playing lightly over the tongue.
This is my favourite of the two beers, rich and full-flavoured from the very first sip. This really is a very good beer. As with the Best Bitter all the flavours are clean and well defined, there's no muddiness or bad notes here at all. This is definately a beer for a little later in the evening in that same country pub I mentioned earlier, perhaps as the accompaniment to a good home-made pie or a slice of cheese cake. With beers like these I can't see any real reason that you'd want to leave.