beer festivals pubs

Worth the Bus Ride

Tasting flight at the Driftwood Spars beer festival.

This week’s ‘mini beer festival’ at the Driftwood Spars was enough to tempt us into undertaking the two-stage, two-hour schlep from Penzance to St Agnes.

It’s a pub that we like at the best of times: the house beers are rarely less then solid and occasionally excellent, and there’s plenty of whatever it is that makes for real ‘pubbiness’. The festival was just the icing on the cake.

Some of the guest beers were on the main bar, including a couple of interesting keg products, with a further ten or so casks on stillage in the back room. There were no fiddly tokens or raffle tickets — just good old cash. Beer was £3.30 a pint, £1.65 a half, or £1.10 a third, the latter also being available in ‘flights’ of three for £3.30.

By the pint from the main bar, we enjoyed Bolster’s Blood, the house porter, as much this time as ever before — it’s a tasty, old-fashioned-tasting, sessionable black beer. The other Driftwood beers (Dek 10 and Red Mission) were nice enough and, if lacking the big hop aroma so in vogue these days, at least intensely bitter and chewily malty respectively.

Having been disappointed by the few of their bottles we’ve tried, we were glad of the chance to try a Mallinson’s beer on cask. Now we get it: the pale’n’hoppy Simcoe (3.8%) was a dead ringer for an old favourite, Dark Star Hophead, and, if we weren’t in ticking mode, was one we could happily have settled on for the rest of the afternoon.

We didn’t expect to like Harbour Brewing Farmhouse IPA (cask, 7%) — surely, we thought, that is code for ‘an IPA that got infected’ — but, no, it was really very moreish and satisfying. It had an unmistakeable saison (Dupont?) yeast character along with some lemon/lime/lychee hop fruitiness, with something like cheese rind in the far, far background adding a note of challenge.

We didn’t agree with the barman’s suggestion that Tiny Rebel Loki Black IPA (cask, 4.5%) was ‘sublime’, but we did enjoy it. Kind of. Tiny Rebel beers seem to have a very distinctive ‘house character’ which has, in the past, struck as us a bit ‘wrong’, but, in this case, succeeded in convincing us it was ‘quirky’ and interesting. We need to drink more of their beer and give them more thought.

It was another Harbour Brewing beer that won the day for us: Pale Ale (keg, 6%) was like something we’d expect to find in a Brewdog bar. What does that mean? It was bold to the point of brashness, stopping just short of rough — loud but balanced. It was opaque, but by no means yeasty, muddy or murky, with lots of juiciness but no grit. The hops were a weedy, minty and mustardy green salad. We need to drink it another time or two, but it has the potential to make this year’s local list.

Though this wasn’t the time to try them, we also noted that the standard range of bottles seems to have improved: Brooklyn Chocolate Stout, Boon Kriek, Westmalle Tripel, and several other ‘world beer’ classics were knocking about in fridges at the back of the bar.

As we worked our way woozily up the hill from Trevaunance Cove, past the ruined mine workings to the bus stop, we came to two conclusions. First, small festivals with achievable beer lists, held in pubs rather than echoing conference centres, are the best. And, secondly, the Driftwood Spars, even without a festival underway, is one of a handful of pubs we think it’s worth travelling for two hours to reach.