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.
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?