An Ordinary Weekend

Fifth amendment pumpclip.

Quietly, slowly, it just keeps getting easier to find interesting beer, in more-or-less pleasant surroundings, in our part of the world.

On Thursday we went our separate ways for the evening. Bailey popped into the Turk’s Head in Penzance where he enjoyed St Austell’s Fifth Amendment, part of their ongoing series of one-off brews making use of the two pilot breweries they operate alongside the industrial-scale kit. A 5.2% ABV amber ale, it was quite unlike any other St Austell beer, combining tropical American hops with a spicy, toasty medievalness. The pub is one that is 80 per cent of the way to being a restaurant but lots of locals do just drink there and, as long as you don’t object to the sight of people devouring mussels nearby, it’s actually got one of the cosier, ‘pubbier’ interiors.

Boak, meanwhile, went with a pal to The Tremenheere, our local Wetherspoon pub, where Hook Norton Amarillo Gold (4.7%) provided exactly what you’d expect from such an accomplished traditional brewer, with the exotic hops enhancing the underlying fruitiness rather than suffocating everything with citrus. It was so good that one pint turned into several. The pub is tatty, occasionally ‘lively’ in a Wild West way, but it has always got a buzz, which can be hard to find in a quiet town between October and Easter.

Cards in the pub.

On Friday, we did the rounds, working our way from The Yacht on the seafront up the hill towards home. St Austell Proper Job continues to be a go-to beer and just seems to be getting better and better, capturing and intensifying the live essence of hops in the same way freeze-drying seems to do for raspberries. We had a couple. The pub itself continues to treat us mean: after visiting once or more every week for something like five years, we still don’t get any flicker of recognition from the staff. It seems to work because we do, indeed, remain keen.

The Dock, almost next door, isn’t quite the same under new management, even if the beer range has expanded to include Potion 9 as well as Blue Anchor Spingo Middle. Potion didn’t quite taste itself, perhaps suffering in close comparison to Proper Job, or because it was served on the chilly side. There was a young bloke from New York eating a takeaway in the corner, which seemed odd.

The finisher, Timothy Taylor Landlord at the never-ending faintly hippyish music festival that is The Farmer’s Arms, wasn’t the best beer of the night (it lacked zing) but we enjoyed it the most. The barman recognised us and anticipated our order; he gave us the fancy glassware reserved for trusted customers; and we got to play cards in the corner while the band finished their set with an electrified Cornish folk song. Just perfect, really.

A dog between two customers at the bar.

Saturday took us to St Ives, a quick hop on a local train from Penzance. After making sandcastles and clambering about on rocks for a bit to build up a thirst we went to The Old Pilchard Press, the town’s micropub, which was (as it always seems to be) rammed and (as often seems to happen) almost sold out of beer. We’ve grumbled about St Ives Brewery in the past, unimpressed by skunked bottles of mediocre pale ale actually brewed several counties away, but the cask version of Knill by Mouth, which is really brewed in St Ives, rather impressed us: zesty and fun, like Jaffa Cakes. Brain’s Reverend James, which we’ve not had in years, was the good kind of brown — nothing to inspire poetry, but well put together, a bit like finding a decent episode of The Sweeney on ITV4.

The Hub continues to baffle us — last time we went, they were happy for us just to have drinks; this time, we got a pass-agg guilt trip, and the menus were snatched away after we’d ordered what was intended to be the first in a few rounds of snacks. Still, the beer, and the choice of beer, is good, and different: Magic Rock Cannonball, a long way from home, was a breath of fresh air. The same brewery’s the chilli porter was pretty exciting too — a seasoning tingle rather than Man vs. Food. As we’ve said before, if people go on about Magic Rock, it’s with good reason.

We finished in The Hain Line, the town’s Wetherspoon pub, near the station. It’s got a much smarter interior than the one in Penzance and equally smart staff who, if we ran a hospitality business, we’d be poaching. We got excited by yet more foreign beer here: Salopian Lemon Dream, all the way from Shropshire. It’s a bit of a novelty brew — just a touch too sour, really, and a little cartoonish — but we enjoyed it a lot, especially at something like £2.30 a pint. The second round was more fraught — beers advertised were in the process of going off, and the generous tasters we were encouraged to try didn’t reveal anything else as thrilling — so we had a couple of forgettable festival beers. Still, we left thinking that, overall, Spoons had won.

Pints of Proper Job.

Then last night, Sunday, the sun was out, the sea was still, barbecue smoke was on the air, and we couldn’t resist one last pint of Proper Job at The Yacht. It was just about warm enough to sit outside, too, which is how we know summer is almost here. If anything, the beer tasted more exciting than on Friday, remastered and bass boosted.

As we wandered home we saw a bloke, bare-chested, staggering across the road after a full day’s drinking. ‘I’m wasted,’ he said mournfully. His companion slapped his back and replied: ‘Mate, it’s the only way to be.’

QUICK POST: Gathered Round the Fire

The fire at the Farmer's Arms.

The Farmer’s Arms opened a bit late on New Year’s Day. Can an entire pub can have a hangover?

The weather had finally, at last, come cold, and we were hoping to find the fire lit. It was, just, but struggling along, with too much blackened paper and damp wood refusing to catch.

One of the regulars, unlit roll-up in mouth, was trying to fix the problem and engaged our friend in a discussion about tactics. Eventually, he left her in charge.

We sat pitching in advice as she moved some logs around to give the fire air. Between us, we spectators retrieved a dryish log from the store under the bench and hacked it into smaller chunks with a pen-knife while she rolled some paper into twists. The paper went up, the wood steamed and then started to blacken, and smoke was sucked away up the chimney. Confident it was off and away our friend loaded the fire up and, for the next hour, kept a watchful eye, making occasional adjustments with the shovel (the only implement at hand) to keep the flames healthy.

We didn’t mind when it cracked like a whip and spat sparks our way — that was all part of the pleasure. Fires and the sea are two things we can stare at for hours, and if an open fire in a pub on a cold day is a joy, one you’ve had a hand in lighting is ten times better again.

The photo is actually from early December and isn’t our finest work but you get the idea.

UPDATE: Every Pub In Penzance

Last December we made a new year’s resolution to visit during 2016 all the pubs in Penzance we had until then overlooked.

In fact, what we said was that we wanted, in general, to go to…

More and different pubs. We don’t even need to go far afield: there are pubs in Penzance we’ve never been in. This is ridiculous, and we will sort it.

With trips to Birmingham, Bolton, Dudley, Hartlepool, Manchester, Newcastle, Stevenage and a whole bunch of other places, with the specific intention of visiting pubs not necessarily known for their beer, we’ve achieved our broader goal. But the pubs of Penzance remained stubbornly unfinished until the weekend past.

The beer garden at The Pirate.

We started out well, visiting The Pirate at Alverton and The Sportsman at Heamoor in April, liking both enough that we’ve made return visits despite them being out of our way. The Pirate especially has got something about it: Adnams Broadside, a verdant beer garden, a carpeted and cosy old-fashioned interior, and a proper crowd of locals who (all we ask for) don’t look at us twice. It’s become a little treat for us to wander out that way on a lazy weekend afternoon when we’re not on a train or bus somewhere up country.

Continue reading “UPDATE: Every Pub In Penzance”

The Yacht Inn, Penzance, in the 1950s

Strange coincidences and connections have led us to a collection of family photos of one of our favourite local pubs.

A brewer we interviewed last week (Paddy at Crossed Anchors) noticed that we had a picture of the fabulously Art Deco Yacht Inn, Penzance, as our Twitter header image. He mentioned that his great aunt and uncle, Frank and Phyllis Glasspool, ran it from 1949-c.1959. He emailed his dad, who emailed a cousin, Susan Glasspool (Bottaro), who provided the following fantastic collection of photographs and said we could share them here:

It was very hard work there, especially for my mother, who did all the cooking (plus the extras for the bar, pasties, sandwiches etc.), a lot of the cleaning, and then ran the cocktail bar in the evenings. Hard to have any family life. Thank goodness for the swimming pool over the road — 10 bob for a season ticket and I spent all my summers there!

Pub sign with moody sky and sea.
The sign of the Yacht Inn with Mount’s Bay and Newlyn in the background.
A man in a suit sits at the bar while Frank directs his assistant.
Frank Glasspool (left) and ‘Lennie’ (white coat) behind the main bar of the Yacht.

Continue reading “The Yacht Inn, Penzance, in the 1950s”

West Cornwall Notes

There’s been quite a lot going on in our local beer scene so, for the record, and to help those of you planning a visit to the far west, here’s a quick round-up of developments.

Coastal Brewery’s on-site brewery tap and specialist beer outlet is up and running in Redruth. An industrial estate on the outskirts of a former mining town is about as far from twee as you can get, and drinking among stacked palettes and breeze block walls won’t be to everyone’s taste, but we found it surprisingly atmospheric, with a chatty crowd of post-shift drinkers from surrounding units. It’s probably the best place to come if you want to ‘tick’ Coastal’s own beers from cask and keg (they’re generally decent and occasionally brilliant), and has plenty of Belgian, American and German beers not often seen out this way. Bottles are available to take away, too, if you’re thinking about stocking a holiday cottage. It’s open until 10-15:00, Mon-Thu, and on Saturday; and until 7pm on Fridays, but check the Facebook page — those hours aren’t fixed.

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Spingo, Spingo, Gose, Orval

Penzance is at its lowest ebb between Christmas and the start of the season, and it’s been bleddy cold, so we really needed the cosy cheer of the pub last week.

Spingo Middle at the Dock Inn, mid-week, sparkled in the glass only a shade off ruby red, and tasted better than ever — a touch drier than usual, but still with the typical smack of unrefined sugar about it.

On Friday, our attempt at a pint of Proper Job was derailed because the Yacht Inn was heaving with rugby fans, so we went for another round of Spingos at the Dock. This time, that lanky dog was there — the one that comes over, perches its chin on the edge of the table and looks sadly at your pork scratchings — and we were surrounded by out-of-season weekend-breakers eating dinner.

Continue reading “Spingo, Spingo, Gose, Orval”

Refurbishment and the Narrative of Decline

The Star Inn, aka the Star Hotel, at the top of Market Jew Street in Penzance, has taken us on an emotional roller-coaster-ride over the last couple of years.

Its location ought to have made it successful: it sits where the four central roads (Green Market, Chapel Street, Causewayhead and Market Jew Street) converge in the very centre of town, around the grand late-Georgian domed market hall. On any week-night in the summer season, groups of hungry tourists can be observed there, looking for a decent but informal place for dinner; and out of season, it’s got plenty of passing trade from shoppers.

For a long time, however, the Star was not in a position to capitalise on its location, as it was a tatty-looking pubco property with peeling paint, grubby windows, dim-lighting, and a vaguely unwelcoming air. Tourists gave it a swerve, heading (often reluctantly, we sensed) into the nearby Wetherspoons, or one of the slightly posher restaurants on Chapel Street.

Then, last year, the Star shut down and was boarded up. We tend not to get over-emotional about pubs closing but this really was a sad sight, and bad news for a town which, from some angles, can look as if it is collapsing. The pubco began to advertise for tenants, promising a refurbishment, the computer-generated images of which were at odds with the hulking wreck upon which they were mounted.

Last winter’s storms didn’t help, either, battering and drenching a building which was already crumbling until its side wall began to bulge and emergency scaffolding had to be erected to prevent an outright collapse. We spent the whole summer expecting it to be demolished.

Then, to our surprise, the promised refurbishment actually got underway. The scaffolding came down revealing fresh plasterwork and repaired stone and brick-work. Hand-painted lettering appeared on the whitewash signalling an upgrade: this was to be a pub with aspirations. It was reborn — which doesn’t feel too strong a word — at the end of November.

It’s not, frankly, our kind of pub. For one thing, the beer is unexciting — Deuchar’s IPA, Caledonian 80′ and one guest ale, alongside the usual line-up of lagers/Guinness and their extra cold variants. The décor is also rather corporate and bland, reminding us of a Greene King pub we visited in Ipswich.

Nonetheless, it is just what the town centre needs, filling an otherwise dead spot with light and life, and giving off warm vibes.  It is welcoming, has a solid mainstream offer, and is run cheerfully and efficiently. We suspect it will do well, especially with families who are not otherwise especially well served in town.

It’s also an example of how the pubs here (we can’t speak for the rest of the country) resist the narrative of decline: we haven’t noticed a single pub close and stay closed. Instead, they come back cleaner, sturdier, and better equipped to serve the modern market.

NB. This Star Inn is not to be confused with the one at Crowlas, a village near Penzance, where we go to enjoy Potion 9 when we can scrape together the bus fare.

UPDATE 08/12/2014 10:00: we remembered one! The Peruvian Arms, a back-street pub, closed a couple of years ago and has, so far, stayed shut. There have been signs of a possible refurb in the last six months, though.

Penzance Booze Outlets, 1898

In 1898, a ‘pay to play’ business directory for Penzance listed all of its wine and spirit merchants. On this evidence, they primarly sold ‘posh’ beer from Dublin, London, Burton and Bristol, and none of them mention beer from local brewers.

Doing the Rounds

Blue Anchor beer casks.

In February, we wrote about the fraying tempers and stale beer to be found in Penzance out of season. Now the holidaymakers have arrived and both the atmosphere and the ale has become much livelier.

Even in the middle of the afternon, the Star Inn at Crowlas (our ‘pen portrait of which is in the latest edition of CAMRA’s BEER magazine) had a steady stream of visitors, mostly middle-aged couples who had paused in the middle of a long bike ride, walk or drive to try the fabled Potion 9. The Potion — always good — was at another level of brilliance.

In Penzance, the pubs near the railway station and the harbour seem permanently busy, filled with wealthy and healthy-looking visitors from Scandinavia, Germany, Australia and America. The Dock Inn was buzzing on our visit this week, and the Spingo was in tip-top condition.

At the Lamp & Whistle — perhaps more of a cosy winter pub than a summer haunt — we noticed that Orval had appeared alongside Duvel and Chimay in the fridges.

At the Yacht Inn on Thursday, the St Austell Proper Job IPA (which disappears in the depths of winter) was back and tasting superb — perhaps better than it has anywhere in the last six months or more.

After a thunderstorm on Friday night, which cleared the air, the pubs became even more crowded. The sounds of live rockabilly, laughter and chatter filled the street outside one pub; acoustic blues leaked from another. In lieu of any really convincing bars to pose in, lots of eighteen-year-olds were out and about, warming up for a night of clubbing with pear cider, lager and outrageous flirtation.

Yesterday, we rounded off the week with a mid-afternoon visit to the Blue Anchor in Helston. Some beers were better than others, and the crowd was different than in Penzance: older, more experienced drinkers, comparing notes on the health of their livers, symptoms of gout and whether mutual acquaintances were dead yet.

They were having a lot more fun than it might sound from that description.

World Beer in Penzance

Brooklyn Lager and Duvel at the Lamp & Whistle, Penzance.

It’s taken a while but, at last, we can now go to the pub in Penzance and drink Belgian and American beer, at the Lamp & Whistle, five minutes walk from the central station in the centre of town.

When we first moved to Penzance proper, we went to ‘the Lamp’ quite a bit, partly because it tended to have St Austell Proper Job in excellent condition, but also because it is one of the few places in the area not trading to some extent on the ‘cosy Cornish inn’ image. In fact, it feels as if it has been transplanted from a street corner in a trendy bit of South London. Then Proper Job disappeared, and we decided we preferred the atmosphere in the Dock Inn, and haven’t been back for a while, though we always peer through the window when we walk past.

When Tom Goskar tipped us off to the availability of Brooklyn Lager, however, we thought we ought to investigate, and we found quite a few changes. The ceiling has been fitted with what are technically known as ‘dangly stem glass holding rack things’, festooned with Chimay, Duvel and Bacchus branded glassware; a towering, ostentatious Brooklyn Lager font adorns the very centre of the bar; and there’s a brand-new-vintage Anchor Steam plaque fixed to the wall. It would seem that the James Clay rep has been.

These aren’t beers at the cutting edge of the import market (Chimay Rouge first hit Britain in 1974, Anchor Steam c.1979, at the start of the ‘world beer’ boom) but, come on, this is the wild west, and a town with a population of c.21,000, so they’re out on a limb going even this far. We’re delighted, at any rate.

We didn’t enjoy the keg Brooklyn Lager especially — it seemed less floral than the bottled incarnation with a lot of additional toffee flavour and, yes, actual rising, burp-inducing bubbles aka ‘fizz’. Chimay and Duvel, on the other hand, were a real treat, and scarcely more expensive than they are in supermarkets these days at £4.30 a bottle. (We paid £7.50 for a 330ml bottle of local ‘craft’ stout in Truro recently, so this question about the price of Belgian beer remains.)

There was also cask ale from the lesser-spotted Penpont Brewery, and evidence that the publicans’ real passion is for spirits in the wide selection of vodkas, rums and whiskies on the back shelf. (Żubrówka!)

If you’re in the area and fancy something a bit different, in terms of both ambience and beer selection, the Lamp might be just what you’re looking for.

We should mention that the Renaissance Cafe — not a pub! — also had Duvel with lovely glassware last time we went in.