One of the breweries we visited on our South West Tour was the Harbour Brewing Company. Opened earlier this year, we were the first to head down the narrow lanes of Bodmin for a brewery tour – so, an exclusive for Pete Drinks!
The first thing that comes to mind is “why Harbour?”; Bodmin is about as far from the coast as it’s possible get in Cornwall. Eddie Lofthouse explained that the brewery was originally going to be based in Padstow but they ended up on a site inland chosen for the spring water available on it’s doorstep.
For a microbrewery starting out, it’s an impressive sight – a 10BBL setup with a high-end, steam-fired, gleaming stainless steel plant from Hungary. There has clearly been some serious investment put into the brewery, and despite having a lot more space in the brewhouse than many breweries I’ve seen they’re already looking into expanding their buildings to provide some more tank space.
But a brewery shouldn’t be judged on how shiny their kit is; it’s all down to the beer.
Harbour are playing to two very distinct markets – first, they have a small, steady range of traditional British beers (a Light Ale, an Amber, an IPA) which are casked up for the more conservative regional pub trade. This is currently the part of their range that makes it into bottles.
The India Pale Ale (on the left) is quite an English style IPA, despite the US hops used. An impressively silky, pillowy and lingering head, with a grassy sweet nose to it. The mouthfeel is on the creamy side, again the sweetness putting in a strong appearance and an understated bitterness to it. The recipe has changed a little since this batch was bottled; straight from the fermenter the hops are more in your face with a greater floral citrus aroma and a bigger bitterness to more effectively balance out the sweetness.
The Amber Ale (on the right) has a very similar silky head, but the nose is richer with light toffee and some slightly earthy hops. Not as sweet in either aroma or taste as the IPA, this is more of a Best – it’s not going to set the world alight but it’s a well balanced, well made bitter.
Not the most adventurous beers perhaps, but both solid, traditional session beers.
On the other hand, they have their (for want of a better term) ‘craft’ beers – Double IPAs, Oak Aged Porters and the like – which get kegged and sent off to the more adventurous bars.
Harbour intend to start bottling some of these too. This is something to look forward to, as the tastes I had were impressive. In a way it’s a shame that their current bottled offerings only cover their more traditional range, as they aren’t as distinctive as the less mainstream beers.
The Pilsner (which I think is on the left hand side of the picture above) is good; traditional but with a significantly stronger hop character to it than you would usually expect.
The Hefeweiss (second from the left, the one that looks like lemon curd) is nicely fruity with a very generous body; again, a good example of the style but with a bit more weight to it.
The Double IPA (third from the left, if memory serves) is a wonderful big beer – probably the star of the collection. Powerful, with a sackful of raw Nelson Sauvin hops balancing out the strong, rich sweetness.
The Porter (on the right hand side) is nicely balanced – full of big burnt malt flavours, without bringing through any of the bitter notes that can sometimes be present.
These are all very different beers from their mainstream range and are well worth trying if you come across them in your local craft bar – and soon, hopefully, to a bottle shop too.
Our visit to Harbour Brewing was part of a week-long holiday in South West England, courtesy of The Food Travel Company. They are a new company offering specialist trips for food (and drink) lovers, with group departures and customised itineraries available. Our trip included a night near Buckfastliegh, four nights in Cornwall, and another one night stop in Bristol on the way home. I’ll be posting about more beers and breweries from this trip in coming weeks.