In Devon, there’s a town called Totnes known for its ‘alternative’ community. Creative facilities are plentiful; its market sells handmade clothes from overseas as well as locally-grown organic produce; and it was the first British town to offer an alternative local currency. It would be wrong though to say that Totnes only deserves attention for its compatibility with ‘bohemians’. Records dating back to the 12th century show that Totnes has always been a thriving market town. Today, you can take a look around and find several merchants’ houses. It also has some rather fine landmarks – apparently more per head than any other British town – and is home to the subject of this article, the New Lion Brewery.
If you were walking around Totnes in the 19th century, it’s likely you would have passed The Lion Inn. Owned by the prestigious Condy family, it’s where alcohol was both brewed and sold. We think you could call it a brewery then. So the brewery came to own 26 pubs dotted around Devon, providing many local people with jobs. Its porter and “celebrated Totnes Stout” were, well, celebrated. Proceeding owners retained The Lion Inn’s high standard until 1921 came along and it was finally sold, making way for a Boots chemist. The building behind it still used the address “Lion Brewery”. For years though afterwards it was a pottery.
Now that we’re into the 21st century, the story of The Lion Inn has continued with the establishment of the New Lion Brewery. It was founded by a team of four: Rob Hopkins, Ann Monroe, and Kathy and Rob Alexander. Their first trial brews were created in 2013. By 2014, they had built a whole new brewery on Station Road and slowly but surely their operation begun to expand. Inspiration came from the U.S. craft brewing scene, a movement which has seen the rise of many independent and sustainable breweries; as well as the science of good beer in general. Their head brewer Matt Henney had already worked at two other breweries. As for Rob Alexander, he was doing pretty well for himself as landlord of the Bay Horse Inn, where New Lion’s three core beers can be found today.
Mane Event is their bitter – “a complex 7-malt grist” with “U.S. hops to create a balanced and highly drinkable modern session bitter”. Their pale ale Pandit IPA “is defined by the inviting aroma of citrusy and floral U.S. hop varieties”. Finally, there’s Totnes Stout, which is “silky and smooth… with deep roasted and coffee notes”. That’s not all though. Working with local businesses and community groups, the New Lion Brewery has produced dozens of unique beers, such as their pumpkin ale and mushroom stout. Intriguing. All the while, they’ve attempted to make beers which somehow capture the spirit of Totnes itself; which touch on its heritage but are also modern.
Showing further respect for the community they work in, the brewery is offering a membership programme giving special privileges to locals who choose to sign up. In the future, they’ll be able to invest in the company. It has always been an aim of theirs to boost the local economy, whether by creating new jobs or attracting visitors, and where possible their ingredients are bought locally. Another plan for the future is the introduction of apprenticeships and training programmes, including work experience for people with learning difficulties. As for now, the brewery itself becomes a pub on Friday and Saturday evenings – a chance to drink the beer with those who made it and pick their brains. Maybe bring your C.V. too.