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!


  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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