WALKING INTO the White Hart in Carmarthen, South Wales, is like walking into Noah's Ark. Chickens and more exotic birds squawk in its hallway, a cockerel crows in an area of the garden that also houses several snuffling pigs and a gobbling turkey or two.
For the five members of the Cole family who run the White Hart there's much more to laying on fresh food than simply buying in fresh meat and produce. Here, they get far more from animals. Chickens, for instance, are hatched at the pub, displayed indoors as they grow, and their eggs used on the menu.
This is just one example of the ambitious DIY approach taken by the family who runs this freehouse according to no-nonsense traditional values. It has a successful micro-brewery attached, a flourishing food trade and is developing the smallholding that supplies its menu into a fully-fledged visitor attraction that will open by summer.
Ornate timbers and beams found around the pub have been carved by members of the family, and they put together the website that markets the listed thatched pub as a tourist attraction themselves.
Doing it for themselves
The family, which includes Geoff and Tricia Coles, their sons Marcus and Cain, and Marcus' wife, Annabel, do not believe in hiring expensive help when they can learn a new skill.
"If we're butchering a pig, we think 'why not do it ourselves?'" says Marcus. "You do the first one and you learn your way around. For us, the pub business is a self-taught one."
The family has been able to plough investment into the White Hart, which they have owned for 15 years, after running other successful pubs in South Wales.
While Marcus says the investment has been "an absolute fortune", he believes that "it's worth it for quality". It has resulted in a business with a roaring trade and reduced costs because of the DIY approach.
Tricia says: "We are the old-fashioned type of licensee. We do a good lunchtime trade and keep the traditional licensing hours. Because we're not trying to be a modern pub, a lot of people come in and say 'this is unusual, you don't see this anymore'.
"The fact that we're a family is also attractive to the customers. It gives the White Hart more of an identity. They know us. They like to see the same faces, and ask after us when one of us isn't here."
Coles Home Farm
Coles Home Farm, as the smallholding is known, started life purely to supply the menu. "We thought, why don't we have a go at doing our own Gloucester Old Spot pigs?" says Marcus. "We would know where they come from and we soon found that the flavour is much better." However, after proving a popular family attraction in its own right, the Home Farm is being expanded and made accessible to visitors.
By the time it reopens, the deep mud in which the pigs used to squelch around will be siphoned away from visitors' feet via a new drainage system - of course installed by the Coles themselves. New pens will house four pigs, 20 chickens and 20 Pembroke turkeys. These will be both food and a visitor attraction.
"These animals are just a supplement," explains Marcus. "It's not going to give us enough to supply the pub entirely, but it's something unique, something to bring in the visitors. And it should provide all our pork, with the pigs killed in 16-week cycles, fresh eggs, and all our turkey at Christmas."
Brewed on site
While the micro-brewery is not open to the public as an attraction, its output does give the White Hart a unique selling point, as its beers are not available anywhere except the pub. It all began when Cain bought a simple nine-barrel plant through a classified advert in The Publican in 1999.
It was soon producing the beer which has become the main brand, Cwrw Blasus - Welsh for 'tasty ale'. While Cwrw Blasus has been a constant, drinkers have been able to order from a huge range of beers that Cain brews alongside it. Over the years, there have been roasted, liquorice and barley stouts, lagers and even a heather beer.
Cain says that at least a barrel of the beer is sold every week. He pieced together the basics of brewing through reading about the subject, before stints of tutoring at the Bass Museum in Burton upon Trent - now sadly earmarked for closure - and studying brewing at Sunderland University.
He believes that one crucial ingredient is the water, drawn from the Coles' own well, 320 feet under the pub. The family thought it likely that they could get access to a well because so many of the farms in the area have such natural resources, so they promptly got the surveyors in.
The good news for the beers' fans is that brewing at the White Hart is in good hands for years to come. Apparently there is nothing that Marcus's daughters, aged five and 10, love more than to chip in behind the scenes at the micro-brewery. On a wall in the pub hangs a cutting from a local newspaper that featured Jessica Coles, then aged seven, and claimed that she was the youngest 'brewster' - the term for a female brewer - in the world.
With the Coles, though, you would expect nothing less than the next generation of the family happy to 'do it themselves'.
A Pub to be Proud of
Pub: The White Hart
Location: Carmarthen, South Wales
Licensees: The Cole family
"The Cole family don't just sell it at the White Hart - they brew it, and quite often they've reared it and even butchered it as well! Coupled with great customer service and a real sense for what will attract customers, the family has brought a bit of animal magic to this corner of South Wales… and really put the White Hart on the map."
The Coles on...The Budget
"We were sad that they picked on pubs and not supermarkets, which are the real offenders. This could be the final nail in the coffin for some pubs, unless you have something as special as we have."
"We went no-smoking in the January before the ban came in in Wales. To start off, we weren't in favour of the ban. People should not be able to tell pub customers whether to smoke or not. But we have learnt to accept it."