In the past, we’ve struggled to find great places to drink in the old naval city of Plymouth, just over the border from Cornwall in Devon.
The trick, it turns out, as in many other cities, is to look outside the central ring-road: two of our new discoveries are in the suburb of Mutley, which is literally on the wrong side of the tracks. Leaving the station and heading along the bustling Mutley Plain, we stumbled upon the Fortescue by chance. The building dates from 1905 and has a couple of nice Art Nouveau touches, but inside is a bare-bones and rather old-fashioned CAMRA pub.
On the way to the Plymouth Argyle football ground on a match day, it was crammed with mostly middle-aged men minding their own business. The beer line-up wasn’t what we’d call exciting — several from Hunter’s of Devon, Jennings’ Cumberland Ale, and St Austell HSD — but we couldn’t fault the condition in which it was served.
The pricing was pretty keen, too: a pint of c.4% bitter is £2.98, but the barmaid asked if we had CAMRA membership cards on us (we did) bringing it down to £2.68. If we’d had also had some CAMRA Wetherspoon’s vouchers on us, that would have knocked off another 50p.
If you’re, ahem, ‘cost conscious’, like brown bitter, and the company of blokes, then this is the place for you.
Sitting proudly at the top of Mutley Plain like a down-home Palace of Versailles is the Hyde Park Hotel. Recently the subject of a preservation battle, it re-opened last week as a 1970s retro theme pub. (With thanks to Sam Congdon for the tip-off.)
The building is festooned with breweriana from enamel signs advertising Vaux to an illuminated Brewdog shield. Inside, a cosy, womb-like double-bar set up has walls covered in what must be half a million quid’s worth of vintage signs, keg fonts and advertising materials. On discreet TV screens, 1970s TV ads plays on loop. We spent ten minutes goggling at the museum exhibition before turning our attention to the bar.
The Plymouth Herald article suggested that Watney’s and Double Diamond would be on tap. As we suspected, though there is a glowing plastic Red Barrel on the bar, it is being used to serve Caffrey’s. To our amazement, however, DD was indeed on offer.
Along with Watney’s Red, it was one of the beers at which CAMRA targeted its ire in the 1970s, nicknaming it ‘K9P’. (Geddit?) Now down at 2.8% ABV and brewed in small amounts for the northern club market, the landlady, Pat, had managed to find a supplier in the West Country. It looked pretty — golden and glowing, with a fluffy white head — but tasted of… nothing. Water, dental fillings, and perhaps vegetable peelings. Here’s the amazing thing, though: after Double Diamond, a pint of Dartmoor Legend, not the world’s most exciting beer, suddenly tasted like nectar, with a sweet maltiness and leafy green hop character amplified in contrast with the blandness of the keg bitter.
Along with more retro keg beers (Worthington Best Bitter), several cask ales and a fridge full of ‘craft’ and ‘world’ beers (from Brewdog, Westmalle, and so on), and an onsite brewery is due to start operations soon.
If you’re a beer geek on holiday in Devon, this is a must visit, and would be a great place to read your copy of Brew Britannia.
Finally, we made our way back through the city centre and out the other side in search of another Sam Congdon tip, the Bread & Roses.
Housed in another nicely preserved Victorian pub building (The Trafalgar, 1897) on on Ebrington Street, which feels a bit like Hackney in East London did 20 years ago, the B&R opened as a community-run social enterprise last summer. The quirky décor (oompah band LPs, Action Man dolls in knitted jumpers, furniture from house clearances) didn’t strike us as contrived or forced.
There were a couple of local cask ales on offer (a mild from Teignworthy and Avocet from Exeter) along with various ‘world beers’ on keg and in bottles. O’Hara’s stout went down nicely; a bottle of Tripel Karmeliet seemed paler and cleaner than the last time we tried it; and Bristol Beer Factory West Coast Red was a spicy, toasty delight. Laverstoke Park Farm Organic Lager was a dud — mostly bland except where it was a bit rough — and Einstök Icelandic Pale Ale was too much sticky toffee pudding for our tastes.
Neither this pub nor its beer selection would turn heads in Bristol or London these days, but it’s quite exciting for this part of the world, and a lovely place to spend an afternoon.