If we have to live under the benevolent dictatorship of a big regional brewer, we’re happier with St Austell than we would be with some others.
Across the range, the character of their beer appeals to us, being generally clean, bright and fruity. Tribute, we maintain, is a remarkably interesting beer for a brewery to have as its flagship, with German-style malts and American hops much in evidence.
In Roger Ryman, they have a head brewer who was raving about hoppy American beer before it was cool and who, alongside ‘standards’, has slowly built up a range of interesting specialities.
Their pubs in Cornwall are also, on the whole, well run, and we rarely, if ever, come across a bad pint, suggesting healthy levels of investment in infrastructure and staff training.
But they are not perfect.
With almost 300 pubs, St Austell control a good chunk of the market in the West Country, and the chances are slim of finding anything other than their beers in most small towns or villages in Cornwall.
What we would like to see, though we hold out no great hope, is St Austell’s managed pubs stocking at least the occasional beer from another UK brewery — ideally, something interesting, but we’d take London Pride just for a bit of variety every now and then.
After all, they benefit from exactly these kinds of arrangements elsewhere in the country, with pubs from Plymouth to Plaistow increasingly likely to stock St Austell Tribute as a ‘guest ale’.