An Ordinary Weekend

Fifth amendment pumpclip.

Quietly, slowly, it just keeps getting easier to find interesting beer, in more-or-less pleasant surroundings, in our part of the world.

On Thursday we went our separate ways for the evening. Bailey popped into the Turk’s Head in Penzance where he enjoyed St Austell’s Fifth Amendment, part of their ongoing series of one-off brews making use of the two pilot breweries they operate alongside the industrial-scale kit. A 5.2% ABV amber ale, it was quite unlike any other St Austell beer, combining tropical American hops with a spicy, toasty medievalness. The pub is one that is 80 per cent of the way to being a restaurant but lots of locals do just drink there and, as long as you don’t object to the sight of people devouring mussels nearby, it’s actually got one of the cosier, ‘pubbier’ interiors.

Boak, meanwhile, went with a pal to The Tremenheere, our local Wetherspoon pub, where Hook Norton Amarillo Gold (4.7%) provided exactly what you’d expect from such an accomplished traditional brewer, with the exotic hops enhancing the underlying fruitiness rather than suffocating everything with citrus. It was so good that one pint turned into several. The pub is tatty, occasionally ‘lively’ in a Wild West way, but it has always got a buzz, which can be hard to find in a quiet town between October and Easter.

Cards in the pub.

On Friday, we did the rounds, working our way from The Yacht on the seafront up the hill towards home. St Austell Proper Job continues to be a go-to beer and just seems to be getting better and better, capturing and intensifying the live essence of hops in the same way freeze-drying seems to do for raspberries. We had a couple. The pub itself continues to treat us mean: after visiting once or more every week for something like five years, we still don’t get any flicker of recognition from the staff. It seems to work because we do, indeed, remain keen.

The Dock, almost next door, isn’t quite the same under new management, even if the beer range has expanded to include Potion 9 as well as Blue Anchor Spingo Middle. Potion didn’t quite taste itself, perhaps suffering in close comparison to Proper Job, or because it was served on the chilly side. There was a young bloke from New York eating a takeaway in the corner, which seemed odd.

The finisher, Timothy Taylor Landlord at the never-ending faintly hippyish music festival that is The Farmer’s Arms, wasn’t the best beer of the night (it lacked zing) but we enjoyed it the most. The barman recognised us and anticipated our order; he gave us the fancy glassware reserved for trusted customers; and we got to play cards in the corner while the band finished their set with an electrified Cornish folk song. Just perfect, really.

A dog between two customers at the bar.

Saturday took us to St Ives, a quick hop on a local train from Penzance. After making sandcastles and clambering about on rocks for a bit to build up a thirst we went to The Old Pilchard Press, the town’s micropub, which was (as it always seems to be) rammed and (as often seems to happen) almost sold out of beer. We’ve grumbled about St Ives Brewery in the past, unimpressed by skunked bottles of mediocre pale ale actually brewed several counties away, but the cask version of Knill by Mouth, which is really brewed in St Ives, rather impressed us: zesty and fun, like Jaffa Cakes. Brain’s Reverend James, which we’ve not had in years, was the good kind of brown — nothing to inspire poetry, but well put together, a bit like finding a decent episode of The Sweeney on ITV4.

The Hub continues to baffle us — last time we went, they were happy for us just to have drinks; this time, we got a pass-agg guilt trip, and the menus were snatched away after we’d ordered what was intended to be the first in a few rounds of snacks. Still, the beer, and the choice of beer, is good, and different: Magic Rock Cannonball, a long way from home, was a breath of fresh air. The same brewery’s the chilli porter was pretty exciting too — a seasoning tingle rather than Man vs. Food. As we’ve said before, if people go on about Magic Rock, it’s with good reason.

We finished in The Hain Line, the town’s Wetherspoon pub, near the station. It’s got a much smarter interior than the one in Penzance and equally smart staff who, if we ran a hospitality business, we’d be poaching. We got excited by yet more foreign beer here: Salopian Lemon Dream, all the way from Shropshire. It’s a bit of a novelty brew — just a touch too sour, really, and a little cartoonish — but we enjoyed it a lot, especially at something like £2.30 a pint. The second round was more fraught — beers advertised were in the process of going off, and the generous tasters we were encouraged to try didn’t reveal anything else as thrilling — so we had a couple of forgettable festival beers. Still, we left thinking that, overall, Spoons had won.

Pints of Proper Job.

Then last night, Sunday, the sun was out, the sea was still, barbecue smoke was on the air, and we couldn’t resist one last pint of Proper Job at The Yacht. It was just about warm enough to sit outside, too, which is how we know summer is almost here. If anything, the beer tasted more exciting than on Friday, remastered and bass boosted.

As we wandered home we saw a bloke, bare-chested, staggering across the road after a full day’s drinking. ‘I’m wasted,’ he said mournfully. His companion slapped his back and replied: ‘Mate, it’s the only way to be.’

West Cornwall Notes

There’s been quite a lot going on in our local beer scene so, for the record, and to help those of you planning a visit to the far west, here’s a quick round-up of developments.

Coastal Brewery’s on-site brewery tap and specialist beer outlet is up and running in Redruth. An industrial estate on the outskirts of a former mining town is about as far from twee as you can get, and drinking among stacked palettes and breeze block walls won’t be to everyone’s taste, but we found it surprisingly atmospheric, with a chatty crowd of post-shift drinkers from surrounding units. It’s probably the best place to come if you want to ‘tick’ Coastal’s own beers from cask and keg (they’re generally decent and occasionally brilliant), and has plenty of Belgian, American and German beers not often seen out this way. Bottles are available to take away, too, if you’re thinking about stocking a holiday cottage. It’s open until 10-15:00, Mon-Thu, and on Saturday; and until 7pm on Fridays, but check the Facebook page — those hours aren’t fixed.

Continue reading “West Cornwall Notes”

19th Century Pubs of St Ives

Golden Lion, St Ives.
The Golden Lion and George and Dragon, St Ives. SOURCE: Saffron100_UK on Flickr.

We’ve recently joined the Morrab Library in Penzance where we’re discovering all kinds of interesting nuggets about beer and pubs.

For example, Old St Ives: the reminiscences of William Paynter, published in 1928, contains a short chapter about inns and ‘beer shops’ in Cornwall in the mid-nineteenth century. Here are some highlights:

In the early years of the last century the drinking of a certain amount of alcohol was looked upon as a necessary precaution against illness, and in consequence everyone used to drink, women as well as men. To meet the demand for liquor there were about twenty public-houses in St Ives, small as it was then as compared with to-day. In St Andrew Street alone there were three inns — the Blue Bell, the Star, and the Red Lion. Fore Street and the Wharf could boast of nine — the Castle Inn, the Union Inn, the Britannia, the Victory, the Dolphin, the Globe, the Sloop, the White Hart, and the Ship Aground. Round the market-place were the King’s Arms, the George and Dragon and the Golden Lion, while further afield were the Queen’s, the Western and the Sheaf of Wheat.

[…]

In those days, when there were no means of entertainment and amusement in the evenings, the public-houses served as clubs, like the coffee-houses of the eighteenth century. People used to meet in them to talk over the events of the day. A favourite diversion was the making up of rhymes on current events… It was customary for a few people to join together to buy a newspapers, and to meet in an inn to read it aloud and discuss it.

[…]

In addition to the social attractions offered by the inns, there were found very useful for business purposes. Wages were paid there on Saturday nights, a circumstances often detrimental to the amount handed by husbands to their wives on their return home.

[…]

A great many smuggling plots were hatched in the inns, for in spite of customs officers smuggling did not come to an end in St Ives till the eighteen seventies… One old woman, after drawing a pint of beer for a customer, always asked him if he wanted ‘something to take the chill off.’ The answer was usually a significant wink, and Martha ‘Chill-off’, as she was called, flourished, like many others, on the illicit transaction.

Notes

  1. The book was written by S. Winifred Paynter, based on stories she heard from her father. She may have misheard, mis-remembered, censored or embroidered, so it can’t be considered completely reliable as a source.
  2. There are still pubs called the Golden Lionthe Sloopthe Queen’s, the Sheaf of Wheat in St Ives.
  3. ‘Chill-off’ is a badass nickname.
  4. Next time you’re in the pub with mates and conversation starts to flag, why not compose a rhyme about current affairs?

Best Cornish Pubs 2013

Beer Wolf pub in Falmouth

Last year, we came up with a list of our favourite Cornish pubs, all of which remain worth a visit, but there has been a lot going on in the last year, and we’ve explored more, too, so it’s time for an update.

This list is personal and prejudiced — we do not have a team of inspectors in bowler hats making multiple visits with thermometers — but we hope beer geeks on holiday will find it useful.

The Driftwood Spars, St Agnes
The perfect place to end a coast walk, this pub, sitting on a beautiful cove, and with its own nearby brewery, has multiple rooms, wonky wooden beams, and plenty of cosy corners. On really nice days, the beer garden is a wonderful spot to sit and enjoy the big blue sky and the sound of the sea. (Blog post.)

Star Inn, Crowlas (Penzance)
CAMRA Cornwall pub of the year for 2013. It’s a little out of the way in a village between Penzance and St Ives, but buses in either direction stop right outside, and it does have a car park. No food, unless you count Caramacs and pork scratchings, and not remotely poshed-up, but the beer, brewed on site, is astoundingly good. Potion 9 is the one to go for. (Blog post.)

The Front, Falmouth
Though it now has competition, this large cellar pub still offers one of the more impressive ranges of local beer and cider in Cornwall. Though the beer sometimes lacks condition, most of it served on gravity, ‘bring your own food’, cheery bar staff and a warm atmosphere more than make up for it. Some ‘craft keg’ and posh bottles, too. (Blog post.)

The Dock Inn, Penzance
Our usual port of call in Penzance — one of the few places you can get Spingo beers other than at the Blue Anchor, often in better condition than on their home turf, with a very friendly welcome and good food. (Blog post.)

The Blue Anchor, Helston
This pub, with a brewery out back, is a must visit. Popular with locals and tourists, its multi-room layout still includes a bar/lounge divide, though we’ve always felt welcome in both. The best place to find their special seasonal brews, too. (Blog post.)

Old Ale House, Truro
This is as near as Skinner’s get to a brewery tap. It’s cosy with some lovely period features — not only Victorian, but also faded relics of the ‘real ale revolution’. Their best beer, Porthleven, is usually available. (Blog post.)

Beer Wolf Books, Falmouth
Opening just before Christmas last year, this pub-bookshop in a charming half-timbered building, has quickly gained a reputation for its unusual (for Cornwall) range of beer. Recently, alongside carefully chosen Cornish ales such as Potion 9 from the Penzance Brewing Company, there have been beers from Dark Star, Marble and other well-regarded ‘up country’ brewers. (Blog post.)

The Galleon, Fowey
This pub took us by surprise: despite being in a modern building, it is a free house, and offered a slightly more interesting range of beers than usual, all in very good condition. There are several pubs in Fowey and they all seem fine but, if you’re bored of St Austell’s beer, which you might well be after a few days, this is the place to come. (Blog post.)

The Lifeboat Inn, St Ives
Owned by St Austell and sitting on the harbourside, this pub is nicer illuminated by St Ives’ famously gorgeous natural light than it is in the evening, when it becomes a bit ‘orange’. We’ve been in several times in the last year and been impressed by the staff and the quality of the beer, even out of season. A good place to find St Austell seasonals, too.

The Top House Inn, Lizard (village)
A nice enough pub which we’re recommending chiefly for its location and the chance to find a few St Austell rarities (this is one of two places we’ve found their old-fashioned <4% IPA). The perfect place to finish a long walk, sitting outside with a pint of Proper Job and a bag of crisps, watching the bus stop in the village square.

 

General tips

  1. In any given Cornish cove, there will usually be more than one place to drink, but don’t assume by default the ‘traditional pub’ is the best option: sometimes, the contemporary beachside cafe/surf-shack is where you’ll find all the life, a warm welcome, and better beer.
  2. St Austell are utterly dominant. If they own several of the pubs in a town or village, and they usually do, the managed houses (usually with the newest signage and uniformed staff) tend to offer (of course) a more reliable experience, but the slightly run-down pubs with tenant landlords, though they can be a lottery, are often more characterful and cosy.
  3. Newer Cornish breweries such as Harbour and Rebel are hard to find in pubs, thanks to the St Austell lockdown, but seem to be making inroads into delis, cafes, restaurants and bars with their bottled beers at least. But check prices before you commit: we were charged £7.50 for a 330ml bottle of Rebel Mexicocoa in a bar in Truro.
  4. Cornwall does have some proper rough pubs, but they’re usually very easy to spot. We went in one once by mistake and weren’t murdered, though we did get asked, with curiosity rather than menace, whether we were undercover police officers on a drugs sting.

This is the type of blog post that rarely gets many comments, but which lingers in the Googletubes forever. When we’re in a new town, we always search ‘[TOWN X] beer blog’. Even if all it turns up is one post from 2009 with spelling mistakes, written by someone with different tastes to us, it still tells us more than any number of guide books. So, with that in mind, we’re also trying to put together a list of such posts, organised by region. Here’s what we’ve got so far. Let us know if you’ve seen any other good ‘uns.