Treat Yo Self

Barley wine and imperial ipa in glasses.

We can’t go to Falmouth without finishing up in Hand Bar for ‘something silly’. This time, it was Evil Twin’s Molotov Cocktail Imperial IPA, and Lervig Barley Wine.

We crammed quite a lot into 24hrs in Cornwall’s beeriest town, trying as we were to make the most of a short weekend. We had a session in The Front, for starters: Rebel 80 Shilling seems to be consistently great these days, and is perfect for this weather; and feeling our way round the Black Flag range, we concluded that they’ve graduated from faintly dodgy to generally enjoyable and interesting. Then on Saturday, with big breakfasts and fancy coffee inside us, we headed to Beerwolf for our fix of Up Country beer — the classic that is Marble Pint — and had another chance to consider a beer of the year contender, Penzance Brewing Co’s Hoptimystic. Not as good this time but still alluring and mysterious.

Then, with the evening drawing in, slightly merry, we wandered up the hill to Hand. Since our last visit several huge new fridges have been installed on the customer side of the bar meaning that it’s easier to browse — and to be tempted by — all the pretty bottles and cans. Boak’s mission was to have something super hoppy, jammy and chewy, like those crystal-malt-laden American IPAs we used to enjoy at The Rake in London. Evil Twin’s leapt out at us for no other reason than it said IMPERIAL INDIA PALE ALE very clearly right on the front of the label. (Designers, take note.) But it had no price tag.

‘How much is this one?’ Boak asked warily.

The barman checked. ‘Er… that one is eight pounds ninety.’ He couldn’t help but sound apologetic.

The small crowd of student drinkers sitting on sofas behind us gasped. ‘Is that the drink-in price?’ one asked.

‘Yes, it’s a fiver to takeaway.’

‘Hmm,’ said Boak. ‘If I’m spending nine quid on a beer… Is it actually good?’

The barman squirmed. ‘Um, I’ve not actually had that — it’s only just gone on.’ He appealed to the audience. ‘Have any of you guys had the Molotov Cocktail?’

‘No — who brews it? Evil Twin! Then it’ll definitely be good. All their beers are great.’

Nine quid. Nine!

‘Sod it, let’s do it.’

Ideally, for the sake of a satisfying narrative, we would discover at this point that the beer was either absolutely dreadful, thus invalidating the entire concept of ‘craft beer’ and exposing as fools all who drink it; or astonishingly wonderful, causing us to re-evaluate our entire attitude to beer or something. But this isn’t Jackanory and it was merely very good. We Tweeted that it was ‘sexy’ which was an attempt to capture a certain superficial wow factor — that it looked gorgeous (faintly hazy orange) and smelled exactly like the moment when you put hops into boiling wort, which is to say greener and more pungent than how hops usually express themselves in the finished product. The first sips were intense, rich and mouth-coating and triggered memories of sweet pipe tobacco, weed and forests. But the fireworks subsided too quickly and it didn’t earn either its price or its booziness.

This is a thing we’ve debated with people a few times: in our view, if a beer is 13% ABV it ought to demand to be drunk slowly and bring the pleasure of several ‘normal’ beers. Others hold the view that the pinnacle of the brewer’s art is to make a strong beer that drinks like a weak one. We like Duvel, it’s true, part of the fun of which is that it’s easier to drink than it ought to be thanks to its fizz and lightness, but generally we think that unless you are on a mission to get bladdered as quickly as possible, why not just actually drink a weaker beer?

In this particular case, we reckon there are quite a few other IPAs — merely double rather than imperial — that would have delivered much the same pleasure at lower cost, and with less booze. As it was, it was too easy to knock back, each swig representing the better part of a quid as it flew down the throat.

Perhaps Molotov was sabotaged by its running mate. Lervig Barley Wine was 12.5% and tasted like it in the most wonderful way, inhabiting the space between winter warmer and dessert wine. It felt mature, deep, and complex, like a tour through the darkest corner of the store cupboard where molasses sit next to a crusty bottle of sherry from several Christmases ago, and chocolate strictly for cooking. It was impossible to drink quickly: a third lasted nearly an hour and, even though this was supposed to be a just-the-one visit, demanded a follow up. It wasn’t cheap — £4.50 a third, i.e. £13.50 a pint — but, seriously, who drinks barley wine by the pint? Nine quid spent on 380ml of this beer did feel like good value.

A Weekend in Beer Town

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…

Two beers and a CAMRA mag, from above.

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?

Two beers from 45 degrees, with beer mats.

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.

All Bretts Are Off Pump Clip design.
SOURCE: Siren Craft Brew website.

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.

Cornwall Update: Falmouth Levels Up

Falmouth’s already thriving beer ‘scene’ has a (relatively) new addition in Mono, a music-focused bar and gig venue on the corner of Killigrew Street.

We first spotted it in July but didn’t actually get chance to sit down for a drink until last weekend. This doesn’t constitute a review — we had one pint each during a quiet Friday lunchtime — but though it worth flagging.

It looks a bit like a BrewDog bar — doesn’t everything these days? — even down to those ubiquitous ‘craft’ light-bulbs, and has 10 keg taps as well as four for cask-conditioned beer mounted on the wall behind the bar.

Lightbulbs and interior at Mono, Falmouth, October 2015.

On our visit, the keg offer included beers from Brew By Numbers, Wild Beer Co and Harbour Brewing, all priced at between £4-£4.70 per pint. The cask tended more to the traditional and featured Timothy Taylor Landlord and Bass (a Falmouth staple) at a rather competitive £3 a pint, alongside Siren Liquid Mistress (£3.40) and Harbour Amber (£3.10). The Landlord was in good-as-Yorkshire condition.

Its owner, Peter Walker, is also behind the nearby Hand Bar and runs his own beer distribution operation. We visited both bars on Friday and were pleased to find different draught beers on offer in each. When we spoke to him briefly at Mono, he was keen to stress that it is a gig venue rather than targeted at beer geeks, but if you’re pub crawling in Falmouth, and craving up-country beer, you’d be daft not to take a look.