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.

Falmouth: A Beer Geek Destination

Seven Stars, Falmouth.

In recent months, we’ve been asked several times by beer geeks where they should visit in Cornwall. These days, there is a clear answer: Falmouth.

This small coastal town (pop. 27k) now has enough going on that, even if it can’t compete with London or Manchester, it could be said to have a ‘beer scene’. There’s certainly plenty to keep a beer geek entertained for a few hours.

A pub crawl

Here’s our suggested route which takes a very manageable 20 minutes or so to walk end-to-end, right down the main street.

1. Five Degrees West, Grove Place, TR11 4AU

A pub that wants to be a bar, 5DW is a good place to tick off cask ales from smaller local breweries such as Rebel and Black Rock. There are usually some Belgian and American beers in bottles, though nothing out of the ordinary.

2. The Front, Custom House Quay, TR11 3JT

For a long time, Cornwall’s primary real ale destination. In the face of competition, it seems a bit less exciting than it used to, but is still a great place to find a wide range of real ales, including many lesser-spotted beers from local stalwarts Skinner’s and Sharp’s. (We’re not enamoured with either brewery, but that’s a matter of taste.) There are also several interesting ciders. There’s no kitchen but you are positively encouraged to bring along your own fish and chips or pasties from one of the nearby shops.

3. OPTIONAL: The Oddfellows Arms

To extend the crawl, or to adjust the balance towards real ale, take a detour to the Oddfellows Arms (2 Quay Hill, TR11 3HA) for pints of well-kept Sharp’s in a resolutely pubby atmosphere.

Beerwolf Books, Falmouth.

4. Beerwolf BooksBells Court, TR11 3AZ

We loved this discount-bookshop-pub mash-up from the off and it keeps getting better. We particularly appreciate the range of cask ales from outside Cornwall (e.g. Magic Rock, Salopian, Dark Star, Burning Sky) but this is also one of a handful of places which regularly stocks beers from the Penzance Brewing Company, based at the Star Inn, Crowlas. Bottled beers include Hitachino Nest, Rebel Mexicocoa and Belgian classics. There is also a choice of ciders. Its cosy atmosphere is better suited to winter than summer, though.

5. The Seven Stars, The Moor, TR11 3QA

An old-fashioned pub which has been listed in CAMRA’s Good Beer Guide since the 1970s, the Seven Stars probably won’t appeal to the ardent craftophile: it’s speciality is perfectly kept Bass Pale Ale. There are also guest ales, sometimes adventurous, but it’s not really about ticking or novelty. If you don’t stop here for at least one pint, you’re missing something great.

6. Hand Bar, Old Brewery Yard, TR11 2BY

Falmouth’s very own ‘craft beer bar’ is the very opposite of the Seven Stars — modern in style, with an emphasis on the diversity of beer. Run by a former employee of North Bar in Leeds, it feels as if it has been transplanted from a more metropolitan setting, and is popular with students. The beer can be expensive, but not unusually so for this section of the market, and there are usually some genuine rarities to be found on tap or in the bottle fridges.

7. OPTIONAL: The Bottle Bank (off licence), Discovery Quay, TR11 3XP

Right back at the other end of town, near 5DW, this off licence offers a very decent range of interesting beers from breweries such as Siren, Hardknott and even Mikkeller. It is also a good place to pick up the Sharp’s Connoisseur’s Choice range.

8. FOR TICKERS ONLY: The Seven Stars, Penryn, TR10 8EL

This otherwise unremarkable pub in Penryn, 15 minutes from Falmouth by bus, is the local outlet for Spingo Ales brewed at the Blue Anchor at Helston. We have enjoyed pints of Ben’s Stout here, in an atmosphere of glum distrust…

Beyond Beer

Apart from beer, Falmouth also has decent beaches, coastal walks, shopping, an excellent museum and plenty to stimulate the history buff. It also has some great places to eat, including, at the Meat Counter, the most convincing posh burgers and hot dogs we’ve had this side of Bristol.

In previous years, we’ve provided lists of our favourite Cornish pubs (2012 2013) and beers (2012 2013). All the places we mention in those posts are still worth a visit, and the general standard of Cornish pubs is pretty high, as long as you don’t mind Tribute, Betty Stogs and Doom Bar.

The Seven Stars, Falmouth

Entering the Seven Stars, Falmouth.

By Bailey

I spent Saturday afternoon having a solo pootle (or was it a bimble?) around the pubs of Falmouth.

First on my hit list was the historic Seven Stars: even though Adrian Tierney-Jones raves about it, and even though we’ve been to Falmouth numerous times, we’ve never been inside.

You know those pubs that look ‘rough’ until you get close and see the ancient peeling Good Beer Guide stickers, and realise they’re just ‘eccentric’? That’s the Seven Stars. I headed for the narrow front bar because that’s where everyone seemed to be. I got a couple of nods of greeting, someone called me ‘boy’, and space was made for me at the bar.

On the back wall were several casks on stillage and I was torn between Bass (slowly becoming an obsession of ours) and Oakham Citra, but the desire for the whizz-bang-wow of the latter won out. Despite being served on gravity with no obvious cooling system, it was in damn near perfect nick.

As she served me, I asked the barmaid under my breath: ‘Where can I perch that I won’t be stealing anyone’s seat or be in the way?’ She looked around and replied cheerfully, ‘Sit where you like — they’ve had some Bass now, they should be OK.’ Should? What did that mean?

I shrank into a corner and pretended to read while eavesdropping and glancing around the bar. Politics were discussed, conspiracy theories about the missing Malaysian airliner shared, and affectionate insults traded. ‘Any chance of getting bloody drunk any time soon?’ shouted an enormous bloke waving an empty glass at the barmaid, who told him to calm down.

The walls were covered in photographs, trinkets and gewgaws evidently collected over the course of decades, faded by the light and stained with nicotine. I wanted to take a photo, but there was no ambiguity: mobile phones are STRICTLY forbidden. One was nailed to the wall just to underline the point.

I wasn’t, to be honest, quite comfortable. Elbows kept finding their way into my back, and I felt like a tourist. Not entirely reluctantly, I moved on after one pint.

But here’s a funny thing: four pubs later, I found myself thinking that I’d made a mistake. None of the others (Beerwolf, Five Degrees West, the Front and the Oddfellows Arms) had the depth of the Seven Stars, even though they were all good in their own way. The best pubs aren’t always the easiest.

There are more photos of Falmouth pubs in this gallery.

The Yellow Restrained Chili Peppers

Harbour Beers at the Hand Bar, Falmouth.

On Friday, with some effort and multiple forms of public transport, we managed to make it to Falmouth for the tail-end of Harbour Brewing’s ‘meet the brewer’ event at the Hand Bar. We snagged a couple of ‘tasters’, but actually had much more fun afterwards drinking proper measures of beer we’d paid for, without the slightly awkward school assembly format and the heckling hipsters.

Aji Limon Pale Ale (6%) was interesting: aged in bourbon barrels, though that didn’t come over in any way we could detect, and with the addition of a particular variety of chili pepper chosen in consultation with a chef to provide additional citrus flavour. It gave only a very faint burn (to us, anyway, but then we’re fairly immune to chili heat) followed by a lot of dry spiciness — lemongrass and dried coconut came to mind. We think we liked it; we certainly found it interesting; and we were impressed at the thoughtfulness and restraint with which the brewers had employed a ‘non-beer’ ingredient.

Harbour IPA (5%) has come on a long way since we first tasted it, though it still doesn’t quite measure up, in our view, to the aromatic intensity of Brewdog’s Punk, which it has increasingly come to resemble. [UPDATE: said we weren’t taking notes! We had IPA No.2.] What it lacked in perfume, however, it made up for to some extent with the very faintest roasted spice and seed flavours, presumably from the yeast. Nice. We’d drink more of this, if the chance arose.

Finally, a beer that we were surprised to be impressed by: No. 2 Pilsner (5.5%). Though Eddie from Harbour seemed keen not to talk it up too much — it’s intended as a middle of the road crowd-pleaser — we were delighted by its golden gleam, shaving-foam head and, most importantly, crisp cereal snap. It struck us as remarkably precise, with no bathtub brewery twang. It was better than both the big brand lager we’d ‘enjoyed’ with dinner and St Austell’s Korev, and is perhaps, we think, Harbour’s best chance at elbowing their way into the locked-down Cornish market. Too strong to drink by the litre, perhaps, but we wouldn’t giving it a shot if there was a decent beer garden anywhere nearby.

Harbour is a still a brewery finding its feet, but all the beers we tasted were well-made; and a couple were excellent. We’d certainly like to see more of them about.

Now here’s a thing: because the various pale ales and IPAs were coming from font-type taps, and we weren’t taking notes, we don’t know which were kegged and which were cask-conditioned, and certainly couldn’t guess.

Best Cornish Pubs 2013

Beer Wolf pub in Falmouth

Last year, we came up with a list of our favourite Cornish pubs, all of which remain worth a visit, but there has been a lot going on in the last year, and we’ve explored more, too, so it’s time for an update.

This list is personal and prejudiced — we do not have a team of inspectors in bowler hats making multiple visits with thermometers — but we hope beer geeks on holiday will find it useful.

The Driftwood Spars, St Agnes
The perfect place to end a coast walk, this pub, sitting on a beautiful cove, and with its own nearby brewery, has multiple rooms, wonky wooden beams, and plenty of cosy corners. On really nice days, the beer garden is a wonderful spot to sit and enjoy the big blue sky and the sound of the sea. (Blog post.)

Star Inn, Crowlas (Penzance)
CAMRA Cornwall pub of the year for 2013. It’s a little out of the way in a village between Penzance and St Ives, but buses in either direction stop right outside, and it does have a car park. No food, unless you count Caramacs and pork scratchings, and not remotely poshed-up, but the beer, brewed on site, is astoundingly good. Potion 9 is the one to go for. (Blog post.)

The Front, Falmouth
Though it now has competition, this large cellar pub still offers one of the more impressive ranges of local beer and cider in Cornwall. Though the beer sometimes lacks condition, most of it served on gravity, ‘bring your own food’, cheery bar staff and a warm atmosphere more than make up for it. Some ‘craft keg’ and posh bottles, too. (Blog post.)

The Dock Inn, Penzance
Our usual port of call in Penzance — one of the few places you can get Spingo beers other than at the Blue Anchor, often in better condition than on their home turf, with a very friendly welcome and good food. (Blog post.)

The Blue Anchor, Helston
This pub, with a brewery out back, is a must visit. Popular with locals and tourists, its multi-room layout still includes a bar/lounge divide, though we’ve always felt welcome in both. The best place to find their special seasonal brews, too. (Blog post.)

Old Ale House, Truro
This is as near as Skinner’s get to a brewery tap. It’s cosy with some lovely period features — not only Victorian, but also faded relics of the ‘real ale revolution’. Their best beer, Porthleven, is usually available. (Blog post.)

Beer Wolf Books, Falmouth
Opening just before Christmas last year, this pub-bookshop in a charming half-timbered building, has quickly gained a reputation for its unusual (for Cornwall) range of beer. Recently, alongside carefully chosen Cornish ales such as Potion 9 from the Penzance Brewing Company, there have been beers from Dark Star, Marble and other well-regarded ‘up country’ brewers. (Blog post.)

The Galleon, Fowey
This pub took us by surprise: despite being in a modern building, it is a free house, and offered a slightly more interesting range of beers than usual, all in very good condition. There are several pubs in Fowey and they all seem fine but, if you’re bored of St Austell’s beer, which you might well be after a few days, this is the place to come. (Blog post.)

The Lifeboat Inn, St Ives
Owned by St Austell and sitting on the harbourside, this pub is nicer illuminated by St Ives’ famously gorgeous natural light than it is in the evening, when it becomes a bit ‘orange’. We’ve been in several times in the last year and been impressed by the staff and the quality of the beer, even out of season. A good place to find St Austell seasonals, too.

The Top House Inn, Lizard (village)
A nice enough pub which we’re recommending chiefly for its location and the chance to find a few St Austell rarities (this is one of two places we’ve found their old-fashioned <4% IPA). The perfect place to finish a long walk, sitting outside with a pint of Proper Job and a bag of crisps, watching the bus stop in the village square.


General tips

  1. In any given Cornish cove, there will usually be more than one place to drink, but don’t assume by default the ‘traditional pub’ is the best option: sometimes, the contemporary beachside cafe/surf-shack is where you’ll find all the life, a warm welcome, and better beer.
  2. St Austell are utterly dominant. If they own several of the pubs in a town or village, and they usually do, the managed houses (usually with the newest signage and uniformed staff) tend to offer (of course) a more reliable experience, but the slightly run-down pubs with tenant landlords, though they can be a lottery, are often more characterful and cosy.
  3. Newer Cornish breweries such as Harbour and Rebel are hard to find in pubs, thanks to the St Austell lockdown, but seem to be making inroads into delis, cafes, restaurants and bars with their bottled beers at least. But check prices before you commit: we were charged £7.50 for a 330ml bottle of Rebel Mexicocoa in a bar in Truro.
  4. Cornwall does have some proper rough pubs, but they’re usually very easy to spot. We went in one once by mistake and weren’t murdered, though we did get asked, with curiosity rather than menace, whether we were undercover police officers on a drugs sting.

This is the type of blog post that rarely gets many comments, but which lingers in the Googletubes forever. When we’re in a new town, we always search ‘[TOWN X] beer blog’. Even if all it turns up is one post from 2009 with spelling mistakes, written by someone with different tastes to us, it still tells us more than any number of guide books. So, with that in mind, we’re also trying to put together a list of such posts, organised by region. Here’s what we’ve got so far. Let us know if you’ve seen any other good ‘uns.

Beerwolf Books, Falmouth

Beerwolf Books

We’d heard a few mentions of Beerwolf Books, which opened in Falmouth, Cornwall, in the run up to Christmas, and had understood that it was either a bookshop with beer, or a pub with some books for sale. Either way, it sounded like something different, and so we made sure it was on our list of places to visit during a weekend away in the coastal town.

Even approaching Beerwolf feels like you’ve stumbled upon a secret: it’s up an easy-to-miss alleyway between chain stores, in a beautiful eighteenth century building on Bells Court. Through the red door, there’s a creaking wooden staircase and a view of shelves of books. So it is a bookshop. Then the smell of beer and the sound of chatter drift down. So it is a pub.

With deep red walls, dark wood, furniture neither too neat nor too tatty, and just enough daylight through small-paned windows, the pub part of Beerwolf (the bit we were most interested in) appealed immediately. The book shop, off to one side, and with a place to rest your beer while you browse, sets the mood, positively inviting long reading or writing sessions amid the buzz of conversation.

The beer is good, too. Very good. Among five cask ales, none of them the usual suspects, were 80 Shilling from local brewery Rebel (grainy, dark and silky), Marble Manchester Bitter (the kind of pale and hoppy beer that makes us consider a move up north some time) and our favourite Penzance Brewing Potion 9. In the fridges, a few Belgian standards such as Kwak and Chimay — not the stuff to excite hardened beer geeks, perhaps, but little seen in Cornwall.

We set up camp for the afternoon, watching and listening. What appeared to be a contingent of local CAMRA members staked out the bar and worked their way through the full range, murmuring their appreciation. Students came in pairs or gangs, buying piles of books and lots of lager, tea and coffee. Middle-aged couples came for the books and stayed for a pint. A stag do came for pints and walked away with some books. “Wow!” said more than one person on reaching the top of the staircase.

Struggling book and record shops: we urge you to find a struggling pub and pair up. Supermarkets, with their idea of offering several services on one premises, might just be on to something.

Top Ten Cornish Pubs (So Far)

Vintage sign at the Blue Anchor, Helston.

UPDATED APRIL 2013: a new list of our favourite Cornish pubs is now available here.

As more beer geeks start to plan summer trips to Cornwall, we’ve been getting odd one-off queries about breweries, beer and pubs and so thought we’d put together a couple of posts with advice for visitors, of which this is Part the First.

The following list is of Cornish pubs we like and can recommend a visit to, if you’re in the area. Those we’ve starred are worth going out of your way to get to.

Note: we’re based way out west, so our choice is influenced by that.

The Driftwood Spars, St Agnes*
You often have to choose between great beer and a great view, but the Driftwood Spars does both. It’s a fabulous old, multi-room building with its own brewery, overlooking a beautiful secluded cove. A must visit. (Blog post.)

Star Inn, Crowlas (Penzance)*
Home of our beer in the year for 2011. The on-site brewery produces clean, precise and characterful real ales; both those and guest beers, usually from up north, are perfectly kept. You’d be mad not to drink Pete Elvin’s own stuff, but it’s also your best chance of getting non-Cornish beers in Cornwall. (Blog post.)

The Front, Falmouth*
Friendly staff, great range of ales and cider, bring your own food — what’s not to like? (Blog post.)

The Dock Inn, Penzance
Our usual choice in Penzance — one of the few places you can get Spingo beers other than at the Blue Anchor, often in better condition than on their home turf. Friendly welcome and good food, too. (Blog post.)

The Blue Anchor, Helston*
The beers brewed on site might be an acquired taste, tending towards West Country sweetness; and they reportedly had a bad patch a couple of years ago (but before our time); but this is nonetheless a Cornish institution, and a truly characterful pub. (Blog post.)

The Watering Hole, Perranporth
The beer is by no means great (it’s fine) but this is a pub on a beach. Not overlooking a beach, or near a beach — on a beach, with tables on the yellow sand. The teenage staff were a bit diffident last time we went but we can’t help but love a pub which feels so unusual and relaxed. (Blog post.)

Logan Rock Inn, Treen
A St Austell joint selling almost the full range; cosy in bad weather, with a bona fide beer garden for nicer days. A good place around which to plan coastal walks.

Old Ale House, Truro
Recently taken over by Skinner’s, this is the place to try their beers and stand a chance of enjoying them. It’s a nice cosy pub with some lovely old furnishings. Free peanuts too. (Blog post.)

Hand Bar, Falmouth
Where we go for an indulgent treat. Cornwall’s only craft beer bar. Classics from USA and Belgium are supplemented with occasional specials. If you’re from anywhere else in the country, you will probably have easier access to a better selection at cheaper prices, but we don’t, so it makes our list. (Blog post.)

St Austell Brewery Visitor Centre, St Austell
The obvious place to try St Austell beers, which occasionally offers the opportunity to try Roger Ryman’s experimental brews. For best results, go on a Friday afternoon when the staff knock off: there’s a great buzz and you might get to discuss your pint with the people who made it.

If you’ve got other first-hand recommendations, feel free to mention them in a comment below. If you’re a publican wondering why we haven’t mentioned your pub, why not drop us an email?

Starts out Belgian, Finishes American

Elliot's Brew

One of our missions on our spree last Saturday was to find a Mikkeler beer — any Mikkeler beer. The output of this Danish brewery has come to represent for us all the continental holidays we’re not having now Eurostar is less handy; and all the exotic beers we left behind in the bars of London.

And, of course, everyone is always bloody on about them. (Word of mouth marketing works, it turns out.)

When we enquired, the barman at the Hand Bar in Falmouth, helpful as ever, produced a bottle of Elliot Brew, told us the price and waited for us to recover from our faint before opening the bottle.

It’s supposedly a double or ‘imperial’ IPA but, being brewed at De Struise, and bearing only their name and logo on the label, is a peculiar, hard-to-fathom creature which defies labelling and seemed to metamorphose dramatically as it warmed up from fridge temperature.

Those first mouthfuls: faintly funky, dry and dusty, stale in a good way — just what we expect from a hoppy Belgian beer. But perhaps a little disappointing given the IPA billing, if we’re honest. (More fodder for the ongoing pondering about what IPA means, there.)

Then the second half: the dust dissappeared, the beer rounding out, getting fatter and jammier until, as we drained our glasses, it had somehow become American in character.

It was a remarkable trick, like the transformation scene in a werewolf movie, which made us want another, just to see if we could work out how it was done.

Don’t ask us how much it cost. Too much. We’ve blanked it out. More than our train tickets to Falmouth, at any rate. Shudder.