A great local: Glenn Cosby celebrates Exeter's Fat Pig pub
PUBLISHED: 10:08 05 June 2015 | UPDATED: 10:08 05 June 2015
Matt Austin Images 2013
Glenn Cosby celebrates Exeter's The Fat Pig in all its guises
Right, I have to declare an interest here; the Fat Pig has been our local since we moved to Exeter in 2007. As refugees from London the Fat Pig felt like a real genuine Devonshire pub but with enough swagger to impress friends visiting from London’s Shoreditch and Hoxton. It offered a warm welcome with fantastic, locally sourced food and great booze. What you’d expect from a local, right? It is, but it’s seldom done as well as this.
Since then Fat Pig Limited has branched out in all kinds of directions. They source their pork from rare breed Tamworths and Berkshires raised at Bicton College which then supply all three pubs in the family in quite distinct ways. The meat crops up as sublimely smoked ribs and sausages on the Fat Pig menu, as home-cured charcuterie for the Pig and Pickle, the most recent addition to the family in what used to be Heavitree Post Office. Pork is just part of a delicious offering on the menu of the third pub in the family, the Rusty Bike which is more of a gastropub than the other two with the kitchen in the very safe hands of chef, Darren Jory.
A few years ago they decided to become a brewery as well and so Hamish bought the kit on ebay from a bloke in Yorkshire. They hadn’t seen it and just took a punt and drove up to get it. “We loaded it on a van and drove away. Then you need to build it and you need to make it work. Then you need to send everyone away so it’s only you at midnight in your wellies and your underpants, crying,” admits Hamish.
Fortunately the tears have all dried now and the tiny cellar brewery has since created 150 craft beers and ales which are sold exclusively in the three pubs. Once upon a time this wouldn’t have been at all remarkable; but successful small scale craft and micro-breweries are still as rare as hen’s teeth. Plus, of course, they’re going head to head with massive breweries and with pub chains who can afford to sell a pint at £1.99. Considering that tax on that pint is over one pound you can see what they’re up against.
It takes Hamish and chief brewer Nancy Robinson nine hours to produce eight firkins of beer, that’s just over 500 pints for the skilled labour of two people and so their biggest constraint is the size of the kit. As I was shown around the tiny cellar brewery I was staggered by how much they do produce down there. The malt shelf is a baker’s paradise with wonderful toasty, nutty smells. The hops were a revelation, some smelt delicious and citrusy, other more garlicky which I wasn’t expecting at all.
Hamish and Nancy are enthusiastic about the ingredients and they’re prepared to pay to make distinct, characterful brews. The hops that go in the stunning Nelson’s Fanny cost eight times more than other hops and are imported from New Zealand but there is no arguing with the end result which is light, fruity and incredibly well balanced. Someone get me some elbow patches, I think I’m becoming a real ale fan.
If they can find the right venue the future for the company will be another pub or two and a bigger brewery. By the time this goes to print they will also have got started with moonshine as well having bought a still from the US.
Hamish wasn’t planning to buy a pub in Exeter at all. He’s a qualified commercial yacht master and was delivering yachts for a living. “If I’d invested my money in gold and sailed off into the sunset for seven years I’d have been a rich man by now.”
I’m so glad he didn’t because let’s face it. when you’ve seen one sunset you’ve seen them all.