Living the Cornish dream
A little drop of paradise
Thursday 01 August 2019
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When you’re as well-known as Harbour Brewing, it’s easy for people to bypass exactly why you’re in the business in the first place.
“Life comes first,” says owner Adam Sargent. “But if you have to work, what’s the next best thing after enjoying life? Brewing beer – or maybe making cakes.”
Harbour’s beers are solid, well-made heritage styles tweaked for modern tastes, and Adam’s very proud of that fact. For him, what’s important is knowing that whatever Harbour beer you pick up, whether it’s a pint at the pub or a can at the supermarket, is consistent and fully delicious. Because where’s the fun in cracking open a potential drainpour when you want to be refreshed instead of being challenged?
“We’re not about pushing the scene with hazy juicebombs or anything like that,” he says. “I do love a good, juicy beer but we don’t look into making them. We know that our strengths are heritage beers; beers that are brewed using traditional techniques and recipes, updated with a modern twist. So that’s what we do, and we do them well.”
Harbour Brewing sits happily in beautiful Bodmin, Cornwall, and the wild and rugged landscape all around inspires the brewers as much as the ingredients they use. Being Cornish is a big deal to Harbour, and while many of the folks who work at either of their two breweries are interlopers from other parts of the world, there’s a common appreciation and love for Cornwall and the freedom it offers to those who care to explore it.
“We’re selling that Cornish lifestyle,” explains Adam. “We wake up every day inspired by Cornwall.”
Selling that lifestyle further afield was a brave step to take for Harbour, but it’s seen them right. Now, around 90% of their beer is sold outside of Cornwall, in places like London and Leeds. Places where the thought of surfing Cornish waves or hiking on Bodmin Moor is aspirational rather than a way of life.
“When people drink beer, it should be secondary to their experience,” says Adam. “The beer isn’t driving you – it’s part of the whole. We look at Harbour’s beers as something you crack open to refresh you after getting to the top of a hill, or in your van after a day on the beach. For us, it’s not about heading out to drink beer first and foremost. It’s about enjoying beer as part of the fun.”
Fun is a big word at Harbour. For a while, Adam felt things weren’t fun anymore, so they’ve invested in “the Hinterland”, a research and development brewery, to bring back some of the joy. Their 30bbl main brewery with its own canning line can turn out one can a second if it so wishes, but while there’s a special sort of pride in maintaining and using a state-of-the-art brewkit, it can seem a little hands-off.
“It all went a little serious for a time, but now it’s fun again,” says Adam. “Commercial brewing can be clinical, so our experimental brewery reminds us why we do what we do.”
The Hinterland is an experimental beer-based playground, filled with the sort of nerdy kit you usually only see in your wildest dreams. As well as a mobile coolship – which Adam says can be moved outside to collect microflora from under specific apple trees on their land if they want to – they’ve got four fermenters, two conditioning tanks, and oak open fermenter, foudres and even some amphora.
Amphora – Amphora are clay pots, usually terracotta, that have been used for storing liquids, waxes, oils and powders since Neolithic times. More and more experimental breweries are using them to create wild and naturally-fermented beers, ciders, cider-beers, wines and meads, but they’re totally not commonplace.
Back to the coolship then, a word that definitely has become more commonplace in craft brewing over the past five years or so. Adam says it enables them to make truly unique beers every time, given that different local microflora will be circulating in the air around the wort at different times throughout the year.
“With our main brewery, we know exactly what we want and what we’re going to get. With the experimental brewery, we don’t necessarily know what to expect from the beers we’re brewing. It’s about tasting every day, and waiting until the perfect moment.”
“We use local ingredients too, and for one of our recent experimental beers we took some of Ben Glazer’s sourdough bread from Tombshead Farm – he’s one of the best sourdough bakers in the country – and crumbled it into the mash. What came out of it in the end was delicious.”
They aged some lager with cedar wood lately too.
“What was cool about this project is we put the cedar wood into the beer as it lagered and the result was so subtle but really changed the complexity,” he says. “It was still refreshing, people still recognised it as lager, but it was different.”
The lager brewed at The Harbour Brewing Co. is a matter of pride. Their soft water is perfect for the style, so Helles is used as both a faithful homage to one of the easiest-drinking summit beer styles ever, and a recruitment exercise. Adam explains:
“I like using lager as an introduction for people. It’s easy to forget that lager is the most popular beer style in the UK. People are buying it all the time. So if we can introduce people to better lagers, they’re going to want more from their beer in the future”
“Our Helles is one way we can bring people into our experience of just enjoying good beer. We make some of the best lager in the country and lager is inclusive. Beer gets taken so seriously sometimes. Save that for the beer festivals.”
Speaking of which, they’re hosting something of a knees up at the London Craft Beer Festival. Sticking to Harbour’s fun-based principles, they’re having a 60 minute German Beer Festival in the midst of one of the biggest craft beer festivals in the country.
“We’re selling lager, we’ll have an oompah band, it’ll be a laugh,” says Adam. Best get your lederhosen out of storage.
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