Top Ten Cornish Beers 2013

Chocolate vanilla stouts.
Choco­late vanil­la stouts from Har­bour and Rebel. (Hon­ourable men­tions, below.)

Last year, as the season approached, we put together lists of our favourite Cornish beers and pubs. Those lists were fine then, but things are changing fast on the beer scene in Cornwall, and we though we ought to revisit our ‘top tens’ before the new season. (Though floods, hail and gales suggest it’s not here quite yet.)

So, for 2013, here are the cask-con­di­tioned beers we’ve par­tic­u­lar­ly enjoyed in pubs in Corn­wall in the last year. We could eas­i­ly have named five beers from Pen­zance Brew­ing Co., and anoth­er five from St Austell, but have tried to ‘spread the love’.

  1. Drift­wood Spars – Dêk Hop (3.8%). Pale amber, flinty and tan­nic; hop­py with­out being flow­ery. (What we said last year.)
  2. NEW ENTRY Har­bour Brew­ing – Light Ale (3.2% when we tried it). Super-pale, with lemon peel zingi­ness, ton­ic bit­ter­ness and a restrained aro­ma.
  3. Pen­zance Brew­ing Com­pa­ny — Potion 9 (4%). A ‘pale and hop­py’ which con­tin­ues to blow our minds every time we drink it: ses­sion­able but com­plex, with the same fresh bread malti­ness we find in the best Czech lagers.
  4. Pen­zance Brew­ing Com­pa­ny — Trink (5.2%). Potion’s big broth­er, edg­ing towards Thorn­bridge Jaipur ter­ri­to­ry. Deep­er in colour, stronger, and more hon­eyed than Potion, but with a dis­tinct Eden Project exot­ic flow­er­i­ness – Cit­ra?
  5. NEW ENTRY Rebel Brew­ing — Eighty Shilling (5%). Some­where between a stout and a mild in char­ac­ter; plum­my, with a touch of roasti­ness, and a lit­tle cof­fee cream.
  6. Skinner’s — Porth­leven (4.8%). You would­n’t know this gen­tly-per­fumed gold­en ale was from the same brew­ery as Bet­ty Stogs. Not out­ra­geous­ly flam­boy­ant in its aro­ma, each pint leaves the throat just dry enough to demand anoth­er.
  7. NEW ENTRY Spin­go — Ben’s Stout (4.8%). As served at the Blue Anchor, one of the few decent dark Cor­nish beers, even if it is a lit­tle vari­able. We find our­selves crav­ing it. Like black tea with brown sug­ar, in a good way.
  8. Spin­go — Mid­dle  (5%) A clas­sic, and an illus­tra­tion of a typ­i­cal sweet­ish West Coun­try beer. Keeps improv­ing, too, and now has a lit­tle more dry­ness and a good malty snap.
  9. St Austell — Prop­er Job (4.5%) The best of St Austell’s reg­u­lar beers, but not found in all of their pubs. It was mod­eled on a US IPA and, though lighter-bod­ied than many of those, does pro­vide a sat­is­fy­ing whack of cit­rus hop char­ac­ter.
  10. St Austell — Trib­ute (4.2%) With Sharp’s Doom Bar and Skinner’s Bet­ty Stogs, part of the bog stan­dard line up on a Cor­nish free house bar, but by far the best of the three. Actu­al­ly an inter­est­ing beer (cus­tom Vien­na-type malt, US hops) and, on good form, a delight. (We said the same last year.)

Hon­ourable men­tions

  • Few of Sharp’s reg­u­lar beers real­ly float our boat but their spe­cials (e.g. Hayle Bay Hon­ey IPA) can be very char­ac­ter­ful, and we loved their Con­nois­seur’s Choice bot­tled beers.
  • Har­bour and Rebel are both mak­ing some very inter­est­ing bot­tled beers, e.g. choco­late vanil­la stouts.
  • St Austel­l’s Korev Lager, which we hat­ed at first, con­tin­ues to rise in our esti­ma­tion. Not a ‘chal­leng­ing’ beer, it is cer­tain­ly very sat­is­fy­ing, espe­cial­ly on a hot sum­mer’s day. Their spring and sum­mer sea­son­als tend to be vari­a­tions on Prop­er Job but low­er in alco­hol and were stun­ning last year. And need we men­tion 1913 Stout again?

As before, brew­eries who aren’t men­tioned and think they ought to be should drop us an email, or com­ment below, and we’ll tell them why.

Top Ten Cornish Beers (So Far)

Potion 9 pumpclip at the Star Inn.

UPDATE 22/03/2013: Our revised top ten Cor­nish beers list for 2013 is now avail­able here.

For a coun­ty (sor­ry – Duchy) with a per­ma­nent pop­u­la­tion of only around 540,000, Corn­wall has quite a few brew­eries, and more are appear­ing every month. There are some whose wares we’ve yet to try; oth­ers we rarely see except in bot­tles; and a few we sim­ply can’t rec­om­mend with a clear con­science.

This list, then, is of beers we’ve par­tic­u­lar­ly enjoyed in pubs in Corn­wall and would advise vis­i­tors to seek out. As before, our loca­tion in the far west means that we’ve got an unin­ten­tion­al bias towards brew­eries whose beers make it down this way.

  1. Drift­wood Spars – Dêk Hop (3.8%) Pale amber, flinty and tan­nic; hop­py with­out being flow­ery.
  2. Drift­wood Spars – Bol­ster’s Blood Porter (4.8%) Remind­ed us of some­thing from the 1909 Syle Guide, with stewed bit­ter­ness and very lit­tle hop aro­ma. A touch of pleas­ing sour­ness. Very refresh­ing after a long walk to St Agnes.
  3. Pen­zance Brew­ing Com­pa­ny – Potion 9 (4%) Our beer of the year for 2011. Gold­en, with US hops (Amar­il­lo, last time we checked) and great for a ses­sion.
  4. Pen­zance Brew­ing Com­pa­ny – Trink (5.2%) Potion’s big broth­er, edg­ing towards Thorn­bridge Jaipur ter­ri­to­ry. This is the one the reg­u­lars at the Star Inn get real­ly excit­ed about.
  5. Pen­zance Brew­ing Com­pa­ny – Scil­ly Stout (7%) A chunky, chewy stout that would be per­fect for export; poised between bitter/sweet, and more of a plum pud­ding than a cup of cof­fee.
  6. Skin­ner’s – Porth­leven (4.8%) We’re not huge fans of Skin­ner’s (we blame their yeast) but this pale and hop­py beer was a very pleas­ant sur­prise. We drank many pints at the Old Ale House in Truro and then went back for more a few weeks lat­er. Keeps get­ting hop­pi­er, too, as the recipe evolves.
  7. Spin­go – Flo­ra Daze (4%) The newest addi­tion to the Spin­go range and yet more evi­dence that pale and hop­py might suit Cor­nish water. By no means a hop bomb, but the dry-hop­ping at least is aggres­sive enough to trig­ger hayfever.
  8. Spin­go – Mid­dle  (5%) A clas­sic, and an illus­tra­tion of a typ­i­cal sweet West Coun­try beer – an acquired taste, but not actu­al­ly flawed. Has become more bit­ter and clean­er in the last year or so.
  9. St Austell – Prop­er Job (4.5%) The best of St Austel­l’s beers and found (we esti­mate) in about a third of their pubs. Almost too hop­py: can start to feel palate-strip­ping after three pints.
  10. St Austell – Trib­ute (4.2%) With Sharp’s Doom Bar and Skin­ner’s Bet­ty Stogs, part of the bog stan­dard line up on a Cor­nish free house bar, but by far the best of the three. Actu­al­ly an inter­est­ing beer (cus­tom Vien­na-type malt, US hops) and, on good form, a delight.

We’ve also enjoyed every­thing we’ve tried from Coastal, though they’re hard to find and we rarely see the same brew twice, so can’t rec­om­mend a par­tic­u­lar beer.

As with our Corn­wall pub list, if you’re a brew­er won­der­ing why your beer has­n’t been men­tioned, email us and we’ll let you know.

Beasts of Bodmin and the Price of a Pint

The heritage railway ran beer festival visitors from Bodmin Parkway into town.
The her­itage rail­way ran beer fes­ti­val vis­i­tors from Bod­min Park­way into town.

Unlike at most beer fes­ti­vals, we found room to breathe at Bod­min. There were no queues for any­thing and we had lit­tle trou­ble get­ting a seat. This, of course, prob­a­bly means that it was fatal­ly under­sub­scribed, but we won’t wor­ry about that for now.

Work­ing our way through the beast­ly strong Bur­ton Ale can­di­dates on the menu, pon­der­ing the “West Coun­try Ale” as a sep­a­rate use­ful descrip­tor for cer­tain types of sweet, strong brown beer, we became aware that the chaps at the oth­er end of the table want­ed our atten­tion.

Do you know where the local Wetherspoon’s is?”

We didn’t, but we end­ed up chat­ting to them for a while, and very nice they were too — vet­er­ans of Exeter CAMRA with the bulging, twen­ty year old tick­ers’ note­books to prove it. Once we’d com­pared notes (lit­er­al in their case) on the beers at the fes­ti­val, the con­ver­sa­tion turned to Exeter. As we’d strug­gled to find a good pint there, we decid­ed to pump them for infor­ma­tion.

We were inter­est­ed to note, how­ev­er, that their com­ments went some­thing like this: “The Old Red Lion — now, that’s a nice pub, £2.90 a pint, about four hand­pumps.” For them, the aver­age price of a pint was a key piece of infor­ma­tion, and they had an esti­mate for every pub in Exeter.

When they asked us about Pen­zance, we had no spe­cif­ic idea of the price of a pint in any pub. Are we odd?

We enjoyed St Austell Big Job ‘dou­ble IPA’, Drift­wood Spars Alfie’s Revenge, Spin­go Spe­cial, as well as beers from Coastal and the Pen­zance Brew­ing Com­pa­ny.

The Driftwood Spars

The Driftwood Spars pub and brewery viewed from the beer garden.

It might not be easy to get Bel­gian, Ger­man or Amer­i­can beer in Corn­wall, but the native brew­pub scene con­tin­ues to offer excit­ing alter­na­tives.

The Drift­wood Spars is a great pub in a great loca­tion, nes­tled amongst huge sand dunes over­look­ing a love­ly cove just out­side St Agnes. St Agnes is well con­nect­ed by bus, and it’s a 10 minute walk from there, so you could leave the car at home.

It spreads over three lev­els and so has plen­ty of room for every­one, from motor­bike-rid­ing locals to well-off Ger­man tourists. It also has a “best of Corn­wall” cask ale selec­tion, tak­ing advan­tage of its free house sta­tus to offer two from Sharps and two from St Austell (includ­ing the sub­lime Prop­er Job).

Of course our main rea­son for com­ing was the beer they brew on site.

We start­ed with Red Mis­sion, a 4% red-tinged best bit­ter. We enjoyed it a lot. More crys­tal malt than we usu­al­ly like worked here because it was well bal­anced with a hard bit­ter­ness through­out, and a sul­phurous, hop­py kick at the end. Not at all flo­ral and, in that, per­haps a bit like a Dues­sel­dorf Alt?

Dêk Hop was next and this real­ly was a crack­ing beer. At 3.8%, it was pale amber and dis­tinct­ly hop­py. Again, though, it was a hard, robust hop flavour– not flo­ral, cit­rusy or del­i­cate.  It was also very spicy. We would­n’t be sur­prised to hear there was corian­der in the brew. We spent a long time list­ing flavours and char­ac­ter­is­tics. It was many-faceted and com­plex. Did it remind us of a sai­son? Were we tast­ing Ger­man hops? (Cop­pery, minty.)

They had more beers in bot­tles (also for sale in their off licence) but, as we were com­ing down with heat­stroke*, we called it a day, vow­ing to return, fre­quent­ly.

* Heat­stroke is a com­mon cause of headaches and nau­sea the day after enjoy­ing a beer gar­den.