By Correspondence: Eddie Lofthouse, Harbour Brewing

Eddie driving the Harbour Brewing van.
SOURCE: @HarbourBrewing on Twitter.

We first became aware of Harbour Brewing not long after we’d moved to Cornwall in 2011.

New on the scene in 2011, they seemed to have more in common with BrewDog and Thornbridge than with Skinner’s or, say, Tintagel. OK, we’re being coy here: it was a Craft Brewery (definition 2), with aromatic IPA rather than best bitter front and fore  — not something Cornwall really had before Harbour came along.

The company’s boss Eddie Lofthouse dropped off pre-release samples of IPA a few months after the brewery was founded and, frankly, they weren’t that exciting — not grim or shoddy, just not thrilling. And he knew it.

We remained lukewarm and cautious but were slowly won over — most of the way, anyway — by an excellent Pilsner on Scilly, a Beer-of-the-Year contender kegged pale ale in Falmouth, and numerous pints of straw-pale 3.7% Light Ale — the Cornish answer to London brewer Redemption’s Trinity.

The original head brewer, Heriot Watt trained Rhys Powell, left in 2015.

We still tend to qualify our praise — it’s hard for a Cornish brewery to top St Austell Proper Job, for example — but Eddie, either because he’s a diplomat or a genuinely nice bloke, or both, doesn’t seem to hold that against us, and agreed to a sort-of-interview by email. What follows was stitched together from an exchange of multiple messages with a couple of boring bits removed and some small edits for clarity and sense.


B&B: What’s your background and how did you come to be running a brewery?

I have a varied career history! From running youth work charities to managing bars and hotels. The latter lead me to gain a love of beer and the desire to work in the industry. A opportunity to start a little ‘hobby’ business arose while the hotel I was running was being refurbished and the idea went from there.

B&B: You’re called Harbour but the brewery is actually inland – what happened?

We initially looked at opening the brewery in Padstow but when we looked at the availability of suitable buildings in that area and the quality of the water we decided to widen our search. At the time I was living in Polzeath so searched for premises in that area. The agent we used to find us a facility alerted us to a site which had its own water springs with the water at the time being bottled as Cornish spring water. When we had the water analysed it was a perfect blank canvas to work with, and the building was perfect for us at that time. By the time we had finally decided to base ourselves in Kirland we had already settled on the name.

beer festivals pubs

Worth the Bus Ride

Tasting flight at the Driftwood Spars beer festival.

This week’s ‘mini beer festival’ at the Driftwood Spars was enough to tempt us into undertaking the two-stage, two-hour schlep from Penzance to St Agnes.

It’s a pub that we like at the best of times: the house beers are rarely less then solid and occasionally excellent, and there’s plenty of whatever it is that makes for real ‘pubbiness’. The festival was just the icing on the cake.

Some of the guest beers were on the main bar, including a couple of interesting keg products, with a further ten or so casks on stillage in the back room. There were no fiddly tokens or raffle tickets — just good old cash. Beer was £3.30 a pint, £1.65 a half, or £1.10 a third, the latter also being available in ‘flights’ of three for £3.30.

By the pint from the main bar, we enjoyed Bolster’s Blood, the house porter, as much this time as ever before — it’s a tasty, old-fashioned-tasting, sessionable black beer. The other Driftwood beers (Dek 10 and Red Mission) were nice enough and, if lacking the big hop aroma so in vogue these days, at least intensely bitter and chewily malty respectively.

Having been disappointed by the few of their bottles we’ve tried, we were glad of the chance to try a Mallinson’s beer on cask. Now we get it: the pale’n’hoppy Simcoe (3.8%) was a dead ringer for an old favourite, Dark Star Hophead, and, if we weren’t in ticking mode, was one we could happily have settled on for the rest of the afternoon.

We didn’t expect to like Harbour Brewing Farmhouse IPA (cask, 7%) — surely, we thought, that is code for ‘an IPA that got infected’ — but, no, it was really very moreish and satisfying. It had an unmistakeable saison (Dupont?) yeast character along with some lemon/lime/lychee hop fruitiness, with something like cheese rind in the far, far background adding a note of challenge.

We didn’t agree with the barman’s suggestion that Tiny Rebel Loki Black IPA (cask, 4.5%) was ‘sublime’, but we did enjoy it. Kind of. Tiny Rebel beers seem to have a very distinctive ‘house character’ which has, in the past, struck as us a bit ‘wrong’, but, in this case, succeeded in convincing us it was ‘quirky’ and interesting. We need to drink more of their beer and give them more thought.

It was another Harbour Brewing beer that won the day for us: Pale Ale (keg, 6%) was like something we’d expect to find in a Brewdog bar. What does that mean? It was bold to the point of brashness, stopping just short of rough — loud but balanced. It was opaque, but by no means yeasty, muddy or murky, with lots of juiciness but no grit. The hops were a weedy, minty and mustardy green salad. We need to drink it another time or two, but it has the potential to make this year’s local list.

Though this wasn’t the time to try them, we also noted that the standard range of bottles seems to have improved: Brooklyn Chocolate Stout, Boon Kriek, Westmalle Tripel, and several other ‘world beer’ classics were knocking about in fridges at the back of the bar.

As we worked our way woozily up the hill from Trevaunance Cove, past the ruined mine workings to the bus stop, we came to two conclusions. First, small festivals with achievable beer lists, held in pubs rather than echoing conference centres, are the best. And, secondly, the Driftwood Spars, even without a festival underway, is one of a handful of pubs we think it’s worth travelling for two hours to reach.

pubs real ale

A Scilly Pub Crawl

The Turks Head pub, Scilly.

There are pubs on four of the five inhabited islands in the Isles of Scilly and we couldn’t resist trying to visit them all.

First, in Hugh Town on St Mary’s — the nearest Scilly has to a bustling metropolis — we stopped in at the Mermaid, which sits on the harbour, not far from where the Scillonian drops off visitors from the mainland. Though it’s a pubco pub, it has special permission to sell local beer because of the challenge of keeping it supplied, and is decked out with gig racing paraphernalia. Unfortunately, on our visit, a beer from Ales of Scilly (Scuppered, we think) was just in the process of turning to vinegar, but a cosy atmosphere and Guinness saw us through.

Also in Hugh Town are Scilly’s two St Austell pubs. The Atlantic is huge but nonetheless has lots of corners to hide in. When freshly supplied, it has a decent selection of the brewery’s beers all of which were well looked after. We enjoyed a sarcastic pub quiz, surrounded by boaty types, along with pints of Trelawney and bottles of 1913 Stout.

Just up the road, the Bishop and Wolf (named after two lighthouses) offered an excellent pint of Proper Job along with the usual St Austell corporate interior decoration job. Nice enough but nothing to blog home about.

The last pub on St Mary’s is in Old Town and is called, obviously, the Old Town Inn. Being a little out of the way, we found it quiet, but, as the end of May approaches, were delighted to at last find a pint of mildTriple FFF Pressed Rat & Warthog — in decent condition and tasty enough to stay for more than one. We were made to feel very welcome and, when we left, got a round of goodbyes and ‘take cares’ from the locals perched at the bar.

The New Inn, Tresco.
The New Inn, Tresco, Isles of Scilly.

Thereafter, we were reliant on boats to reach pubs elsewhere in the archipelago. The New Inn on tropical Tresco, which we reached in the mid-afternoon, was all but empty. At one point, a bird hopped in through the door, ate some crisp crumbs under the pool table, and hopped out again. We found more mild — the lesser-spotted Black Prince! — along with Ales of Scilly Firebrand, which we found pleasant enough, if not earth-shattering. The real highlight, though, was kegged Harbour Brewing Pilsner which reminded us of really fresh, flowery beer from Würzburg or Regensburg. (It was, however, £2.50 for a half — ‘craft’ tax+tourist prices+Scilly supply premium?)

The Turks [sic] Head on St Agnes is yet another cosy nautically-themed tavern, though with a touch of Hampstead about it. Its house beer, Turks Ale, brewed by St Austell, has a pump clip designed by a former member of staff, and tasted to us as if it might be a blend of Proper Job and Tribute, though we stand ready to be corrected. St Austell’s seasonal special, Prince Albert, is a brown ale, and its accent on middling-dark malt flavours made a pleasant change. Skinner’s St Piran’s was in very good condition and is yet another decent golden ale from a brewery whose brown beers we don’t really like.

Fraggle Rock on Bryher almost didn’t make this list. It’s a cafe, really, but it does have draught beer and a pool table, and, at any rate, businesses on this small, quiet island have to do double duty. The views, especially from the garden, are stunning.

In conclusion, there are no bad pubs on Scilly, and, despite being out in the Atlantic, it offers a wider range of beers than most Cornish towns, and certainly more mild, in May at least. Don’t go there for the beer, but don’t worry that you’ll go thirsty, either.

Did we miss any? Let us know below and we’ll make sure to visit them next time.

beer reviews breweries

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.