Written by: Rick O'Shay
Well I know this is already a little dated but this is the first beer blog in our Moor the Merrier series of blogs and it was written on the evening when the Dartmoor Real Ale Trail was conceived, so hence why it has not been published yet, we were keeping it under wraps! I now proudly pass you over to Mr Rick O’Shay for him to regal his findings on our first beer blog ….
Julian, Lisa, myself and my better half Katrina visited the Elephants Nest on a warm evening in July.
This off the beaten track hideaway has a distinctly Dickensian vibe and looks and feels as though it has been serving ale for at least 200 years.
You get a good idea of the ethos of the place in the entrance lobby where you are greeted by a sign that advises customers to be quiet because swallows are nesting.
As you enter the main bar, it feels like you are stepping back in time in to a tableau from England’s past, and even though it was summer when we visited, you felt like there should be a fire lit to make the image complete.
There weren’t that many people there when we got there, but they were an eclectic mix! A few hikers and a couple of crusty hippies, none of whom were regulars, but the friendly staff told us that it would soon be busy due to the presence of the two cricket teams who were to take refreshment during our visit. I was delighted! The imminent cricketers just added to the quintessential Englishness of the place.
We all quickly decided that we would get our food order in before the innings outside had finished, so we found a table and gave a menu the once over.
Now, for the more squeamish amongst you, that despite the name of the pub, you will not find any elephant meat dishes on the menu - though I did try the advertised ‘Elephant Burger which was a home made locally sourced steak burger named in honour of the pub!
The menu featured a list of good old scrummy comfort food, with a few specials on the blackboard as well.
Lisa chose Lemongrass and ginger Belly of Pork with saffron mash, sesame and coconut puree and Julian had the homemade Steak and Kidney Pudding with cabbage and pancetta (pictured above). My wife went with the Fish Pie with smoked creamy mashed potato (shown below).
My Elephant Burger was terrific. Flame grilled and served in a sesame seeded brioche bun with onion marmalade and homemade chips deep fried in beef dripping.
I have to say that my ale was served quite cold instead of the recommended cool, but it was a warm night, and I wasn’t in a rush, and actually, I don’t think that the word ‘rush’ even exists in the local vocabulary.
Time passed, the company was good and the conversation was bright, thanks to the absence of a jukebox, and it wasn’t long before my beer had reached optimum temperature.
My beer of choice on this occasion was one of my favourites - Dartmoor Brewery Jail Ale. The other ales on sale at the time of our visit were Palmers IPA, Proper Job, from St.Austell Brewery, and Otter Ale.
Dartmoor Jail Ale is an award winning full, golden brown ale. It is smooth but deceptively robust, weighing in at 4.8%. It has distinctive full and fruity taste with creamy caramel and toffee notes, more malty than hoppy, with a fresh orangey nose.
In a perfect world, I would have preferred my ale a little less cold and served through an agitator or sparkler as it made it appear rather lacklustre in the intentional and welcome pub shadows.
I am aware that personal tastes will vary about this, but being a graduate of Northern dispensing systems, I confess to a preference for a tight, creamy head on beers that are brewed for it, and Jail Ale is one of them. I can almost sense my Southern CAMRA colleagues throwing their hands up in horror at this, but this is a just my personal preference.
To sum up, then, I really enjoyed the overall drinking experience at the Elephant’s Nest and loved this antithesis of a designer pub; the grounded reality of flagstone floors, unfussy décor and quirky signage. A traditional pub with good ale and well-cooked hearty fayre in healthy portions steeped in local village life and the wilful refusal to acknowledge the passage of time.
I was even tempted to come back again a few days later just to take part in the quiz night, which I fondly imagined would be full of questions about the Pickwick Papers, cricket and farming.
So if you’re looking for a traditional country pub with no frills, good food, good service and good ale, you’d do a lot worse than go and nest with the Elephants Nest at Horndon, Mary Tavy.
Rick began life in the licensed trade as a manager and took his first tenancy at the Queens Hotel in Baildon, West Yorkshire in 1985. He fell in love with the Autovac dispense system of Yorkshire beer serving a tight creamy head and vowed to recreate it in Plymouth one day. He served as a staff trainer for Tetley Brewery in the days when they still had one!
After the birth of his daughter it became his mission to raise her in Plymouth and on a trip to watch his beloved Plymouth Argyle play in the FA Cup against Everton, he saw a pub that had been closed due to fire called The Grapes. By 1989 he had signed a 10 year tenancy deal and completely refurbished the pub creating a Yorkshire theme and changed its name to the Three Ferrets, which was the name of the pub in the John Smiths TV advertising campaign. John Smiths cask ale was imported from Tadcaster especially for him and trade boomed. The pub became a destination and was packed solid at weekends. Inspired by ‘The Good Old Days’ TV show, a Sunday Night Show called ‘The Old Fat Hippy’s Golden Oldies Funshow’ became notorious and earned the pub a mention on the national news due to a ‘Clocking On’ machine for regulars.
Julian Tarrant-Boyce was his most able and trusted bar manager and the two shared many trips to beer festivals and hostelries on their quest for the perfect pint. Rick still enjoys trips to breweries up and down the country and is dismayed by the difficulties now facing the licensed trade. Several awards later he became a representative for a wine company and a fan of single malt whisky.
There is nothing that Rick enjoys more than a trip to a well-run pub that serves good local ale. Because of his knowledge of the brewing process and vast range of beers, both local and national, it makes Rick a perfect beer blogger for our ale trail. And by the way, he still performs music and comedy in pubs throughout the South West