Hoptimystic at the Star Inn

‘I’m not putting it on until you’ve drunk that one,’ we overheard as we approached the bar of the Star Inn, Crowlas, on Friday afternoon. There was definitely what passes for A Buzz in sleepy West Cornwall.

‘What’s coming on then?’ I asked Steve the barman, eagerly studying the ‘Coming d’reckly’ part of the chalkboard beer menu.

‘Hoptimystic. It’s new.’

Cribbage in the pub with pints.We did our bit to help finish off the blocking cask by ordering a couple of pints of a perfectly decent Blonde from Great Heck and sat down to play cribbage in the corner by the fire.

Then, a couple of rounds in… Was there a sudden hush among the garrulous gang of middle-aged pals at the bar? Somehow, anyway, we just knew it had arrived and so drained our glasses before dashing up to to get in on the action.

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The Quiet One

This is our contribution to #BeeryLongreads (Twitter/Facebook). The main image above is adapted from a photograph by Darren Norbury (@beertoday on Twitter).

The Penzance Brewing Company’s Peter Elvin isn’t a rock star brewer. He doesn’t stand up on counter-tops and give talks so that people can ‘engage with his brand’ and he isn’t likely to have his own cable TV series any time soon.

You might not even spot him in his own pub, the Star Inn at Crowlas – he does not hold court. You won’t find him behind the bar much these days but he can sometimes be seen shuffling in through the door behind the counter, in well-worn polo shirt and Crocs, from where he slips quietly onto a stool at the end of bar, or makes conversation with a few regulars in a corner, a half-smile under his drooping white moustache. Unless he’s talking directly to you, you won’t hear what he’s saying: he is, as the cliché goes, a man of few words, and those words are spoken softly when they come.

We’ve been admirers of the beer at the Star for years but have only spoken to Mr Elvin on a couple of occasions. Once, in around 2013 we had a brief chat about the hop shortage. Then, a year or so later, we caught him in animated mood during Penzance’s yearly vintage bus weekend when hordes of real-ale-drinking public-transport-spotters from the Midlands make the pub their home. He spoke then with quiet enthusiasm about the suspension systems of heavy vehicles, which was rather lost on us.

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Hop Shortage Already Biting

Pete Brown wrote this week about the likely impact of a shortage of American hops:

This year, the global hop harvest is on average between 30-40% down on what it should be. Every day, Charles Faram gets a call from another UK craft brewer asking for Cascade, Chinook, Citra and Nelson Sauvin, because those are the varieties used in successful craft beers right now. Many of these callers are going to be disappointed.

When we interviewed Peter Elvin, the enigmatic character behind the Penzance Brewing Company at the Star Inn in Crowlas, last Saturday, he said:

I use a blend of different hops in all my beers so that, if one of them disappears, it’s less important. I try to keep a stock in so that I can phase a hop out over ten or fourteen brews, too, so it’s not so jarring. But Trink is predominantly Citra, and there ain’t no Citra, so that’s on the way out.

So, there you have it: the hop shortage isn’t just abstract chat — it’s actually going to mean that one of our top beers of 2015 is no longer available.

On the upside, maybe Andy Parker has a point:

It’s certainly good news that Mr Elvin has made his increasingly impressive dark mild a regular on the bar at the Star Inn during the course of this year.

There’ll be more from Peter Elvin in our #BeeryLongreads piece on 18 December.

One of Those Trendy Milds

On Saturday, we made the 15 minute bus trip to the Star Inn at Crowlas, home of the Penzance Brewing Co, to meet a couple of friends who’d never been before.

They’re fairly into beer but like what they like: malty bitters and porters, and definitely not anything that smells of grapefruit. It is fortunate, then, that Peter Elvin, head brewer at PZBC and landlord of the Star, has recently taken a break from brewing pale’n’hoppy golden ales to produce what we understand is his first ever dark mild.

We were, frankly, excited to see it, so starved are we of mild down here in Cornwall.

At 3.6%, it was perfect session strength. Mr Elvin being obsessive about beer clarity and vocally critical of brewers who use caramel for colouring, we weren’t surprised to find it perfectly transparent — deep conker-brown rather than black. It was surprising, however, to find that it tasted like stout-lite, with plenty of roasted grain character, and the balance more towards bitter than sweet.

But what can you usefully say about a fairly by-the-book mild? It was flavoursome, good value (£2.60 a pint), and kept out the increasing wintry chill without getting us legless.

And this might count as a ‘top tip’: it was especially good alternated with pints of citrusy, fruity Potion 9, each beer making the other taste more essentially of itself by contrast.

Our White Whale was a Black Beer

Pump clip design for Penzance Brewing's Scilly Stout

When we first visited the Star Inn last year, we saw that Penzance Brewing Company’s Scilly Stout, made in the on-site brewery, was listed on the blackboard as coming “dreckly”. We now know that “dreckly” is an elastic concept meaning “at some point in the future”, but it actually took us nearly a year to track it down.

We kept arriving at the pub to find that Scilly Stout had just finished, or was due on in the next few days. We began to suspect it was a cruel joke played on tourists, along the lines of Porthemmet. “Have you tried it yet?” people kept asking. “Bah,” we replied.

Then, as spring approached, we were delighted to finally find it at Bodmin Beer Festival. Since then, as if a spell was broken, we’ve found it on sale at the pub every time we’ve visited.

The Star usually gives us what we’ve always asked for — one of each colour, please! Potion 9 is golden and 4%; the two bitters have brown covered; and Scilly Stout, when it’s there, offers not only darkness, but strength, at 7%. If you liked Fuller’s Past Master’s Double Stout, you’ll probably enjoy Scilly, too: it’s got an acid snap and a body that proves you don’t need nitrogen to make a beer chewable.

If you’re on holiday in this part of Cornwall, do visit the Star. Just don’t count on finding Scilly Stout on sale — it’ll probably be coming dreckly.