We heard that a micropub had opened in St Ives back in the summer but hadn’t got round to visiting until last Friday when we popped across on the bus.
Contrary to rumour, it wasn’t hard to find — there’s a prominent gated entrance on the harbour-front, next door to Pizza Express. In true micropub fashion, however, its opening hours are limited and we found ourselves wandering about waiting for 4pm to roll around.
We’ve just spent a couple of nights in Falmouth, Cornwall’s best beer destination, where we tried lots of new beers and revisited some standards.
We had a couple of beers here and there that didn’t do much for us — for example, a cask Cloudwater Session Pale at Hand could have done with more bitterness to balance the sticky candied peel hop character, and a Vocation Chop & Change Pale Ale at Beerwolf had too much bitter-leaf and onion for our palates. Generally, though, we reckon we chose well, or were lucky, and we came away feeling that our tastebuds had been given a proper going over.
We particularly enjoyed…
1. Rebel Eighty Shilling, 5%, cask, at The Front. We’ve had Rebel on the naughty step for a while after a string of muddy-tasting pints of this particular beer, some bland-shading-nasty golden ales, and the hit-and-miss quality of their very expensive Mexi-Cocoa in bottles. This was like a completely new beer, though — tongue-coating chocolate sauce, with much of what made Mexi-Cocoa at its best so exciting, only at something like session strength (5%). Unlike some other sweet mild-type beers there wasn’t a hint of any acrid burnt sugar about it. It made us think of Schwarzbier only chewier. Maybe there was even a hint of Belgian Christmas beer about it. Good stuff — but will the next pint we find be the same?
2. St Austell Admiral’s Ale, 5%, cask, at The Chainlocker/Shipwrights. For some reason this is the first time we’ve ever actually stopped for a pint at this pair of conjoined pubs — it’s too easy to fall into the circuit of Front-Beerwolf-Hand on a day trip — and we were quietly impressed. It’s got a bit of that corporate chain feel that afflicts many St Austell pubs but there’s enough genuinely interesting weathered nautical tat on the walls, and enough grime in the grain of the wood, to give it character. We enjoyed being surrounded by boat folk, too — the down-to-earth types who crew yachts but don’t own them. The beer line-up included seasonal special Liquid Sunshine (a kind of baby Proper Job at 3.9%, firmly bitter), the excellent Mena Dhu keg stout, and Admiral’s Ale, an old favourite of ours that is rarely seen on cask. It’s quite a different beer to the bottled version — less glassy-clean, more subtly citrusy, and generally softer. Intriguing and many-faceted. It makes HSD, also brown and at the same ABV, seem a bit old hat. We wouldn’t mind at all if this was available everywhere, all year round.
3. Siren/Crooked Stave All Bretts Are Off, 4.5%, bottle, Hand. A well-proper-craft take on English bitter with Brettanomyces — how could we resist that? The first bottle the barman opened gushed everywhere but, with a bit of teamwork, we managed to get 99% of the second attempt into a pint glass, with an insanely huge head. It smelled very like Orval (we’re still stuck on that frame of reference) and tasted really like one of our attempts at blending Orval with English ale. Or Harvey’s Sussex Best at its funkiest, and then some. Dry, light on the tongue and differently fruity — as in, apples just beginning to think about rotting in a crate behind a barn, rather than grapefruit. This is one way British brewers could be mixing things up without just turning out pretend American beers and made us want to taste takes on the same idea from breweries like Fuller’s, Adnams and St Austell. By the same token, as in this case presumably, it’s also a way craft brewers might bring themselves to brew trad bitter with Fuggles (and they might have to in years to come) without feeling too compromised.
Pubs in Cornwall are ditching the cosy smugglers’ den look for airy-and-aspirational, and it doesn’t always work.
On Saturday we went for a walk to Land’s End looping back to check out The First & Last, a pub we usually end up visiting a couple of times a year. Having closed for a time it has now re-opened after a refurbishment, and under new management.
We used to find it pretty decent: there were always a couple of beers worth drinking, it was snug in winter, and had a fairly bin-free garden for when the sun happened to be shining. The refurb hasn’t been drastic and most of that still applies — the beer, in fact, is better — but we reckon the attempt to brighten it up has taken away some essential character.
Things have been painted light teal — why is it always teal? — and there are more bare surfaces. It doesn’t look bad, as such, but it’s not what we’re looking for in a pub caught between moorland and rugged cliffs.
We’ve seen a few other makeovers like this, too, most notably The Sir Humphrey Davy here in Penzance.
Cornwall’s problem (and maybe this applies to Devon, too) is that it is really two different places depending on the weather: on a sunny high-season day, an artfully gloomy pub with wood and low beams is no use to anyone. Equally, when it’s dark at 4pm, raining and blowing a gale, a pub decorated in beach hut colours, tiled and metal-trimmed, can feel like a morgue. At the moment, the trend is, quite understandably, to cater to the lucrative summer trade.
The thing is, though decor can give a slight lift, it can’t make light where there is none: at The First & Last, the windows are still low, small and facing west, and it still felt dark.
It’s not always a disaster. At the Old Coastguard in Mousehole — perhaps the inspiration for some of these other makeovers — it works, because the light floods in through huge windows at the back of the pub, with no obstructions as the garden slopes down to the sea.
We can’t help thinking, though, that some pubs ought to accept that, through circumstances of location, history and architecture, they are destined to be Cosy Old Inns, and just double-down on it. If the pub lacks light, then give up and make a feature of shadowy corners. If it feels cluttered, get more and more intriguing rubbish to fill any gaps. If it looks old-fashioned, don’t waste time trying to be hip: settle into it.
Strange coincidences and connections have led us to a collection of family photos of one of our favourite local pubs.
A brewer we interviewed last week (Paddy at Crossed Anchors) noticed that we had a picture of the fabulously Art Deco Yacht Inn, Penzance, as our Twitter header image. He mentioned that his great aunt and uncle, Frank and Phyllis Glasspool, ran it from 1949-c.1959. He emailed his dad, who emailed a cousin, Susan Glasspool (Bottaro), who provided the following fantastic collection of photographs and said we could share them here:
It was very hard work there, especially for my mother, who did all the cooking (plus the extras for the bar, pasties, sandwiches etc.), a lot of the cleaning, and then ran the cocktail bar in the evenings. Hard to have any family life. Thank goodness for the swimming pool over the road — 10 bob for a season ticket and I spent all my summers there!
When I moved to Thornbridge, I hadn’t really had any real experience of producing cask beer. I came from a brewing background of mainly Germanic styles, which were filtered, carbonated and packaged in keg or bottle format. I naively thought that producing cask beer would be a doddle compared with the challenges of filtration, or the trials and tribulations of running a bottling line day in day out.
Manchester is home to so many breweries these days, but it can be fairly difficult to know where to get hold of their wares. Many of the city centre’s other beer bars focus more on options from far and wide which, in my view, isn’t a bad thing but it’s always nice to drink local and I think this would appeal to visitors to the city in particular.
The rate of pub closure in the area was made clear to me when, in summer last year in the nearby Church Street Estate, I happened to see the contents of what used to be a pub called The Perseverance (I know – the irony) being sold on the street outside… Around the same time, a pub just around the corner called The Globe closed but re-opened as a fully qualified modern craft beer bar. It seems that either the business adapts quickly or disappears. The greatest tragedy is when the building is transformed into something it was never meant to be like the estate agents. You know that as a place where people dwell and drink together, it’s gone forever.
[There’s] an awful lot that is troubling me… The first thing that I come across time and again is inconsistency. Whether it be from cask or bottle I know that I’m certainly not alone in wanting the same taste that I remember from the last time I had the beer… I’ve been embarrassingly caught out more than once introducing friends to a beer after extolling its virtues only to find it a shadow of the previous pint.
→ There’s reassuring evidence from Jeff Alworth that having his blog sponsored by Guinness isn’t going to stop him being interesting, even when he’s writing in part about that very same brewery:
You learn a lot when you visit a country. One of the things you learn is what beer people actually drink. In Ireland, for example, we imagine that basically everyone drinks stout, the majority of it Guinness. Nope. Just like everywhere else, lager is king, with as much as (statistics vary) 74% of total volume to something just over 50%. Heineken, not Guinness, appears to be the best-selling beer in Ireland.
The complexity of a barrel-aged imperial stout means that tasting notes write themselves. Drinking one, there’s so much going on that you hardly have time to jot down one thought before another hits you. Lager is comparatively simple – this is a large part of its appeal, but it doesn’t make for great writing.