Devon usually gets quite a bad rap when it comes to beer. Traditionally the home of cider drinkers, beer in this part of the country tends to be of the bland, watery and brown variety, with little variety or innovation. It's oft been said to me that the craft beer revolution appears to have almost entirely passed the county by, preferring to set up shop in Bristol, Cardiff and parts of Cornwall instead.
Sometimes, however, little gems such as the Teign Cellars in Newton Abbott and The Beer Cellar in Exeter, crop up and help to fill the void. On a trip to Totnes this weekend, I found another such gem in the form of Totnes Brew Co. and its bottle shop, The Beer Library. A good half hour train ride outside of Exeter, Totnes is very much your traditional picturesque sleepy Devonian town. Amongst other things, it boasts some cute coffee shops, a hip record store (Drift) and one rather excellent brew-pub. Totnes Brew Co and The Beer Library occupy two neighbouring buildings at the top of the high street, situated just under the shadow of the castle.
The Beer Library, the former location of the pub before it opened up next door, boasts a large range of predominantly British and American beers, alongside wine and artisan spirits. All the familiar faces are there, with cans from the likes of Beavertown, Magic Rock, Vocation alongside bottles from Bristol Beer Factory, Brew by Numbers and more. The prices are reasonable, with most of the bottles coming in at under £3, and some under £2.50. The range isn't outstanding, probably due to the difficulty in finding suppliers who will bring pioneering craftbeers to a sleepy town in Devon, where demand is unlikely to be sky high. However, there are some nice touches, such as a suggestion board for new beers, and mixed four packs of cans for £10. Overall, The Beer Library doesn't quite have the selection to make the trip worthwhile on its own, but has an excellent choice for a small shop in a remote town.
Next door in Totnes Brew Co., three cask and two keg lines offer up the kind of draught selection you'd be hard pressed to find anywhere else in Devon, as well as a healthy bottle and can selection of its own. On my particular visit, Vocation Brewery Bread & Butter and Wild Beer Co. Bibble were the highlights. As part of #Tryanuary, all cask beers are £3 a pint, and all bottles and cans are just £4 - excellent value for money in an area where competition isn't exactly fierce. The pub itself is rustically decorated, and also serves meat and cheese platters (although I didn't actually see any being consumed during my visit). They also brew a selection of their own beer (hence the name), which is served at the pub. I wasn't exactly blown away by 'Rear Admiral' their 4.2% double bitter, but would certainly like to try some more of their beer in the future. My only criticism of the pub was that it was a little small, and I imagine it could end up becoming quite cramped on a busier evening. It would be great to see The Beer Library and the pub connected as a single venue, something the employee at the former tells me could be a possibility in the future.
On the whole, these two independent beer venues are well worth taking the train out of Exeter to visit. It may well be the case that pubs and bottle shops like these are two a penny in cities where craft beer is round every corner, but for a small village in Devon to have such a selection is nothing short of remarkable.