Penzance is at its lowest ebb between Christmas and the start of the season, and it’s been bleddy cold, so we really needed the cosy cheer of the pub last week.
Spingo Middle at the Dock Inn, mid-week, sparkled in the glass only a shade off ruby red, and tasted better than ever — a touch drier than usual, but still with the typical smack of unrefined sugar about it.
On Friday, our attempt at a pint of Proper Job was derailed because the Yacht Inn was heaving with rugby fans, so we went for another round of Spingos at the Dock. This time, that lanky dog was there — the one that comes over, perches its chin on the edge of the table and looks sadly at your pork scratchings — and we were surrounded by out-of-season weekend-breakers eating dinner.
Saturday turned into a bit of spree by our standards. Tipped off by email that St Austell’s one-off experiment at brewing Gose would be on at the brewery visitor centre, we stopped off on our way home from the Eden Project. The Hicks Bar isn’t really a pub, but it’s cosy enough, and it’s hard to fault the range of beer on offer, or the condition it is served in. It also has a unique atmosphere when, mid-afternoon, parties emerge from the brewery tour newly-enthused about beer and brewing, and with a thirst on.
Hazy golden, kegged and cool, ‘Steady as She Gose’ had just enough salt and sourness to be interesting without being remotely hard work, and we found it irresistibly sessionable.
A new stout currently under development was good, too: nitro-kegged and looking like Guinness, but actually inspired by an old recipe from Maclay’s, it had a subtly smoky, silky smoothness. We loved 1913 Stout but apparently no-one else was drinking it; this more accessible beer might stand a chance at winning Guinness drinkers over, and we’d be pleased to see it on the bar in a pub near us.
‘Seven C’s and Rye’ (slightly tortuous, but contains Citra, Challenger, Cascade, Celeia, Chinook, Centennial and Cluster) was another one-off brew produced on the pilot plant, this time by second brewer Rob Orton. At 4.8%, it tasted like a 6%-er, and rather reminded us of Goose Island IPA, the tropical fruit and citrus of the hops being pulled back from their heady heights by a solid, toffeeish malt base. There was also a pleasing note of strawberry or blackberry adding a bit colour to the usual fruit salad.
Before we left St Austell, Head Brewer Roger Ryman popped in from the brewhouse, bought us a couple of beers (DISCLOSURE!) and also suggested that, ‘since you’re into blending’, we should try mixing the Gose and the Stout. The result was not greater than the sum of its parts but was certainly interesting — deep brown, only ever-so-slightly sour, and with the drinkability of a sweetish dark mild.
After a dash for the train, we made it back to Penzance, where we popped into the Lamp & Whistle — half corner boozer, half art installation — where there are Belgian beers to be found. We stuck to our usual, Orval, which prompted a bloke at the bar to engage us in conversation. That, in turn, drew in the usually taciturn landlord. He wants to stock draught Kwak, he told us, but can’t afford to buy the silly stirrup glasses. He also told us that no-one steals Duvel or Orval glasses but the designer tumblers he uses for his vast range of speciality rums constantly disappear in pockets or handbags.