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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.

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Top Ten Cornish Beers (So Far)

Potion 9 pumpclip at the Star Inn.

UPDATE 22/03/2013: Our revised top ten Cornish beers list for 2013 is now available here.

For a county (sorry — Duchy) with a permanent population of only around 540,000, Cornwall has quite a few breweries, and more are appearing every month. There are some whose wares we’ve yet to try; others we rarely see except in bottles; and a few we simply can’t recommend with a clear conscience.

This list, then, is of beers we’ve particularly enjoyed in pubs in Cornwall and would advise visitors to seek out. As before, our location in the far west means that we’ve got an unintentional bias towards breweries whose beers make it down this way.

  1. Driftwood Spars — Dêk Hop (3.8%) Pale amber, flinty and tannic; hoppy without being flowery.
  2. Driftwood Spars — Bolster’s Blood Porter (4.8%) Reminded us of something from the 1909 Syle Guide, with stewed bitterness and very little hop aroma. A touch of pleasing sourness. Very refreshing after a long walk to St Agnes.
  3. Penzance Brewing Company — Potion 9 (4%) Our beer of the year for 2011. Golden, with US hops (Amarillo, last time we checked) and great for a session.
  4. Penzance Brewing Company — Trink (5.2%) Potion’s big brother, edging towards Thornbridge Jaipur territory. This is the one the regulars at the Star Inn get really excited about.
  5. Penzance Brewing Company — Scilly Stout (7%) A chunky, chewy stout that would be perfect for export; poised between bitter/sweet, and more of a plum pudding than a cup of coffee.
  6. Skinner’s — Porthleven (4.8%) We’re not huge fans of Skinner’s (we blame their yeast) but this pale and hoppy beer was a very pleasant surprise. We drank many pints at the Old Ale House in Truro and then went back for more a few weeks later. Keeps getting hoppier, too, as the recipe evolves.
  7. Spingo — Flora Daze (4%) The newest addition to the Spingo range and yet more evidence that pale and hoppy might suit Cornish water. By no means a hop bomb, but the dry-hopping at least is aggressive enough to trigger hayfever.
  8. Spingo — Middle  (5%) A classic, and an illustration of a typical sweet West Country beer — an acquired taste, but not actually flawed. Has become more bitter and cleaner in the last year or so.
  9. St Austell — Proper Job (4.5%) The best of St Austell’s beers and found (we estimate) in about a third of their pubs. Almost too hoppy: can start to feel palate-stripping after three pints.
  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’ve also enjoyed everything we’ve tried from Coastal, though they’re hard to find and we rarely see the same brew twice, so can’t recommend a particular beer.

As with our Cornwall pub list, if you’re a brewer wondering why your beer hasn’t been mentioned, email us and we’ll let you know.

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Brewery Taps are a Good Thing

Edwardian glass screen advertising the Redruth Brewery Company Ltd

We struggle a bit with Skinner’s, one of Cornwall’s bigger small breweries. On the one hand, there is lots to like about the company (committed localness, charity work, openness) but, on the other, we’re just not fans of their beer. Betty Stoggs, their flagship bitter, is one we’d choose over Sharp’s Doom Bar, but certainly not over St Austell Tribute. (The three are often seen on the same bar in Cornwall.) We’ve had the occasional excellent pint, but many more slightly nasty ones. Others seem to enjoy it, though, so it might be that we just don’t get on with their yeast.

Recently, they took on the Old Ale House in Truro, within walking distance of their brewery, and have made it their tap, to all intents and purposes. Truro is short of good pubs but the OAH was always the most appealing, as a building, at least, with gnarled wood, dark corners and Edwardian livery for the defunct Redruth Brewery.

Skinner’s, like some other ‘brown beer’ brewers, are stretching themselves a bit. Porthleven (4.8%) is a hoppy blonde ale, introduced as a seasonal last summer and back for the new season. Last year, we found it disappointing — sweet and, er, ‘Skinnersy’ — but, yesterday, it was excellent. Four unplanned pints in the mid-afternoon excellent, in fact.

Betty Stoggs was the best we’ve tasted it, too — surely the result of proximity to the brewery and hands-on quality control?

The excellence of those other beers was only highlighted by the oddly named ‘Kiddlywink’, which had the cardboard and plastic yickiness we’re more used to from Betty Stoggs. Not off, just not good.

If you’re passing Truro, and aren’t averse to Skinner’s beers, the Old Ale House is worth a visit, if only to enjoy the free shell-on peanuts from a barrel by the bar.

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Skinner's Coronaish/Cornish Lager


Skinner’s of Truro are becoming oddly ubiquitous in pubs around the UK. Their flagship beer, Betty Stoggs Bitter, turns up in our local in London from time to time. They’ve got a vast range of beers covering a whole gamut of styles (honey beer, old ale, wheat beer and so on) none of which have ever really impressed us much. But we just couldn’t resist trying their brilliantly cheeky Corona clone, Skinner’s Cornish Lager.

Billed as a “light lager”, it’s clearly American inspired, and even uses American hops. The clear 330ml bottle makes the specific inspiration very plain: a certain bland Mexican beer usually served with lime.

True to its inspiration, it was horribly skunked and more-or-less flavourless. And, yes, it was improved by a slice of lime chucked in the glass.

So, not a great beer, but surely a great way to take a slice of the market otherwise lost to license-brewed rubbish. After all, it’s just not practical to sling a few bottle-conditioned ales in a bag and take them to the beach. For one thing, they’ll get shook up. For another, you can’t drink them from the bottle. And — the final nail in the coffin — they just don’t look cool.

PS – could this be a late session post?