The Secrets of Doom Bar’s Success

This post was made pos­si­ble by the sup­port of Patre­on sub­scribers like  Nick Moyle and Sue Hart whose encour­age­ment jus­ti­fied us spend­ing sev­er­al days of our free time research­ing and writ­ing. If you like this, and want more, please do con­sid­er sign­ing up, or just buy us a pint.

How did a beer born on an industrial estate in Cornwall in 1995 become a ubiquitous national brand in just 20 years? And what about it inspires such loyalty, and such disdain?

A few inci­dents made us real­ly start think­ing about Sharp’s Doom Bar.

The first was a cou­ple of years ago on a research trip to Man­ches­ter, hav­ing trav­elled all the way from Pen­zance, when we walked into a pub – we can’t recall which one – to find two cask ales on offer: St Austell Trib­ute, and Doom Bar.

The sec­ond was at a pub in New­lyn, just along the coast from Pen­zance, where we met two exhaust­ed cyclists who’d just com­plete the John O’Groats to Land’s End run. They want­ed one last beer before begin­ning the long jour­ney home to the Home Coun­ties. When we got talk­ing to them, one of them even­tu­al­ly said to us: “You’re into your ales, then? I’ll tell you what’s a good one – Doom Bar. Do you know it?”

Peo­ple love this beer. They real­ly, gen­uine­ly, unaf­fect­ed­ly find great plea­sure in drink­ing it.

Sales sta­tis­tics sup­port that: from some­where around 12 mil­lion pints per year in 2009, to 24m in 2010, to 43m by 2016, Doom Bar shifts units.

So what is, or has been, Doom Bar’s secret? And is there some­thing there oth­er brands might imi­tate?

Con­tin­ue read­ing “The Secrets of Doom Bar’s Suc­cess”

Doom Bar and the Question of Origin

It’s official: thanks to Lucy Britner at Just Drinks we now know that Sharp’s Doom Bar – the bottled stuff, at least – has been being brewed outside Cornwall since 2013.

From the moment Mol­son-Coors bought out Sharp’s in 2011 peo­ple down here in Corn­wall have been won­der­ing how long it would be before pro­duc­tion moved to Bur­ton-upon-Trent. Oth­ers assumed it had already hap­pened and that there was sly­ness afoot. One local source even told us they’d heard a Sharp’s brew­er drop­ping big hints about it last year.

Now the cat’s out of the bag, what does it mean?

In a part of the world where the act of buy­ing local is high­ly politi­cised it might cre­ate oppor­tu­ni­ties for oth­er Cor­nish brew­ers to sup­ply restau­rants, super­mar­kets, del­i­catessens and bars which have, until now, been hap­py with bot­tled Doom Bar.

In real­i­ty, though, we sus­pect it will take months for most peo­ple to clock this news and, even then, many won’t care – it’s a pop­u­lar beer which pre­sum­ably sells to the trade at a com­pet­i­tive price and it’s still Cor­nish-ish, right?

But if we ran a busi­ness and had for the last two years been buy­ing those bot­tles on the under­stand­ing that the beer was Cor­nish-made – and prob­a­bly pitch­ing it to our cus­tomers as such – we’d be pret­ty annoyed.

We came to this sto­ry via the West­ern Morn­ing News and are grate­ful to Kev Head for point­ing us to the orig­i­nal source.

UPDATE 01/07/2015

We asked Sharp’s the fol­low­ing ques­tion on Twit­ter but have yet to get a reply despite prod­ding:

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.

Surprisingly good beer, surprisingly good pub

Beer glass with Bays Brewery logo.

Fowey (pro­nounced ‘Foy’) is one of those ‘Isling­ton-on-Sea’ towns, crawl­ing with celebs and with more bistros than you can driz­zle a jus on. We arrived there on Sun­day after a long walk along the coast, cov­ered in mud and gasp­ing for a pint, and began the rit­u­al review of the pubs on offer, set­tling even­tu­al­ly on the Galleon.

Though the signs weren’t good – ugly red brick build­ing, Doom Bar logos, the sounds (shud­der) of live sun­day after­noon jazz – it was the word ‘free­house’ that lured us in. Might we find some­thing oth­er than Trib­ute, Doom Bar or Bet­ty Bloody Stogs? Read­er, we did: there were beers from the icon­o­clas­tic Cor­nish pub­li­can’s for­eign brew­ery of choice, Bay’s of Devon.

Bay’s are a per­fect­ly OK brew­ery. They’re good. They’re fine. They’re not at all bad. We would­n’t go out of our way to find them, but we’re always pleased to see them on offer. Except, on this occa­sion, one of the beers was bet­ter than OK: it was excel­lent. Devon Dumpling (5.1% ABV), while not in the same league as Thorn­bridge Jaipur, remind­ed us of it, with a sim­i­lar­ly hefty body and orange glow, and a well-judged bal­ance of sweet­ness and bit­ter­ness. We award­ed it a dis­tinc­tion in Leigh Good Stuff’s ‘same again please’ test and drank sev­er­al.

By the stan­dards of the UK’s hottest pubs and bars, the beer selec­tion at the Galleon was noth­ing spe­cial, but it was well-cho­sen, includ­ing Sharp’s Cor­nish Coast­er, a 3.6% gold­en charmer which ought to be their flag­ship beer; St Austell Prop­er Job, by far that brew­ery’s most excit­ing draught prod­uct; and Doom Bar, the most pop­u­lar choice of the old boys at the bar. (The big gang of teenagers who’d just got back from a night out club­bing in their shiny trousers were on Tequi­la, Stel­la and white wine.)

What the Galleon shows, we sup­pose, is that a pub does­n’t have to be ancient to be cosy, and that it’s pos­si­ble to offer qual­i­ty and choice, in a qui­et way, with­out scar­ing the hors­es.

Sharp’s Connoisseurs’ Choice in the pub

Sharp's Connoisseur's Choice triple

There isn’t much Bel­gian beer on sale in pubs in Corn­wall, which is a shame, because strong, slow beers lend them­selves to stormy, can­dlelit Sun­day after­noons, of which we have plen­ty. For­tu­nate­ly, Sharp’s head brew­er, Stu­art Howe, is some­thing of a Bel­go­phile, and has pro­duced two beers which very neat­ly plug the gap.

Hon­ey Spice Tripel (10%) is entire­ly con­vinc­ing and deli­cious. Hon­ey in beers we can take or leave but, as is usu­al­ly the case when it’s employed in brew­ing, it’s not a very pro­nounced pres­ence here. In fact, what lords it over this beer is a big, unre­strained Bel­gian yeast pump­ing out banana aro­ma and tongue-tin­gling Asian spici­ness. (The West­malle strain, right?)

The Quadru­pel (10%) is appar­ent­ly fer­ment­ed with four strains of yeast. The over­all impres­sion, though, is that, once again, some­thing very like the West­malle strain won. Our impres­sion (accord­ing to notes on one of the touch­screen devices) was of more bananas – real­ly ripe ones – doused in rum, but it’s anoth­er one of those beers that has almost every flavour in it if you wait long enough. (Choco­late, cof­fee, dark fruits, Werther’s Orig­i­nals, old army boots, bat’s blood…) In a blind tast­ing, would we rate St Bernar­dus Abt 12 high­er? Maybe, but the fresh­ness and swag­ger of this beer might tip the bal­ance.

Final obser­va­tions: it was great to see these on sale in a rel­a­tive­ly nor­mal pub, at a not-out­ra­geous £5.50 a bot­tle, which is less than imports go for down this way, on the rare occa­sions they’re seen. It was even bet­ter when the bar­man announced, with evi­dent pride, that they had a full sup­ply of the attrac­tive Bel­gian-style glass­es in which they are sup­posed to be served. But… Con­nois­seurs’ Choice? Why not just call them Wankers’ Selec­tion or Dick­head­’s Delight? We blog­gers don’t need our egos encour­ag­ing.