Garlands of Hops

Hop garlands at the Fat Pig Freehouse. The garlands were brought in to celebrate the brewery opening on Sept. 14, but will last several months, growing more golden as they age. Photo: PK Read

Hop garlands at the Fat Pig Freehouse. The garlands were brought in to celebrate the brewery opening on Sept. 14, but will last several months, growing more golden as they age.
Photo: PK Read

Over at the Fat Pig Freehouse in Exeter, UK, the place is draped in long garlands of fresh hops, green and fragrant. The Fat Pig is a homey pub, no televisions, no sports, all food locally sourced and freshly made in the kitchen. It claims to be Exeter’s first brewery pub, with a spanking new beer brewery on the premises. I can’t verify that as I don’t know Exeter all that well, but I can state that the Fat Pig India Pale Ale is light, herbal and very tasty.

Although I got quite lost trying to find the Fat Pig – it’s tucked down an ever-so-slightly dark and dodgy side street at the far end of a large shopping area – arriving there was a pleasure. Warmly lit, friendly crowd. I got pulled into a Big Life Questions kind of conversation by the neighboring table almost immediately, and that’s always a fun introduction to a place.

I was sent down to the Fat Pig by the Tiny, barkeep at its sister pub the Rusty Bike (more on that another day), mainly because the whisky collection at the Fat Pig was supposed to be quite extensive – and it didn’t disappoint.

Hop garlands. Photo: PK Read

Hop garlands.
Photo: PK Read

As to the whiskies, I tried out the Speyside Singleton of Dufftown 12-year-old first, and was pleasantly surprised by its sherried brown sugar and burnt apple smoothness, with a bit of oakiness at the end. This is such an easy whisky to like, I would almost recommend it for anyone wanting to try single malt whisky for the first time.singleton-of-dufftown-12-ans

It was so smooth I almost decided to stick with that, but fortunately I decided to try a Highland Island single malt instead, the limited bottling of the Arran 16-year-old.

The Arran was less sugary than the Singleton, a bit less smooth – but rich, creamy, honeyed and for my palate, more interesting. Notes of various spices, especially nutmeg, and citrus. 16yo-BottleTube-Single

That and a plate of house-smoked pork ribs – from pigs raised by the Fat Pig’s owner – completed a really good evening.

As it turned out, finding my way home was much easier than finding the pub in the first place. I know my way now, though, so I can find it again on my next visit.

And in honor of the mellow mood at the Fat Pig, here’s a smooth bit of mildly pork-related jazz by Charles Mingus for a lazy Sunday, Goodbye Pork Pie Hat.

Serendipitous Walk

Near St. Austell, earlier this year. If I had known about Hicks & Heaney whiskey back then, I would have gone in search for it.  Photo: PK Read

Near St. Austell, earlier this year. If I had known about Hicks & Healey whiskey back then, I would have gone in search of it.
Photo: PK Read

I read some time ago about a new whisky produced in Cornwall, the first in 300 years. Small-batch, impossibly difficult to get a hold of, and well out of my normal price range. Hicks & Healey, who spell their whisky with an ‘e’. Cornish whiskey, made with Cornish barley and local spring water. It’s a collaboration between St. Austell’s Brewery and Healey’s Cider Farm.1

I love trying drinks, foods, customs that are highly localised, so of course I was intrigued. But Hicks & Healey’s is hardly the kind of drink that your average whisky bar is going to have sitting around. At a limited edition of only a few hundred bottles a year, this is specialized stuff.

So, this weekend, I am back up in Exeter with my daughter. I thought to myself, maybe I should try and find a sip of H&H, but St. Austell is just a bit too far outside my driving range for this short visit, so I had silently chalked this up to one experience I was not yet destined to have.

Mill on the Exe

Mill on the Exe

Instead, we took a long walk down to the Mill on the Exe, a riverside restaurant and pub that gets very high praise from visitors and which we hadn’t yet tried. ¬†It’s a lively and excellent place. We had a lovely meal, tasty wine, and I decided to see what kinds of whiskies were stocked at the bar.

Chatting with the bartender, I decided to revisit Monkey Shoulder – my first impression of it last year was good but not great, and I like second chances so that’s what Monkey Shoulder was going to get. And as we were talking over whiskies, Ashley Millgate – who turned out to be the manager of the establishment – mentioned that he had bought a wonderful, limited edition Cornish whisky.3

Well, long story short, Ashley went up and got his own private bottle of – you guessed it – Hicks & Healey, bottle number 105. Then Ashley went beyond the bounds of regular hospitality and offered me a taste.

It’s funny how small, unspoken wishes can sometimes manifest themselves in our daily lives.

I don’t know which was better – the light, floating caramel, apple flavors of this unusual, delicate and rare whiskey with an ‘e’, or the generosity and friendliness of a fellow whisky enthusiast.

All in all, a perfect whisky experience, and a great night out. Thank you, Ashley and thank you, Hicks & Healey.

More:

St. Austell Brewery website