Beer hunting beyond the pub

Beer from Harbour Brewing at the Old Coastguard, Mousehole.
The temporary exhibition of portraits of chefs meant that we spent the entire meal with Albert Roux and Nathan Outlaw giving us ‘evils’. Quite unnerving.

The Old Coastguard in Mousehole (‘Mowzle’) is the kind of place it’s taken us years to feel comfortable visiting: slightly pretentious, but not obnoxiously so, with a distinct air of ‘Sunday best’ about it. A ‘dining pub’ rather than a boozer, we were drawn there on Saturday for a celebratory meal, but also because we’d heard there might be good beer on offer, contrary to usual practice.

Harbour Brewing, based in North Cornwall, started distributing their beer in spring 2012, and their immediate success demonstrates that there is demand for Cornish ‘craft beer’, even if not so much in Cornwall itself. They’ve got beautiful branding and apparently boundless energy. The difficulty for us has been that, having tried an early test batch of their IPA, we’ve been waiting for the beer itself to catch up. At first, it wasn’t quite right, though far from bad; as the months passed, it improved every time we came across it, but kept failing a crucial test: we simply didn’t prefer it to the beer from the big regional, St Austell.

At the Old Coastguard, however, we found ourselves ordering a second round of their Light Ale, a 3.2% ABV cask ‘pale and hoppy’, turning our nose up at St Austell Tribute, which tasted flabby by comparison. In fact, Harbour Light even beat the pints of St Austell Proper Job we’d enjoyed the night before, too — no mean feat for a much weaker beer, given our love for PJ at its best. Light Ale isn’t the most intensely flavoured or aromatic beer of this style we’ve tried (that’s probably Brodie’s Citra) but certainly had enough lemon-peel zing to perk us up after our wind-whipped walk from Penzance. The condition couldn’t have been better, either, the head forming, in baking parlance, ‘soft peaks’, and lasting until the end of the pint.

Paler than many UK lagers and very sessionable, we can see Light Ale finding a niche in Cornish pubs… eventually. We’d love to walk into more pubs and see three different colours, at three strengths, from three different breweries, rather than the usual c.4% brown bitter or c.4% brown bitter line-up we find all too often, but it might take a while for conservative punters to come round to the idea. ‘Premium Craft’ labelling, in the meantime, will, we suspect, see Harbour’s beers cropping up in a lot of cafes, restaurants and bars in the coming summer season.

Now, here’s a question: how much do you think a pint of Light Ale was the Old Coastguard? (For context, Proper Job goes at c.£3.45 in pubs in Penzance.) Guesses below, answer tomorrow.

23 thoughts on “Beer hunting beyond the pub”

  1. “it might take a while for conservative punters to come round to the idea”

    It’s always struck me that Cornwall drinkers, and (as a result?) brewers are a pretty conservative bunch, at least to my rather spoilt London eyes. Sounds like Harbour are managing to get some traction on their home turf, which can only be good news all round.

    1. There’s a general preference, from what we’ve observed, for darker, sweeter beers (e.g. Doom Bar, Spingo), and very little appetite, as yet, for pale and hoppy. They were giving away Flora Daze in the Blue Anchor last year but, once the free pints had dried up, everyone went back to Spingo Middle. Each to his own, and all that, and we can’t blame landlords for stocking what sells.

  2. We popped into the Old coast guard when we were in Mousehole, they had a couple of different beers on that were in great condition but we felt a bit out of place sitting in the comfy chairs looking out over the sea as the storm rolled in everyone else (barring one couple) were dressed in their sunday best/sailing gear and we were just in jeans and a t-shirts.

    the staff and everyone were friendly enough but couldn’t help feeling we shouldnt have been there, shame as we were going to go back for a meal but ate in the pub at the bottom instead where we had a great bit of craic with the locals.

    1. That’s a shame. It’s the difference between talking about ‘a warm welcome for everyone’ and actually providing it. It’s their job to to put you at ease or, alternatively, to send a clear signal that its a formal establishment where you ought to be wearing a collar. Either way, not really the customer’s problem!

    2. Andy, I’m really sorry you didn’t feel comfortable at the OC. I’m one of the owners and am as likely to be in jeans and a t-shirt there as in something smarter. We’re not a boozer, and wouldn’t claim to be, but everyone should feel relaxed in the building and all the decorative work we’ve done there has been to try to dilute the stiffness that had traditionally held sway. Do come back and I hope you feel a bit more at ease.

      1. HI Edmund, thanks for the reply, glad to hear you are a t-shirt and jeans kinda guy!

        We are hoping to get back to Mousehole soon as it’s a lovely place and we had a fantastic time so we will be sure to call in and enjoy the views again!

        cheers
        Andy

  3. €2.90, where ‘€’ stands for the local currency of Emmets. It’s not very convenient when it comes to banking the takings, but it really keeps the tourists out (hence the name).

  4. Assuming it’s tourist and yachtie prices, £4.50 a pint.

    But “Premium Craft”? Surely it’s all priced at a premium, and what the heck would “non-premium craft” be? I guess that next we can expect Super-Premium Craft, Extra-Special Craft, and Craft Export…

  5. Prices are always something of a mystery. We have to be competitively priced to get space on bars in Cornwall, usually having to undercut the 3 major breweries. Then our products are put on at a premium, very odd.
    I think a slightly higher price should be paid for a venue like the Coastguard. They have spent a lot of money refurbishing and the location/view is worth a few extra pennies.

  6. Tribute – £3 a pint, making it the cheapest pint in the area. Harbour – £3.10. Premium Craft indeed!

    Interestingly the team at the Old Coastguard make a big point in marketing round here about being a place for locals to come and drink as well as a dining place.

    1. Thanks for the blog and the thoughts. We would never pretend to be the boozer of choice for most of Mousehole: The Ship will play that role. What we want is to give people in the area an alternative. They should have the opportunity and reason to come down the steps into the bar and never feel that, just because it has been a hotel, that outsiders are not welcome. Pricing should definitely be a part of that, but we also need to have the right attitude and welcome for anyone who comes in. To my eyes, the current team are brilliant at that.

  7. I can echo Eddie’s comment, as a small brewery Rebel gets hammered on price by landlords yet they then go on to sell our beers at the same or even a higher price!

    I know for a fact that we beat the big 3 Cornish breweries on price and I like to think in flavour/quality etc too, yet pub landlords are incredibly resistant to change. The most common phrase is something along the lines of “my locals have drunk XXX for 1,346,576 years and don’t want anything else, ever”.

  8. I didn’t realise The Old Coastguard was part of the same company as The Gurnard’s Head in Zennor. I took a week off work about 10 years ago in early December and stayed at The Gurnard’s for a couple of days. Needless to say at that time of year I was the only guest and had the pleasure of having my breakfast with the chef each morning! Lovely place, good beer and food back then.

    Has anyone been there recently, do the comments here regarding The Old Coastguard ring true for The Gurnard’s Head also?

    1. I’ve just read that back, when I said I had breakfast with the chef I didn’t mean to imply that a rampant night of homosexual passion preceded it. Not that I’m judging you all by my own warped imagination. Or that there would be anything wrong with that anyway.

      Back to work then, nothing to see here…

      1. @Maxwell.
        You’re protesting your innocence a bit too much there lovey.
        I bet you didn’t have to ask for extra toast,
        Wahaay !

    2. Maxwell. Thanks for kind comments. Yes, The Coastguard is part of the same stable as The Gurnard’s. Our philosophy on beer is the same at both and prices should be identical, although it’s always possible that there may be a few pennies difference either way: this would be oversight rather than deliberate. Each team is given the freedom though to source from whichever breweries they prefer at any one moment to give them the range they think is right for their drinkers and guests.

      When we first visited the Coastguard just before we took it over, they had (literally) no real ales on on that night. I hope we’ve made a bit of a change to that, although we’ve plenty more ground to cover. Running a beer and music festival at The Gurnard’s last year has helped us with relationships with local breweries. We’re planning the same again on the second May Bank Holiday (26 May) this year. Everyone welcome.

  9. Good timing – I had a bottle of Harbour IPA over xmas and have a porter to drink before I put a review up. Harbour light sounds lovely, you know what I’m like for seeking out ‘pale and hoppy’ with a difference! Beer Hunting is exactly that, though isn’t it – looking for beers everywhere, no matter how random the places may seem.

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