For the past six years I’ve spent a few August weeks in Dorset, specifically West Bay, the harbour village for the market town of Bridport. If you’ve never been I would thoroughly recommend it, it’s a very beautiful part of our sceptred isle, and the setting for much of the popular Broadchurch TV series. If you like pubs then there’s dozens of them, many thatched traditional country boozers nestling in pretty villages. There must be nearly twenty of them in the immediate Bridport area alone. Unfortunately, as a visitor, it gets a bit depressing when virtually every pub you go in is selling the same beer, not the same brew, but always the same brewer. In this case it’s Palmers. They do five core ales; Copper (3.7%), Best Bitter, Dorset Gold (4.5%), 200 (5.0%) and Tally Ho. Additionally you will see their latest (first brewed in 2014) Colmers (4.0%) summer ale in a lot of their pubs, they reckon it’s brewed with Citra hops, if it is they didn’t chuck many in. My favourite is Tally Ho a strong (5.5%) dark ale that is quite complex and tastes different to the others. The rest are almost variations on a theme and apart from strength and colour, have the same key flavours running through them. The best of the rest is the Best Bitter (4.2%), if it is well kept and on form. Try the Ropemakers in Bridport for the best pint I found in the area. The best description I can come up with is that they are an old fashioned brewer with old fashioned beers. Mind you, so are Timmy Taylors, need I say more.
We stay in the pretty village of West Bay, essentially the harbour for the nearby market town of Bridport. There’s a pleasant fifteen minute walk through fields, alongside the meandering river Brit into the town. As you reach the edge of Bridport you pass the magnificent stone building that has been Palmers stronghold since 1794. It looks like a very early tower style brewery which still has an operational water wheel. I don’t know what it powers but they have it turning several days a week. I should go on one of the tours to find out. At ten quid a time with a souvenir glass tankard and a taste of ale, I don’t think that’s bad value really to have a look round what’s billed as the only thatched brewery in the UK.
There’s four pubs in West bay, six if you count the caravan park bar (open to public) and the Ellipse. My favourite is the The West Bay Hotel. It’s an old pub with two separate beer gardens and accommodation. The outstanding feature is the landlord, a young local bloke who is always around, something that’s getting a bit of a rarity. Unfortunately food trade is their main focus and there’s only a couple of tables permanently set aside for drinkers. The food is fish biased and always looks good, it must be because they get busy, often with local people rather than tourists. The beer is Palmers, but over several years I’ve always found it to be on good form. Second favourite is The George Hotel which is also a Palmers house. Again they do accommodation and are very focussed on food, having a separate restaurant. They also have a tap room/sports bar and the biggest umbrellas you will ever see over their perfectly situated harbour side beer garden. Interestingly there is the oldest Boxer dog you have ever seen wandering round the boozer and a resident old man permanently seated at the same table everyday in the lounge bar. The real ale quality can be hit and miss here.
I would give the The Bridport Arms a miss, it’s primarily food and accommodation and if I’m honest a bit soulless, think Harvester Inn. The beer is a bit hit and miss as well, it’s clearly not their main focus and again it’s, you’ve guessed … Palmers.
The Quarterdeck is the bar to Durbeyfield House, a small hotel. The beer is Doom Bar or St Austell, the local cider out of the box is lethal. It gets quite busy at tea time and is a rendezvous for local trades men and other artisans after work. It has a really good atmosphere and until late afternoon the garden courtyard outside is a very good place to be, unfortunately the sun disappears behind the building quite early (when this occurs go straight to The George Hotel beer garden). My advice on drink choice would be to follow the local lead and drink the branded cider and on no account dabble with the local cider or the beer. When we were there in August it was on the market for £650k which after negotiation would represent pretty good value for the area, either as a pub or for residential. W.Dorset CAMRA need to get cracking with an ACV here.
I’m not going to cover the caravan holiday park bar, it is what it is. It isn’t a pub, but is handy if you want to watch Sky Sports. I think they have Doom Bar on hand pull.
The only other place is the Ellipse bar and bistro. It has a stunning vista from it’s beachside location and when it’s clear you can see Lyme Regis. It did have St Austell on the bar at one bit but they no longer have any real ale on, which is a shame, because although it’s not a pub, it’s quite a nice place to sit.
If anyone is wondering why I haven’t commented on the food in any of these places, it’s because in six years I’ve never eaten in any of them. When we dine out down there, we always go to Arthur Watson’s stunning Riverside restaurant. There’s no need to go anywhere else, which is what you will say when you have been. The Seasider chip shop (not the shacks) is pretty good as well.