Pa­trick Mccaig

The Vol­un­teer Inn, Ot­tery St Mary

Devon Life - - Inside -

As a fam­ily-run brew­ery keen to sup­port all things lo­cal, there are a num­ber of events around Devon that we in­stinc­tively want to help suc­ceed. One of the most iconic hap­pens just a stone’s throw from the River Ot­ter – the source of all the nec­tar we pro­duce.

Ev­ery year as Bon­fire Night rolls around, the town of Ot­tery St Mary puts on an amaz­ing vis­ual spec­ta­cle. To the de­light of thou­sands, nearly two dozen flam­ing tar bar­rels are car­ried through its streets in a cen­turies old cus­tom.

‘Whilst the fab­ric of the build­ing might change, one con­stant is their com­mit­ment to Devon food and drink’

Hav­ing al­ready been coated with old-fash­ioned coal tar, the bar­rels (rang­ing in size from small for the “boys” up to “gert big unz” for the men) are then set alight. Once the flames be­gin to pour out, they are hoisted up onto the bar­rel rollers’ strong backs and shoul­ders.

All of this glo­ri­ous may­hem hap­pens in no small part due to the ef­forts of two of the towns ‘rolling’ vet­er­ans – lo­cal cou­ple Mike and Jac­qui Down. Both sit on the or­gan­is­ing com­mit­tee and fundraise ex­ten­sively as well as as­sist­ing with the end­less health and safety and run­ning bars on the night. They also hap­pen to own the pub that co-or­di­nates much of the ac­tion.

The Vol­un­teer Inn has been part of Ot­tery St Mary’s his­tory since 1810 when it opened as a dwelling, hostelry and re­cruit­ment cen­tre for the Napoleonic War. After re­tir­ing from ca­reers in the Royal Navy and Com­mu­nity Nurs­ing re­spec­tively, Mike and Jac­qui took it on (then in a derelict state and barely open) in early 2012 with a view to re­viv­ing it as a lo­cal with a heart.

Over the last six-and-ahalf years they’ve worked tire­lessly to re­turn it to the heart of com­mu­nity life. Both see them­selves very much as ‘care­tak­ers’ of this his­toric build­ing and have sym­pa­thet­i­cally re­paired and ad­justed the Tardis-like in­te­rior to ful­fil their dream.

Each year ush­ers in a new project and plans are al­ready in place to ex­tend the bar and restau­rant, in­stall an up­stairs games room and cre­ate an el­e­vated beer gar­den. And that’s just Jan­uary…this is a small pub with big ideas!

Whilst the fab­ric of the build­ing might change, one con­stant is their com­mit­ment to Devon food and drink. Ot­ter Bit­ter has been here from the be­gin­ning and all the real ale is served on grav­ity straight from the bar­rel (apt!). This year a new dou­ble act (Tarka Four and Sand­ford Or­chard’s ex­cel­lent Devon Red) has been in­stalled on the bar. Ot­tery is a vi­brant town full of in­de­pen­dents and so the menu con­tin­ues the ul­tra-lo­cal theme. Coun­try Farm Butch­ers (two doors down) sup­ply the meat, Ot­tery’s Fish Mon­ger takes care of the wet stuff, Ot­ter Pro­duce (next door) the veg­eta­bles and The Rusty Pig takes care of their char­cu­terie needs. Mike and Jac­qui strike me as a cou­ple who are ex­tremely proud and com­fort­able with the busi­ness they have shaped for them­selves. It caters to many. The lo­cal darts teams are as looked after as any vis­i­tor to the town. A warm wel­come is ex­tended to all and the real ale crowd love it here.

And talk­ing of warmth… pro­duc­tion at the brew­ery will soon switch to ‘Flam­ing Ale’ - our spe­cial beer for the Tar Bar­rels. We think events like this should be pre­served and so are proud to be a main spon­sor. I just hope the flames don’t singe this ot­ter’s whiskers! info@ot­ter­brew­ery.com

ABOVE:

In his reg­u­lar se­ries of col­umns for Devon Life, of The Ot­ter Brew­ery takes us on a trawl of some of his favourite pubsPa­trick Mccaig

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