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.