We used to spend holidays in Cornwall with our Grandparents when I was a child; it seemed like it took years to get there in the family car, stopping off along the way countless times to stock up on Ribena and boiled sweets, rewarded finally with countryside that seemed sort of like ours in Yorkshire, yet entirely different. The beaches and the sea always seemed a little more picture-postcard than our often wild Yorkshire coast, a little more glamorous perhaps. Despite being in the UK, Cornwall always felt a little foreign to me.
Beer-wise, it’s another blind spot of mine. I last visited on a stag do to Newquay in 2008 -ish; a fun weekend in a ropey place. Newquay was not what I expected, but we did the usual and gorged ourselves on Doom Bar, Betty Stogs and beach bottles of Wooden Hand and Tribute. Only one pub got repeat visits; a bluesy music – and – real- ale place near the infamous Bertie’s Surf Shack. I can’t quite recall its name – can someone help? Could it have been Leadbelly’s?
Anyway, the crisp lines and monochrome labels of Harbour Brewing portray a different kind of Cornwall, perhaps. The website looks excellent – sleek and moody, with an almost David Lynchian shot of a wind-battered harbour on the landing page. Rhys Powell and Eddie Lofthouse seem to know exactly who they are already in terms of beer – and Skinner’s they are not. Bright labels which evoke old coffee cans (to me) adorn the core range, and the silver-and-black treatment (perhaps echoing the photography on the site) dresses the specials, which is what I’ve got my hands on.
Double India Pale Ale No 3 (7%abv) pours a lovely russet-amber shade; more akin to that of a rich Scotch ale than an IPA, and promises some serious malty action. That creamy-yet-clean biscuit note does indeed underpin the nose, which abounds with Orange peel and grassy pine needle. On the sip, there’s additional lychee fruitiness which is then washed away with a little ripple of effervensence, leaving behind a green, fresh – but altogether restrained – bitterness. It’s a smooth, gently sweet IPA, and has me wondering (which I don’t say often) whether it’s a little too restrained?
Overall, it’s a good beer, and manages to shoehorn in flavour and vibrancy without overloading you with alcohol and heat.
Porter No. 6 (6.8%abv) shows a similarly restrained hand but with the dark malts involved, and is a hell of a glass of flavour for it. It’s a lovely ruby-blackcurrant colour, with a nose that evokes Autumn and woodland; all leather, burnt wood and earthy, black pepper notes (apologies, got a bit Goolden there!). The flavour is powerful without being strong – waves of digestive biscuit and hazelnuts at the start, then bitter chocolate and espresso notes at the end. It’s like a box of Black Magic in beer form and a perfect fit for the snowy afternoon that I chose to drink it in.
Harbour certainly seem to be doing a good job in getting their beer up and down the country, and I’m looking forward to picking up more of them. The beer is flavourful and balanced, and quintessentially British, which appeals to me greatly. There’s no feeling that Harbour are trying to be something they aren’t, and long may that continue.