From nature, to a beach hut in St Agnes
Saturday 19 November 2022
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In the 10am light, St Agnes is nothing short of idyllic. The tiny town sits on a steep slope down to the sea, where narrow roads flanked by stone walls and hedgerows are overhung by coniferous trees that clear as suddenly as we arrive at white beach. The Driftwood Spars Brewery sits on this frontier, it’s a white-washed, wood-boarded storefront that you might mistake for a surf shop, if not for the glimmer of tanks in the back, and dried hop garlands in the window.
Inside, we meet the two-person team responsible for wrangling 800L of liquid out of this tiny operation: head brewer Mike Mason, and brewing assistant, Tim Lawrence move easily around each other and chat openly with us. They are kind and welcoming, not only to us, but to the Driftwood legacy they have inherited.
“Originally, we were a little brewery in the cellar of The Driftwood Spars pub next door, we’re part of the same business,” says Mike. “In the year 2000 the kit was moved over here, but we really only started as a commercial brewery in 2013. For the first eight years of existence, we only brewed one beer which was exclusively served at the pub across the road. Pete, the Brewer before me, was focussed on traditional recipes so we’re very well known in Cornwall for our traditional beers – and when I joined almost three years ago I introduced the more contemporary Cove range to compliment our original traditional range.
“Unfortunately, just as I was about to move down here, our previous head brewer, Pete Martin, passed away. He left a legacy behind, and so to honour that we’ve just frozen his beers in time. The labels will never change, nor will the recipes or the way he brewed them; the bottled beer remains our traditional offering and a reminder of what Pete did for us.”
Reverence and respect for the local community would seem to inform so much of what Driftwood does, but even beyond that, there is a deep sense of care and responsibility for the wider world, and industry as a whole. Driftwood donates a portion of the Cove range’s proceeds to local charity Fathoms Free, a group of trained scuba divers who scour the ocean floor for severed lobster pots, fishing nets and other forms of tackle that is harmful to ocean life.
“I first heard about the charity on Simon Reeve’s Cornwall show, and because of that assumed they’d be well funded and a large enough organisation,” says Mike. “Turns out the operation was completely self-funded by volunteers, who were paying for their own gas, and clubbing together to get the boat through servicing. So with us donating 10p a can, we were able to send them £4,500 after last summer alone and that kept them going until the end of the year. That’s something I’m really proud that we can do.”
Driftwood also exclusively uses British hops, for sustainability reasons, and often flavours its beers with hedgerow fruits and other seasonal ingredients. Mike tells us that during the summer just past, a customer came into the shop to inform them that while out walking his dog he stumbled across wild hops growing at the top of St Agnes’ village. “We took a walk up there not expecting much, but they were literally everywhere,” says Tim. “We collected about 3kg and made a super hopped, green pale. We’re not sure what exactly they were, but they were small cones and quite citrusy, and piney”.
Mike chips in excitedly: “We got to brew with them on the day that we picked them as well, which was really cool.”
Just the week before our arrival, Mike tells us that Driftwood hosted a foraging brew day with the help of Emma Gun, a forager for River Cottage, and collected 32 different ingredients from the surrounding cove alone. After selecting three, Mike and Tim fired up the pilot kit, and brewed a beer with the help of some of Driftwood’s customers.
“We took them through the whole journey,” says Mike, “and that's the kind of thing that we enjoy doing when we're putting recipes together, that and somehow including ingredients from the local environment. We just got all our malts ready and from there just let people decide on the colour, flavour and texture of the beer. It might give rise to something that’s rather interesting but you know, it will be a beer that’s ours.”
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