Celebrating the thirst quenching drink producers across Cornwall, from distilleries and breweries, to vineyards and orchards.
Cornwall is a cup-half-full type of place. We love the idea of inspiring, creative individuals, independently tinkering away across the Duchy, from artists and writers to technology entrepreneurs. To this list we can add drinks producers – alchemists, expertly honing their craft to produce liquid gold. Delve a little deeper, you discover a refreshingly wide range of producers, from one-man-in-a-shed homebrews to internationally acclaimed ciders, and wines with the royal seal of approval. In fact Cornwall has the largest amount of breweries per capita in the country. Or, in other words, you’re never too far from a decent, local brew!
One thread that seems to run throughout is a genuine passion for their craft, coupled with a desire to promote the south west’s phenomenal produce – proof that Cornwall can compete very confidently on the world stage. Another key focus is family, with skills, secret recipes and knowledge passing down from one generation to the next.
Now, all in the name of authenticity – in order to fully translate the sensory experience to the page – it was deemed necessary to carry out some primary research for this article at various breweries, vineyards, distilleries and cider orchards across Cornwall. As usual, we must stress that with so many wonderful producers out there, we couldn’t possibly cover them all… despite our best efforts! So we’ve just given a flavour of the immense offering. We implore you to embark on an adventure of your own.
We’re ever lauding Cornwall’s unique microclimate, but the proof really is in the produce. Our milder climate makes Cornwall one of the best places in the UK for growing grapes. A perfect example of this is POLGOON VINEYARD & ORCHARD set in a beautiful position in a sheltered bowl on the outskirts of Penzance, protected from the prevailing winds (www.polgoon.com). Polgoon is a producer of award-winning artisan wines, ciders and juices, with family at its heart. Indeed take a tour around the vineyard and you’re bound to bump into at least one family member somewhere! Mandy Milano visits the onsite café, The Vine House Kitchen, to meet owner Kim Coulson and her daughter, Emma, for a chat, over an exquisite crab sandwich (served by another daughter Millie).
“We have six children,” explains Kim, “who have all worked there in various jobs over the years. Everyone gets stuck in! We started with just the sticks in the ground, learning along the way and gradually growing the vineyard and business to where it is now, with 13 permanent staff throughout year rising to 19 in summer and picking season. Bob Lindo of Camel Valley was very generous and helpful when we were starting out.”
The family and their team will be picking and making wine over the next few months. Polgoon is just releasing its 2016 Bacchus now, along with its 2014 sparklings. Mandy is keen to discover Kim’s favourite bottle. “The Pinot noir sparkling rosé. Everyone loves a pink sparkly, it’s delicious!” Emma’s favourite wine, meanwhile is the Seyval blanc sparkling white. “Pink is a more traditional style bubbly,” explains Emma, “but the Seyval is unique and more contemporary.”
“It’s dry and delicious!” adds Mandy.
As well as traditional wines, Polgoon produces sparkling elderflower and raspberry wines, ciders, and non-alcoholic juices, presses and fizzy soft drinks.
Another to put on your list is the family-run BOSUE VINEYARD in St Ewe in south Cornwall, near the Lost Gardens of Heligan (www.bosuevineyard.co.uk). Owner Paul Sibley tells us: “We produce an award-winning range of still and sparkling wines, all made with our own grapes. We are tending to focus on the sparkling wines as the Cornish climate seems to impart a special flavour to the grapes which is reflected in the wine. These sparkling white and rosé wines are fantastic for a Cornish wedding, celebration or that special Cornish Christmas.”
Paul’s favourite? “It has to be the white sparkling as I have fond memories of serving this at our daughter’s wedding. She had been closely involved in planting and looking after the vines, as well as picking the grapes and making the wine.”
If venturing to the Isles of Scilly, there’s plenty more to enjoy, including HOLY VALE WINES on St Mary’s (www.holyvalewines.co.uk). Originally wine merchants, stocking wines from across the globe, from 2009 the team managed to acquire (in their own words “beg, steal or borrow”) pockets of land across the island to grow their own grapes and produce their own wine. Its very first vintage for sale is a 2014. Another to note is ST MARTIN’S VINEYARD, lovingly run by Val and Graham Thomas (www.stmartinsvineyard.co.uk). This vineyard began in 1996 with the planting of just 30 vines, growing to over 2000 vines of 11 different varieties, across four acres. Production is at the liberty of the elements, with 2014 being a particularly good year. We recommend a tour on your next visit.
In more recent years, Cornwall’s profile has been rising dramatically as a producer of spirits, with several key players reaching a larger national and international audience.
CURIO SPIRITS COMPANY is one of the main trailblazers in this field (www.curiospiritscompany.co.uk). Based near Mullion on the Lizard, this company uses Cornish spring water, and fragrant botanicals to create thirst-quenching gin, distilled four times, and infused with rock samphire, foraged by hand on the surrounding cliffs.
It also produces two vodkas – one infused with cardamom, the other with Peruvian cocoa nibs – and its very own ‘Cornish Cup’, a blend of Curio gin and botanicals, including tea blends, to create a refreshing drink to go with lemonade or ginger beer.
The bottles themselves are things of real beauty, as warm and welcoming as the contents they hold.
Craft beer has a real depth of flavour that you won’t find in typical, mass-produced beers and lagers. As we discover on a visit to SKINNER’S BREWERY, there’s a lot to brewing beer… a bit of chemistry and art, skilfully blended together (www.skinnerbrewery.com).
Steve Skinner and his family were lured to Cornwall, largely by the surf (son Ben is a pro-surfer and they named their recent pale ale Porthleven after the iconic surf break). A genuine trailblazer, Steve was ahead of the curve, foreseeing the rise of craft beers and, in particular, modern pale and golden ales. 20 years on, business is booming, achieving both national and international acclaim.
Yet it remains a real family business to this day. Daughter Louise is extremely knowledgeable and passionate about the beer, brewing process, and ingredients used – how different variations of hops and grain create unique flavours and intensities. For many a brewery (much like bakers), its yeast is a key part of its identity, integral in maintaining consistency of taste, character and quality.
Like his beers, Steve is larger than life, and his mischievous touch runs through Skinner’s entire ethos. But when it comes to beer, it’s serious business and they are clearly devoted to their craft. The walls, laden with certificates and awards, are testament to this.
They are proud to stick largely to traditional, ages-old methods and equipment, and this heritage makes its way into the beer. As Steve tells me, while the demand is there, he’s keen not to lose what made Skinner’s so special in the first place. “It’s important never to forget where we came from.”
Steve’s favourite tipple? “I’ll always have a soft spot for Cornish Knocker, being our first – at the time a very modern beer. But it has to be Lushingtons. It’s slightly drier, and my palate is moving towards drier and hoppier beers. Hoppy beers are the growing trend.”
Steve praises the talents of the wider Cornish brewing community. “We’re naturally creative down here. There are lots of great brewers in Cornwall.” And Skinner’s Head Brewer, Paola Leather, is proof that beer production needn’t be restricted by out-moded gender stereotypes. Another brewery with a strong female lead is ALES OF SCILLY on St Mary’s, now led by Head Brewer Jen Trevithick
(www.alesofscilly.co.uk). This fine microbrewery has been servicing the West Country with quality craft ales for over 15 years.
(Discover more about Ales of Scilly on page 17.)
If you really like your beer to pack a punch, you have to sample the output of Falmouth’s Verdant Brewing, producer of American-style hazy, hoppy beers with a powerful fruity kick (www.verdantbrewing.co). Making waves across the country, Verdant recently won an international ‘Best New Brewer’ award from the American website RateBeer.com, an incredible feat for this pioneering brewery.
Orchards and cider makers
The West Country has a strong and widely recognised heritage of cider making. But as we discovered from Barrie Gibson at Fowey Valley Cider, ‘Champagne’ style sparkling wine (and cider) actually has its origins in the West Country, in the early 17th century, long before a certain Dom Pérignon came on the scene. Bottled wine, imported from France, would continue fermenting in the bottle back in England, creating a fizz when opened. While this fizz was temperamental, it was discovered (on this side of the channel) that adding a little sugar helped the second fermentation, ensuring a consistent fizz. From 1615, burning coal to produce glass instead of charcoal (when oak was required by James I for building warships), enabled stronger, thicker bottles, less prone to exploding under pressure – tellingly known as the ‘Verre Anglais’. This glass production was patented by Sir Robert Mansell, one-time MP for Lostwithiel. Fowey Valley Cider is famed for its Champagne style sparkling ciders (www.foweyvalleycider.co.uk). As Barrie tells us, the Fowey valley was once laden with orchards and he is proud to continue the tradition of cider making in this beautiful part of the world, gaining acclaim for his deliciously crisp ciders and cider products, including vinegar.
(Discover more about Fowey Valley Cider)
Run by David and Kate Berwick, ST IVES CIDER is a small company that packs a huge flavour (www.stivescider.co.uk). In fact, hot off the press, we’re delighted to learn that St Ives Cider has just won an extremely prestigious international award for its ground-breaking cider at the recent World Cider Awards. Congratulations to David and Kate for this phenomenal achievement – we’ll certainly drink to that!
(Discover more about St Ives Cider)
Situated in the scenic Allen valley, near St Mabyn on the outskirts of Wadebridge, you’ll find HAYWOOD FARM CIDER, the creation of Tom Bray (www.haywoodfarmcider.co.uk). Cider making is truly in Tom’s blood, as is clear from the ancient granite cider press on the grounds.
(Discover more about Haywood Farm Cider.)
Westnorth Manor Farm, on the south coast, is home to CORNISH ORCHARDS, a venture started by Andy Atkinson, keen to restore traditional orchards and create an environment for wildlife to thrive (www.cornishorchards.co.uk). As well as ciders, they produce tasty ginger beer, juices and soft drinks.
We really have only just scratched the surface of the staggeringly vast array of drinks producers here in Cornwall. In shining a spotlight on just a few of them, we hope to inspire you to make a few discoveries of your own – cheers!