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. OPTIONALThe 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.