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Launching Devon Pubs.

One reason we were too occupied to attend to this blog in 2014 was the final push to complete our book on Devon Pubs, finally published in 2015. We’d entered into this enterprise in a light-hearted manner ten years previously. Researching them seemed like fun then, but as the years went on, the book often seemed like a lament. Over and over again, we came across pubs that had been recently closed or converted to other uses. Perhaps the saddest was at the Woodpecker Inn, South Brent. It was closed when we were investigating it, and to our alarm we saw men in suits with clipboards drive up. They did not seem pleased to see us. Although it is likely that parts of the building were quite old, it was demolished in 2007 by the developers. It was all for nothing. A planning application for a business park was turned down in 2014, and the appeal was rejected. The site is now completely derelict.

Equally sad is the tale of the Toby Jug at Bickington. When we brought out the book, its fate still hung in the balance, but a month after the book came out, Teignbridge Council finally put corporate interests before those of the community and granted permission for change of use to residential. To be fair, they had done their best, but it had become an eyesore.

So our trips down to Devon were often tinged with sadness. Two landlords who keep two of the country’s best pubs, constantly encouraged us and jollied us out of our despondency. When we finally launched the book, it was lovely to have both of them there. It was a joy for them too, for they had never met.

Who are these two stalwarts and which are their pubs? Buy the book and you’ll find their pubs on the cover. Gracing the front cover is a reproduction of an old painting of The Bridge at Topsham run by the indomitable Caroline Cheffers-Heard. It’s the only pub the Queen has ever visited by request. It’s not known how old the building is – parts may go back to the 14th century, when Exeter Cathedral was being rebuilt. Beer is from the wood and an ever changing menu of beers – often local – can be found on their Facebook page.

From L to R Andrew swift, Islay the Westie, Roger Cudlip, Caroline Cheffers-Heard, Kirsten Elliott
From L to R Andrew Swift holding Islay the Westie, Roger Cudlip, Caroline Cheffers-Heard, Kirsten Elliott

On the back cover, you will find what was once known as the White Hart at Spreyton, but it now called the Tom Cobley. Yes, the very same Tom Cobley who went off to Widecombe Fair with … well, you know the rest. To the delight of the landlord, we found a newspaper report that showed that the Tom Cobley buried in Spreyton churchyard, after which the pub is named, was indeed known as Uncle Tom Cobley. There had been those who had pooh-poohed the theory that he was the one in the song.

And it was the landlord – the redoubtable Roger Cudlip – and his family who kindly agreed to have the launch at their pub.

We’ll be putting up some excerpts at various times but if you haven’t visited either of these pubs, you should. The Tom Cobley has a string of awards, including National Pub of the Year, and a huge range of beers and ciders. The Bridge menu is limited – lunch times only, simple but local, reasonably priced and tasty. The Tom Cobley has an extensive menu, the food is all home–cooked by Roger’s wife Carol, and served by their daughter Lucy. A warning – make sure you’re hungry before you go. The portions are ample. As Roger was once a butcher, you may get his homemade sausages for breakfast if you stay there in one of their lovely B&B rooms.

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Did South Stoke save the Packhorse? Here’s the answer.

As writers on the subject of pubs, we so often find now that we are describing the demise of yet another well- loved watering-hole. In 2012, when Punch sold the Packhorse at South Stoke, it was, after some toing and froing, sold to a buyer who declared he intended to turn it into a private house. It seemed that an all too familiar story was about to be repeated.

Punch’s excuse was that the pub was failing. This was partly due to the fact that they had put an inexperienced person in as landlord. It’s a favourite ploy by pubcos – it helps to run the place down. It’s very sad for the landlord and also sad for the village when that happens. But to say it could never be a pub was clearly nonsense – several experienced publicans who were far from starry-eyed about the place expressed an interest and offered over the asking price.

The village was incensed and started a campaign. The first move was to have the pub declared an asset of community value. But the owner refused the offer that the community made to buy it. He then submitted a planning application. Like many others, your esteemed bloggers were aghast at the condition the building had been allowed to fall into, and wrote a fairly pungent objection. Without warning, after three months the application was withdrawn.

The owner then notified the village he intended to sell the building on. The village asked for time to raise the money to buy it. They had to raise £525,000 to buy it as well as more to refurbish it with planning consent.  The deadline was Saturday 10th September.

With a few hours to go, they were tantalisingly close. With five days to go, they had raised £498,000. Could they do it?

An excited crowd gathered at the pub on Saturday 10th to hear the announcement. This is what they were told.

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The crowd gathers for the announcement of success or failure.

 

We’re delighted to report that our share issue has been a huge success! At 7pm yesterday, after a late flood of money, over 200 investors had contributed a total of £601,000 – and there are more share applications in the pipeline. We now have the capital both to buy the Packhorse for the community and to begin to develop detailed plans for the refurbishment!

We are thrilled, relieved and hugely grateful for the generosity of supporters of the Packhorse. Thank you so much! And to the two hundred or so people who assembled in the pub garden yesterday evening to hear the news – we hope you enjoyed the occasion as much as we did.

We’re not quite there yet – we still have to raise around £265,000 for refurbishment and working capital. But the money invested so far will not only buy the pub but also buy us time to raise money for building work in early 2017 with a view to reopening early Summer next year.

They are leaving the share issue open for the time being, so there is still time for others to join this special project – just look for the prospectus and share application form on the Save the Packhorse web site.

Meanwhile, we now have time to be more creative in our fundraising. We’ll have details in due course but we expect this to involve grant applications (we have our eye on the Heritage Lottery Fund), accepting smaller donations and, among other things, events.

One such event will be an illustrated talk on “A History of Bath Pubs” by Dr Andrew Swift (yes, that’s one half of the Awash with Ale blog team) at 7:30pm on Wednesday 21st September in South Stoke Village Hall. Entrance is free but arms may be twisted for a donation to the Packhorse fund! Refreshments will be available and all are welcome. So do come along. The strange history of the Packhorse Inn is sure to feature.

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RAVEN’S BIKE-THEMED BEER FESTIVAL WELCOMES TOUR OF BRITAIN TO BATH

bikeThe Tour of Britain sweeps into Bath tomorrow (8 September), and to welcome it to town the Raven in Queen Street has not only made the natty addition to its sign seen on the left, but has organized a bike-themed beer festival. Over 30 beers are featured (12 at any one time) and, as the cycling links of some of the beers are a little obscure, there is a competition to work out what they are. Whoever gets the most right gets a prize –  whoever doesn’t gets to try some cracking beers. And there are somblackboarde rarities on offer – I was particularly pleased to discover Metal Head stout from a new Bristol Brewery called Beat Ales – one I’d not come across before, but on the strength of this, one I’ll certainly be looking out for in the future. The bikes roll into town tomorrow, the festival runs till the beers run out, but with the crowds likely to turn up tomorrow and Bath playing Newcastle at the Rec on Saturday, you’d be advised to turn up sooner rather than later

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Dugges at Hunter and Sons

For a number of reasons, this blog has been dormant for too long.

Much has happened since our last post. We have published two new pub history books, while in Bath, as elsewhere, new pubs and breweries have opened, while others have closed.

So a revival of the blog was long overdue – and there’s a lot of catching up to do. But what better way to get back into the swing of things than to feature a tap takeover at one of Bath’s top craft beer bars.

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The Brewers

On 1 September, from 6pm till late, Swedish brewers Dugges took over the taps at Hunter & Sons in Milsom Place. It was a great evening – fantastic beers, good company, with the brewers on hand to explain the thinking and the processes behind the range of brews on offer.

While Hunter & Sons are experts at showcasing an ever-changing array of beers from cutting-edge brewers around the world, a tap takeover like this gives the chance to discover and explore the work of particular brewers, and get an insight into their philosophy of and approach to brewing.

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The beers

In this country, Dugges are probably best known for their sour beers. Sour is a term that covers a wide range of beer styles, but, with their Tropic Thunder, Dugges have managed to come up with something new. The idea behind this beer was to come up with something that tasted like a popsicle – a beer, in their own words, ‘as refreshing as those ice cold, fruity treats we loved as kids.’ They have certainly succeeded – so much so that a bar back in Sweden serves this beer as a slushie for the full-on popsicle experience. Tropic Thunder, brewed with lactobacillus and fermented with mangoes, passion fruits and peaches, was joined at Hunter & Sons by Tropic Sunrise, a variation on the same theme, with raspberries added to the mix. Both beers provided an intriguing yet very satisfying combination of sweet and sour, while another sour, the laconically named Black Currant, neatly managed to avoid the syrupy overtones of Ribena that often linger around beers featuring blackcurrants.

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The T-shirt

All the other beers on offer were just as good, but for my money the two absolutely stand-out beers were High Five, a rich and complex IPA brewed with American hops, and Imperial Geisha, a fantastic Imperial Stout pepped up with Panamanian coffee, smooth, rich and sweet, with none of the heaviness or bitterness sometimes found in Imperial stouts.

If you check out the brewery at http://dugges.se/, you’ll see that their beer range is eclectic and wide-ranging, including such delights as a Raspberry Liqorice Imperial Stout, Rum Barrel Aged Barley Wines, a Berliner Weisse, a Coco Nut Imperial Stout, none of which made an appearance on the night. Dugges beers will, however, continue to appear on draught on a regular basis at Hunter & Sons, and bottles will also be available.

 

Reading Matter

Interesting article on the craft beer revolution in the Guardian today, very balanced and not taken in by the hype. It also addressed the issues of big brewers jumping onto the bandwagon and of artificially inflated prices for anything that can be labelled craft beer. Among those interviewed was Pete Brown who ‘railed at the opportunism – generally third-party distributors, bars and restaurants adding unreasonable mark-ups – that means even average craft beer can increasingly cost £5 a print.’ The article’s balance even extended to CAMRA, represented by an affable spokesperson who, while admitted that CAMRA would ‘always promote cask beer … anything attracting new drinkers to the joys of beer has got to be a good thing’. The CAMRA types I tend to come across, however, seem to regard craft beer either as a return to the bad old days of Watney Red or as overpriced novelty juice appealing to those whose lack of beer knowledge is matched by a willingness to fritter away money.

CAMRA also figures largely in a splendid book I’ve just finished reading called Brew Britannia by those indefatigable bloggers Boak and Bailey. It looks at how brewing in this country – and indeed elsewhere – has changed from the days before CAMRA came on the scene to now. It is a story that has been told many times before, but rarely as well and never as comprehensively. Not only have they carried out loads of new research, they have interviewed many of the key players from way back as well as many of the new kids on the block. There are also some fascinating brewery family trees at the end, showing how new ideas and techniques have been disseminated through the industry by innovative brewers training others who have gone on to put them into practice elsewhere.

The Small Bar in Bristol, decked out for the Harbour Festival
The Small Bar in Bristol, decked out for the Harbour Festival

For local drinkers, the book has the added appeal of an introductory chapter set in the Small Bar in Bristol, which, although the authors don’t actually say so, seems to stand for the best of today’s cutting-edge beer culture – and that’s something I’ll certainly drink to.

Craft Beer comes to the King William

london rd king williamAnother Bath pub joins the craft beer revolution. The King William on Thomas Street, long a standard bearer for cask beer, as well as one of the top places to eat in Bath, now has a range of three craft beers on keg. A visit today found three keg crafts on offer, including Wiper & True’s Amber, plus Wiper & True Mosaic on cask. The lunch – £15 for three courses – was superb as well, and a quick visit to the Bell in Walcot Street afterwards was rewarded with a pint of one of Bristol Beer Factory’s Independence. Would that all Monday lunchtimes could be like this – our excuse, Kirsten’s birthday.

IPA Day and Wickwar’s White Lion

A visit to Bristol a week or so ago coincided with ‘IPA Day’. I have no idea whether this was a local or national initiative but it gave me the chance to try some interesting brews. Supernatural from the New Bristol Brewery was one I had been hearing about for some time – not least from Noel the brewer – and I am glad to say it lived up to expectations. A splendid beer – richly-flavoured, amber-coloured and well-balanced – that lets you know it weighs in at a hefty 7%. Definitely one worth seeking out. Somewhat more challenging was Arbor’s collaboration with Indy-Man Brewhouse, a Lemon and Lime IPA that weighed in at 8.2%. Given its name – and its pedigree – it is hardly surprising that the ‘citrus notes’ so beloved of beer bloggers were to the fore here. Verdict – not a session beer (obviously) and maybe not something I’d want to drink regularly, but certainly interesting enough to want to try again if they get round to another collaboration.   IMG_8197

The same evening, I decided, largely because it came on to rain rather heavily, to call into the White Lion on the Centre. This Wickwar brewery pub was one I called into quite regularly when Les (most recently at the Vittoria on Whiteladies Road) was the landlord, but after he left my visits grew more infrequent as the quality of beer grew more unpredictable, and I had not been in for about three years. I am very pleased to report that, under Martin, the current landlord, the White Lion has returned to form, and the selection of Wickwar beers was on top form.IMG_8300

Craft Beer in Bath: Summer 2014

Craft beer continues to make inroads into Bath. When I last reported on the craft beer scene in the city, back in November, there were three bars serving craft beer, all relative newcomers – the Bath Brew House, the Porter and Graze. Since then the Greene King owned Westgate in Westgate Street has had the latest in what seems like a never-ending series of makeovers, acquiring five craft beer taps in the process. One or two of them serve craft beer from Greene King, Brewdog Punk IPA is a regular fixture on another, but local breweries such as Glastonbury and the Wild Beer Company also feature.

Another brewery making its presence felt in the city is Fullers, who have taken and refurbished the Crystal Palace, the Huntsman and the Boater – all traditional pubs in prime sites, with high tourist footfall. The Boater – the latest to reopen – was serving Beerd from Bath Ales on a recent visit, and also had a good range of bottled beers – although being served a bottle from Kernel in a half-pint mug, with sediment poured out (against the advice on the label) suggests that presentation needs a little tweaking.

Finally comes Culture & Cure. This, until recently, was the Grappa bar, a pizza, wine and cocktail joint which opened in 2002 in the former Beehive pub on Belvedere. The new name reflects the food on offer – high-quality cheese and charcuterie, primarily sourced from local producers. It also has an excellent wine list, a tempting range of gins – and ten craft beer taps serving brews from the likes of Wiper & True, Moor, Kernel, Bristol Beer Factory, Thornbridge and the Wild Beer Company. There is also an excellent selection of bottle beers and a refreshing refusal to play it safe, with some challenging beers featuring alongside the more popular beer styles. It is open from 5pm Tuesday to Saturday, is closed Sunday and Monday, and, although out of the city centre, is only about five minutes walk up Lansdown Road from the top of George Street, and about three minutes walk up Guinea Lane from the Star. Well worth a visit.

Culture & Cure
Culture & Cure
The Beehive as it looked a century ago
The Beehive as it looked a century ago

Can it be June already?

We return after long absence, due (almost) entirely due to other commitments, such as working on a couple of books (of which more anon) and of course visits to some outstanding pubs. We also ran a one-off Georgian pub crawl in the Bath Literature Festival, starting off in authentically early Georgian setting of the cellar of the splendid Independent Spirit, and kicking off with tastings of Bliss, a traditional saison-style brew from the Wild Beer Company. Numbers were strictly limited on the Georgian Pub Crawl, so, for all those who did not get to find out how they liked to get hammered in the eighteenth century, a version of it will shortly be appearing on the blog. We have also discovered some excellent new pubs, especially in Gloucestershire, but also in Cornwall, and we have made return trips to some Somerset pub s we hadn’t visited for a long while. Needless to say, they were all dog friendly, and Islay gave them all the thumbs – or at least the paws – up.

Local news is sadly that planners gave the go ahead for the Farmhouse to be converted from a pub to a ‘health hub’ – so much for safeguarding local amenities. Two other Bath pubs have had a complete makeover and change of name. The Grappa Bar on Lansdown Road (still remembered by many as Bath’s last true cider house) has been reinvented as Comfort & Cure, featuring charcuterie, cheese and craft ale, while the Piccadilly on the London Road, unchanged since who knows when, has become the Hive, a community-based enterprise run as a cafe during the day and a bar with live music, etc, in the evening. All this is purely hearsay, as neither has yet been visited, an omission which will be put right asap. One that has been visited is the Westgate pub in Westgate Street, which since its latest makeover has around five craft beers on keg, including Brewdog Punk IPA and offerings from the likes of the Wild Beer Co, along with a good selection of cask ales and ciders.

Over in Bristol, things are finally happening at the Lamplighters, which after having got into an appalling state closing several years ago, is set to be refurbed for an opening later in the year.

The Lamplighters a few months ago ...
The Lamplighters a few months ago …
... and as it looked when it was a George's pub.
… and as it looked when it was a George’s pub.

Over in St Werburghs, meanwhile, one of Bristol’s most striking pubs, the Duke of York, has been given a facelift in the form of a new mural.

The Chelsea gets a new look
The Duke of York gets a new look

Independent Spirit in Bath (see above) goes from strength to strength – and we are not just talking ABV here. Chris and Christian continue to source superb beers from around the UK – and the world – that have simply not cropped up on the radar before, so many in fact that it is impossible to keep up with them. We also managed to get to a terrific rum tasting evening there as well as a ‘meet the brewer’ session with Shane O’Beirne from Beerd. This was something of a revelation, for, although I was familiar with Shane’s keynote ‘new wave’ style brews using American, Australian and New Zealand hops, his Scottish 80 shilling and a mild – Mildy Cyrus – brewed in collaboration with the Bristol Beer Factory were superb examples of more traditional beer styles. My favourite of the seven beers of the evening, however, was Convict, a cheekily-monikered offering using Australian hops – mainly Galaxy, but with a sprinkling of Ella. This should be appearing in selected Bath Ales pubs and other outlets soon.                

Shane O'Beirne of Beerd and Chris Scullion of Independent Spirit
Shane O’Beirne of Beerd and Chris Scullion of Independent Spirit

     

The Bell in Walcot Street

Since the Bell changed hands last year, to become Bath’s first community-owned pub, work has been going on to smarten it up a bit, and a magnificent new sign – in the shape of a bell – has been mounted on the wall. Much of this work, including the sign, has been done by Stephen Bushell, who late last year uncovered some old lettering under the paintwork. Although too fragmentary and far gone to be restored, he took a couple of photos which he kindly let me have – along with one of the sign – to post on the blog.

Which prompted me to dig around in our archive for some old pics of the Bell, which I’ve resurrected and posted below, along with some snippets from old newspapers – some courtesy of Paul De’Ath – which supplement the information on the Bell in Bath Pubs.

An announcement of a sporting fixture from 1762
An announcement of a sporting fixture from 1762

 

The consequences of drinking on the job from the Bath Chronicle, 31 May 1827
The consequences of drinking on the job, from the Bath Chronicle, 31 May 1827
A new landlord: July 1828
A sale notice from July 1828
A plan of the Bell in 1829, with a brewhouse at the back.
A plan of the Bell in 1829, with a brewhouse at the back.

 

A sale notice from 1855
A sale notice from 1855
Council deliberations: 1890
Council deliberations: 1890
A Trip to the Seaside, 1927
A Trip to the Seaside, July 1927
The new sign
The new sign
Old lettering
Old letteringWORDS 2
The Bell around 2000: the layout of the windows on the second floor suggest the building was originally gabled, like the Saracen's Head
The Bell around 2000: the layout of the windows on the second floor suggest the building was originally gabled, like the Saracen’s Head
The beer garden in the old inn yard
The beer garden in the old inn yard
The top bar on the site of the old stables
The top bar on the site of the old stables
A pre-smoking ban view of the bar
A pre-smoking-ban view of the bar
Note: these were the prices in 2004
Note: these were the prices in 2004