The Samuel Jones, Exeter

The Samuel Jones opened just before Christmas and is an outpost of Cornish brewing giant St Austell, occupying a converted warehouse on Exeter’s riverside.

If you weren’t in the know, you might not realise this ‘smoke and ale house’ is a St Austell project. Branding has been kept to a minimum, and the décor is more stylish than most of their Cornish estate — polished copper, reclaimed wood and exposed pipework, which make it feel pleasingly cluttered, warm and, for want of a better word, ‘cool’.

That ‘coolness’ is somewhat undercut by the evidence of corporate management: staff in matching waistcoats, scripted greetings, floor supervisors with earpieces, and a slick EPOS system. On our visit, it did, at times, feel a bit like a posh Harvester, though never downright soulless, perhaps because it was so buzzing, with almost every seat, from armchair to bar stool, occupied from the moment we arrived mid-afternoon up until we left.

The closest comparison is probably Fuller’s flagship ‘branded concept’, the Parcel Yard at Kings Cross, which is also a touch uptight but with lots of undeniably cosy corners that make the most of an interesting old building.

The beer list at the Samuel Jones, Exeter, 17 January 2015.

The beer offer — the main reason we were there — is dominated by St Austell, though the familiar pump-clips aren’t on display, replaced instead by tiny chalkboards below back-mounted taps. Unusually for a brewery which usually keeps its own pubs firmly tied, there are also several guest draught beers on offer, as well as a few bottles such as Brooklyn Lager and Anchor Steam.

We tried to order two halves to start at which point we learned just how determinedly craft this place is: there are only pints, two-thirds, and thirds. The two-third glasses are elegant and stemmed while the third tumblers are like stumpy tea-light holders.

The first beer we tried by the two-thirds was… well, we’re not sure. It was written on the chalkboards as ‘Yamika Valley’ with no brewery specified, and the barman didn’t know when asked. It was from a keg and guess that it was probably Yakima Valley by Bristol’s Arbor Ales. At any rate, it was in good condition, clean-tasting, expressing sappy American hops over a husky, rye-bread malt background.

We also enjoyed draught Saison Dupont — we’ve only ever had it from bottles before — at a fairly reasonable £3.20 (£4.26 pint), and Tiny Rebel One Inch Punch. Tiny Rebel are not a brewery we’ve especially clicked with in the past but this hoppy golden ale was fresh-tasting, light-bodied, with just a hint of funkiness to keep it interesting.

St Austell’s own Proper Job, our top cask ale of 2014, seemed a good choice for a benchmark, but it tasted strangely dull, like a bog standard golden ale rather than the zinging session IPA we know and love. It might even have been bordering on stale. Observing the bar, we noticed huge amounts of lager and cider being bought and not much cask ale, which might perhaps be a problem for them in future.

Most people were also there to eat so, for completeness, even though it’s not our territory, we should say that we found the food reasonably good value, but really just ‘pub grub’ rather than a profoundly authentic American barbecue experience: ‘spit-roasted’ chicken with chips and salad cost £10; the obligatory pulled pork roll, with no sides, was £8.

We can’t say it’s a ‘world class’ drinking place, but it’s certainly yet another welcome addition to Exeter’s beer scene, and we’ll give the final word to an enthusiastic middle-aged customer in cycling gear we spoke to at the bar as he thirstily downed a pint of Mahou: ‘Good, innit? About time we had somewhere nice like this.’

8 replies on “The Samuel Jones, Exeter”

“Observing the bar, we noticed huge amounts of lager and cider being bought and not much cask ale” – it’s the same at the two “craft” bars in Norwich, although substitute wine / spirits for cider. In fact one of them has about 4 or 5 different lagers on at a time and now that they’ve both been open a while there is very little that they offer to people who really want to explore beer, generally selling the same (admittedly decent) few brewery’s beers over and over. Bit of a shame, but probably they’d have shut by now if they had gone down any other route.

No half glasses, no brewery names or prices on chalk board, staff lacking that knowledge. Count me out. Beer range not good enough to make up for faults. Maybe I’m spoilt for choice in Leeds but I’m thinking a third of DuPont then get the hell out of there.

My thoughts entirely.

I have been there. I thought the same as B&B. Corporate style. Food not that great. Staff look at me funny and ask if I’m ok when I walk to the bar. Then again when I walk to the toilet.

Er… we failed to observe. Pic at the top shows the set up. Have a feeling pints were being *pulled*.

EDIT: By way of supplementary detail, each tap’s chalkboard also specified cask/keg.

We’ve got a couple of similar bars in Newcastle now, and as one local not-so-micro-anymore brewer angrily pointed out to me, he spends a fortune on branding, marketing and POS material to distinguish his beers – keg and cask – from others, so places like this can reduce his efforts to a scribble on a chalkboard?

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