ʽʽHi, I’m Benjamin Nunn – critic, gourmand and author of Ben Viveur. I like to eat and drink. And cook. And write.

You might have read me in an in-flight magazine, or a beer publication, but here on my own blog I'm liberated from the editorial shackles of others so anything goes.

I deal with real food and drink in the real world, aiming to create recipes that taste awesome, but which can be created by mere mortals without the need for tons of specialist equipment and a doctorate in food science. Likewise, I tend to review relaxed establishments that you might visit on a whim without having to sell your first-born, rather than hugely expensive restaurants and style bars in the middle of nowhere with a velvet rope barrier, a stringent dress code and a six-month waiting list!

There's plenty of robust opinion, commentary on the world of food and drink, and lots of swearing, so look away now if you're easily offended.

Otherwise, tuck your bib in, fill your glass and turbo-charge your tastebuds. We're going for a ride... Ben Appetit!
ʼʼ

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Lost Breweries: D is for Devilfish

If I was a few years older, D would almost certainly stand for Devenish or Davenports, but as I'm still pushing back against the encroaching trouser-press of Fortydom, I'll take a tangential turn and talk about Antic pubs. For a bit.

Long-time readers will know my views on Antic - beloved and frustrating as they are in more or less equal measure. I like the quirky decor, the beer choice and quality is often superb and they usually ensure excellent food by employing creative, talented chefs.

Antic pubs are good enough to regularly feature in the Pub of Year, which is why it's all the more irritating that their business- and estate-management skills appear almost non-existent. Thriving, successful Antic pubs close at extremely short notice, quality staff are shunted around apparently at random and sometimes even the shortest of short-term leases aren't seen through to completion.

The Catford Bridge Tavern even won PotY in 2013, shortly before closing, and just down the road, we recently lost the Ravensbourne Arms, another PotY finalist. Yes, Antic run some truly great pubs, but one simply cannot rely on them to even still be there tomorrow!



Getting to the point...


It was in these and other Antic pubs, many now lost forever, that I discovered the Devilfish brewery, which looked, felt and tasted like one of the new wave of London micros, but was actually based in a suburb of Bath.

The branding was edgy and irreverent (they called a Christmas IPA Satan Claus); the beers generally packed with New World hops. It's hard to think of another brewery of this nature that hasn't gone from strength to strength.

Apachi and Stingray were big, hoppy pale ales that rode the contemporary wave of tropical fruit and pine resin like there was no tomorrow (which, ironically there wasn't).

The weaker, 4.2% Devil Best (I don't think there were ever any Devilfish beers under 4%) was more traditional and mainstream, but this was fairly atypical.


My favourite of theirs was 'The Darkness', released around this time four years ago, which was also rather different from most Devilfish beers. A 4.5% porter with rich toasty flavours, both satisfying and sessionable, it remains one of the finest dark beers I've ever tried.

They kept all avenues open, doing cask, keg and bottle, and for a while around 2012-13, you'd put them right up there with the likes of Beavertown and Siren among the leaders of the bold new brewing pack; only likely to expand and go from strength to strength.

But, like a closing Antic pub, they disappeared very quickly and with little warning.


A parting salvo to the authorities blamed their demise on the much-loathed Beer Duty Escalator and a lack of support from their local (LD) MP. Their final beer release was called F.U.D, purportedly sending a message to former Chancellor Alastair Darling.

All of which is very understandable and fair enough, but why have so many other modern, forward-thinking breweries set up in the last five years managed to survive and thrive? Many of them with less to offer than Devilfish? And why wasn't the fish resurrected when the Coalition government scrapped the escalator?

Was there a lack of demand in their local area? Surely the lower costs associated with the West Country would've given them an advantage over their competitors paying London ground rents, especially as they had some sort of distribution agreement with Antic giving them access to the capital. (Or was this the issue - did Antic suddenly abandon them like they do with their pubs?)


If I had been old enough to write with any knowledge about Devonish or Davenport's, I suspect there would be waves of nostalgia around lost beers and the lost pubs we used to drink them in. Maybe in a couple of decades people will feel the same way about their favourite Antic pubs and The Darkness?


Devilfish 2011-2013

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