Brewer buys the pub which sells 90 per cent of his beer

PUBLISHED: 13:34 09 November 2020 | UPDATED: 13:34 09 November 2020

Tim Webster, Proprietor of the Barnum Brewery, a micro brewery based at the rear of The Reform Inn, Pilton. Photo: Jim Wileman

Tim Webster, Proprietor of the Barnum Brewery, a micro brewery based at the rear of The Reform Inn, Pilton. Photo: Jim Wileman

© jim wileman

Well-known boozer will now be run buy the man who runs the adjacent brewery

Lord Basil of Barum is the familiar face of a Barum Brewery beer. Photo: Jim WilemanLord Basil of Barum is the familiar face of a Barum Brewery beer. Photo: Jim Wileman

One evening, over 20 years ago, Tim Webster was in his local pub, chatting to the landlord when the two hatched a plan to set up a brewery.

Fuelled by a few pints, the idea began to grow. The pub was the Reform Inn at Pilton on the edge of Barnstaple. The pub’s then landlord, Mike Kilminster, agreed to buy the beer from Tim, who would make it on the premises.

The first beer, initially called Hard Labour, was launched on 26 September 1996. Barum Original best bitter is still the brewery’s most popular, although many more special editions have been produced over the subsequent years. Another favourite is Breakfast, a premium bitter, and Pilton Hopster, a light and hoppy, premium golden ale.

“It started as a hobby really,” says Tim. “We built a dreadful lean-to off the back of the pub and I’d be brewing at the weekends and evenings. The lean-to is still dreadful and leaky today!”

The brewery scene has exploded in North Devon in recent years. Photo: Jim WilemanThe brewery scene has exploded in North Devon in recent years. Photo: Jim Wileman

At the time Tim was working for an IT company in Barnstaple, but he soon gave up his job to work full-time on the brewery.

Barum Brewery has since gone on to become North Devon’s longest standing brewery and it’s about to mark another milestone, with Tim taking over as landlord of the Reform.

“No-one would take on a pub at the moment.” Tim knows that many would view his action as madness. But when current landlady Esther Davies announced that she was leaving, Tim says he couldn’t stand by, witness the fate of the pub in these uncertain times, and do nothing. “It’s because I’m stubborn,” he says.

Tim Webster at the bar of The Reform Inn, Pilton. Photo: Jim WilemanTim Webster at the bar of The Reform Inn, Pilton. Photo: Jim Wileman

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The brewery has seen its ups and downs over the years, but Barum beat the odds to survive. During that time Tim has become immersed in the brewing scene. He was chairman of the Tuckers Maltings Beer Festival for five years, before setting up the first beer festival in North Devon. It was first held in 2007 at the North Devon Leisure Centre, before moving into the perfect setting of Barnstaple’s historic pannier market.

When he started in 1996 craft breweries were rare to find – there was only one other in North Devon. Going into a pub he says: “There wasn’t much else other than Bass or Flowers and they were all a bit bland.”

Since then, the brewery scene “has exploded” says Tim – there are currently around 15 in North Devon alone.

Barum has always had the advantage of being attached to a pub; 90 per cent of its beer is sold through the Reform.

“If you go back a couple of centuries, every pub brewed its own beer,” says Tim. As happened at The Reform, which even used to have its own malthouse in a building alongside.

History is important, he believes, as is keeping regulars happy. The Reform is a community pub, loved by locals, so continuity will be important over the next few months. Esther will still be around, she lives nearby and will come in to do some shifts and, viruses permitting, the pub will still be used for all manner of local meetings and music nights, but Tim is introducing changes too.

“I want to make it ‘the’ North Devon beer pub, the place to come for beers from North Devon,” he says. To that end he will have at least two other local beers on tap, in addition to the brewer’s own, with many more available in bottles. That way, mindful of the coronavirus situation, people can choose to drink inside or takeaway. He also plans to introduce a simple food offering; jacket potatoes will be on the menu.

“It will still be quite different, until we can open up properly. I just want to keep both the pub and the brewery going.”

It’s survived almost three decades, so Tim’s stubbornness must be working.

“I could have said, ‘Sod this, I’ll go back to computers’, but I wanted to see it succeed, or at least survive. Maybe now that the brewery is taking on a pub, this may be the opportunity for it to start really kicking off – but it’s a gamble.”

meet lord basil

Lord Basil of Barum is the familiar face of a Barum Brewery beer and he comes in a multitude of guises, from a Pilton hipster to a knight at the battle of Agincourt.

The mascot adorns every beer made by the brewery and he was created and drawn by Nick and Fran Brennan, cartoonists who’ve worked for DC Thomson of The Dandy and The Beano fame. They came up with the idea for Basil with Tim – over a pint of course.

“Fran and Nick used to live in Georgeham and were mad keen beer drinkers. They were members of North Devon CAMRA and when they heard a new brewery had been set up, they came to try it. They looked at my logo and said they could do better – so we sat down and came up with Basil.”

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