The Salutation Inn was the first pub I looked at when I decided I wanted to work in beer and brewing. Originally, running a pub wasn’t what I wanted to do – it seemed like a lot of hard work and I wanted to start a microbrewery. But I grew up near the pub and, at the time, my dad called me to tell me the Sally was up for sale, brewing was getting more competitive and I decided it might be “safer” to go in to the pub business.
It’s always been a spit-and-sawdust pub with a big emphasis on real ale. That’s what I love, and that’s exactly what I think a pub should be: people sitting round drinking, talking and socialising. I didn’t want to turn it into a gastropub. It’s about traditional pub values, which seem to be being eroded as fewer and fewer pubs are reliant on real ale and the community.
My dad used to take me into pubs when I was young. We’d go clay pigeon shooting on a Sunday and then at lunchtime everyone would pile into the pub. People would be buying rounds, chatting and everybody would be sharing what they’d grown or made, some vegetables or rabbits they’d shot or chutney. I loved it.
After university, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do and ended up in London working as a telecoms business analyst. I quite liked the work and it paid well, but on the weekends I would be exploring historic pubs with my friends and home brewing as much I could. It just got more and more obsessional until I decided I had to do something I cared about.
When I first started at the Salutation Inn, it felt like we were fighting a PR battle. Some of the old boys coming into the pub took an immediate dislike to me because I was 29-year-old kid from London and they thought “who does he think he is?”
I was working so hard it was ridiculous. I did almost every single shift, I was working 90-hour weeks and I was by myself, because my girlfriend (now wife) was still in London. You throw your all into it because you want it to work, it’s what you believe in, it’s what you care about and the fear of ruining what you thought was a fantastic pub in the first place is just horrendous. For about the first year, I was sleepwalking every night. I would try and change barrels in my sleep, or think people were still in the pub and run down in the middle of night. But then we won the first of our CAMRA awards, beating another local pub with a fantastic reputation, and then we won best cider pub and people started talking about us.
When I first started, I planned to concentrate on doing the brewing and put a manager in to run the rest of the pub. That never happened. I just got drowned in running a pub – I’d not done it before and didn’t know what I was doing.
About a year ago, I found Hannah, who is now our manager. I’m stepping back slightly and Hannah’s now doing more and more of my role. She’s worked in the trade before and is very passionate about beer. Her husband, Dan, is the chef and cures all of our hams. There’s around eight other members of staff, almost all of whom are locals, who range from doing one afternoon to almost full time.
You really want people who know they’re not just selling a pint, they’re selling the whole experience. Someone who can make sure the whole atmosphere is right, who is bright and sparky and care about what we’re doing.
We’re not running a charity, but I like to think we are making a positive social contribution to the local area and they need to understand that. They also need to understand that the quality of the real ale and the real cider is why this business is still running. If that isn’t right and somebody complains, there’s no questions asked, it’s no problem, “what can I get you instead?” It’s their job to make sure the beer is top quality.
We do a lot of events in order to try to appeal to lots of different people. We’ve done an apple day, where we had beer writer Pete Brown come down and do a talk on cider, apple bobbing, Morris dancing and people could bring their own apples to make cider with. We also had a rare breeds day, where we had two shire horses, two old Gloucester cattle, three of my Gloucestershire Old Spot pigs, some chickens and a barbecue. Another big one has been the village with no pubs night. A lot of the local villages have lost their pubs, so the idea was to get a whole village down to the Salutation so everyone could meet and socialise. If you’re living on your own or if you’ve just moved in, then how do you get to know people?
Ale on the bar
Wye Valley HPA
Wye Valley Hopfather
It’s a lovely thing for me. You do these events and people make friends, and then they say to each other “shall we go for a drink?” and come into pub, perhaps with some other friends. You start to knit together this network and see all these friendships forged through the pub. People now don’t text to meet up in the pub, they can just turn up here and they’ll see someone they know.
For our food offer, we don’t reheat, we don’t freeze – everything is fresh. Food is served at lunchtimes only and we do three dishes. Two are permanent: ham, egg and chips and a ploughman’s lunch, and we have a third dish that changes every day. It can be a fish finger sandwich or a cider-soaked, hay-baked pork belly from our own pigs.
There’s also a microbrewery out the back, where we have a two-and-a-half barrel plant and brew our own beer. We ask brewers to come in and brew a twist on one of their classic beers on our kit exclusively for the Sally, which we then serve at the pub. In the next month, we’ve got Wye Valley Brewery and St Austell coming in for our Sally Brew Sessions. It’s a great time to run a wet-led pub. There are so many different breweries, producing so many different styles of beer at such a great quality that you can now run a business with real ale as the selling point.
From the menu
Ham, egg and chips - £8.95 Cam Family Butchers’ thick-cut ham, free-range egg from the pub’s chickens and hand-cut chips
The Ploughman’s lunch - £6.95 Locally made single and double Gloucester cheese served with fresh bread and home-made chutneys and pickles
Winning the CAMRA National Pub of the Year in 2014 has to be the big one. The first three or four months after we won were ridiculous. It felt like we were fighting this crazy battle, where by midday we’d have 20 people lined up outside the door waiting and the phone never stopped ringing. CAMRA has been a huge help and being given that accolade has been amazing for the business but there were parts of winning that I found quite hard. People would ring up and say I want to book a table for food, which isn’t what the pub is about. We don’t do food in the evening and we don’t reserve tables either. They’d say “do you do a roast on Sundays?” and I’d think that the pub they actually want is every other pub in the area – just not this pub.
We’ve grown rapidly in the past couple of years but it does feel like it’s starting to slow up. I’m keen to attract the young people from nearby Bristol, who are interested in good food and drink, and might be interested in coming to a nice bit of countryside at the weekend. I want to promote [the nearby village of] Berkeley. There’s an amazing heritage and history here – there’s a castle, some lovely walks, a deer park, a river – but people just don’t know it’s here. With a bit of work, it could be a real destination offering a nice little package for people coming away on the weekends.
I’m also looking for a second site. I’ve had to learn that I have to step back from the day-to-day running of the pub in order for it to grow or I’ll still be wiping tables when I’m 70. That’s not what I want. We’re looking for a second site, although it’s been hard to find pubs in the area that still have some charm and haven’t been turned into bland eateries already.