Celebrating Dartmoor Brewery’s first 25 years
PUBLISHED: 11:20 24 April 2019
What began as a microbrewery on Dartmoor a quarter of a century ago is now making beer that’s among the best in the world. SU CARROLL visited their Princetown headquarters… Photos: Steve Haywood
It's not a bad drive to work – over the dramatic hills and tors of Dartmoor – and at the end of his journey Richard Smith arrives at Dartmoor Brewery where they produce the famous Jail Ale which last year won a World Beer Award.
The beer, brewed just half a mile from Dartmoor Prison, is promoted with the slogan “best kept behind bars”. Jail Ale has a better ring to it than the original name – Prisoner's Poison – laughs managing director Richard, who came to Dartmoor Brewery in 2016 from Sharp's in Cornwall, home of Doom Bar.
He's taken over the mantle from Dartmoor Brewery's founder Phillip Davis, who set up a microbrewery behind his Prince of Wales pub in Princetown to serve the 15 or so pubs he then owned.
The Brewery today employs 17 staff and produces four million pints a year. Richard's role is to continue making beers that people love but also to drive the business forward with some new ideas.
“After seeing Sharp's grow I didn't think I'd see another beer brand like it again. But someone introduced me to the owners who were looking for someone to take the brand forward. I see it as a bit of a sleeping giant really,” says Richard.
He's not lost sight of what is important, he says. “You have to make the beer with consistency and quality because it's a very crowded market. I wouldn't have come here if I didn't think we could do it. For me it's all about the provenance, about Dartmoor and about lifestyle.”
There's a certain amount of alchemy involved in creating great beers with just four ingredients – malt, hops, yeast and water. It helps that the water comes from Dartmoor, says Richard.
“Brewing beer is creating a living, breathing thing but it's nothing if you don't have the right ingredients and people with passion and a pride in doing it. And we're lucky that we have a great team here.”
Alongside Jail Ale, Dartmoor Brewery produces Legend, a classic cask-conditioned beer, and a highly drinkable, light Dartmoor IPA – it stands for India Pale Ale but wags have dubbed it Inmates' Pale Ale.
These three core products are joined at other times of the year by limited edition beers such as Dragon's Breath, a winter ale flavoured with treacle, and Three Hares which has Devon honey.
With the core products well-established, Richard's role is to look to the future and 2019 will bring a number of exciting developments. First they are producing a Jail Ale Pie with beef from Dartmoor Farmers – a match made in heaven if ever there was one – and Wessex Pantry.
The Dartmoor IPA is going to be sold in 500ml bottles, making it more accessible to the home market, there are talks with a number of supermarkets about selling bottles of the beers and a “top secret” project to brew an exclusive beer for a customer.
Dartmoor Brewery supply ales to the Two Bridges Hotel on the moor and are always looking at ways to pair food with beer.
“Brewers, like chefs, are artists in their own right,” says Richard. “We have great links with the Two Bridges where we are looking at food matching. You don't always have to match food with wine, there can be a great partnership with beer.”
Richard and his team are also working on expanding the reach of their beers. At the moment most of their output is sent to pubs within a 50-60 miles radius of the brewery in Princetown, although some get further thanks to distributors in the Midlands, Essex and Kent.
The Dartmoor Brewery team will be on the festival circuit this summer to spread the word, including taking part in two of Tom Kerridge's Pub in the Park events and Carfest South in Hampshire which raises money for Children in Need.
“We will be chatting to people, telling them about our story and history and putting beer in people's hands. We want everyone we come into contact with to feel our passion for the brew,” he says.
“There is a lot of hard work and effort being put in to push the business forward and position it for the future. We have a five-year, ten-year and 15-year plan. I just love my job.
“I get to wake up in the morning, drive through the brilliant scenery of Dartmoor and go to work making great beer.”
The smile on Richard's face says it all.
For information go to dartmoorbrewery.co.uk.