Wild and clean, country and city. A brewery of contrasts.
Saturday 19 November 2022
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The glimmering glass wall of Harbour’s Hinterland brewery greets us before the team does. Co-founder Eddie Lofthouse and brand manager Adam Sargent find us in the car park, stunned and speechless at the combination of evening air, verdant fields and setting sun. While they’re amused at our reactions, and used to this kind of beauty, a clear sky at sunset doesn’t get old, even for them.
When we head through the building’s taproom to the belly of the brewery, it is golden with an evening light that only accentuates the warm, woody tones of three adjacent foeders filled with cherry sour, Brett IPA and lemon balm saison. This is not Harbour’s only facility, the Hinterland brewery’s focus is on research and development, specifically wild and spontaneous fermentation using oak barrels, foudres, and an amphora that’s sadly no longer with us. Its production brewery is based nearby, and churns out the core range it is known and loved for.
Though each site produces very different beers, the ethos and ideals driving the production of both, stem from the same source. Harbour’s approach to brewing is reflected in the lifestyle Cornwall is best known for, its core range has been developed to be accessible, easy drinking, and at the lower end of the ABV scale. The idea is that active or health-conscious drinkers can go for a surf, then pick up a beer that doesn't compromise on character.
On the other hand, wild or spontaneously fermented beers draw on the rich natural resources those same drinkers are surrounded by. “If the beer sucks, it's our fault” is somewhat of a slogan at Harbour. It of course pays homage to the enviable water supply and high calibre produce so easily accessible to this Cornish brewery, but beyond that the witty, candid phrase strikes me as a testament to the brilliant sense of humour possessed by everyone we encounter at Harbour.
It’s refreshing to hear Adam say that while everyone at the brewery is driven by a great passion for beer, they all work to live, and it's a commonly held belief that life outside of any job is more important than all else. It’s an increasingly novel perspective, but strikes me as especially meaningful, coming from a brewery with all the material markers of success.
This isn’t to say that life in the South West isn’t without its challenges. As mentioned by many other breweries we visit, markets can be difficult to manage here with tourism being so seasonal and extreme. In addition to this, larger breweries like Sharpes have cultivated a monopoly on taps in many areas, making it harder to sell beer in the manner it’s most commonly drunk here.
Being well established in the South West, Harbour’s doing better than most; the majority of its beer is sold in keg to bars and restaurants on the coast that heave during the summer months, and empty in the winter. To balance this out, they supply a growing fan base in London, the main place you’ll find Harbour’s beers outside of Cornwall. Eddie and Adam seem grateful to have the infrastructure that allows them to pivot, and cater to both.
“This place means a lot to us,” says Eddie, who has a deep and long relationship with Cornwall. “I moved here as a student, got a job in the place you’re eating in tonight [Harbour’s restaurant, The Atlantic Bar and Kitchen, in Polzeath] and met my wife there,” he begins, making this story an incredible one before it even starts.
“Weirdly her parents bought the place ten years later, and I moved down to run it. We got engaged, then married, then had our first son there. We lost the restaurant and I started Harbour, then incredibly we were offered the opportunity to buy it back - a property manager just approached us and said, I don’t suppose you’re looking for a bar are you? We’ve a venue for sale in Polzeath. We immediately knew where he was talking about.”
The Atlantic Bar and Restaurant is now owned by Harbour, and very much feels like an extension of the comfortable Hinterland taproom we’d visited just a few hours earlier. Though barely visible in the darkness we arrive in, the gentle lights of Polzeath illuminate black waves crashing on the Cornish coastline, and act as backdrop to the selection of pizzas, pasta and salads we wash down with good beer, and good company.
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