Helston is an unassumingly beautiful town, which has been there approximately since the Norman Conquest and seems not to have changed all that much since. It’s mainly known for two things, one of which is the Furry: an annual unofficial holiday, when everyone in the town stops for a day and either dances through the streets or goes to watch the dancers. Nobody really knows how long it’s been going on, but the song Hal-An-Tow (which is associated with a mummers’ play performed on the day) seems to refer to the Spanish Armada; also, the word ‘Furry’ is believed to derive from the Latin feriae, ‘holidays’. Pretty old, then. Nothing pagan about it as far as I can tell (sorry Ed), but it does have that air of strangeness that comes with the thought that people have been doing it for hundreds of years without ever really knowing why.
Anyway, the other thing Helston is famous for is the Blue Anchor: a brewpub dating back to the fifteenth century, at which time their main product was mead rather than beer. Inns used to brew their own beer as a matter of course, but by the middle of the twentieth century brewpubs were few and far between; at one point the Blue Anchor was, apparently, one of only four in the UK. Fortunately they kept the faith and continued to brew beers under the name of Spingo.
The name of Spingo is actually all you see on the four handpumps which confront you as you go into the Blue Anchor; the different beers are listed on a blackboard. I visited the Blue Anchor last month for the second time. The first time I went, I didn’t clock the blackboard and merrily ordered a pint of Spingo; I liked it a lot and subsequently ordered another one. This time round, I resolved to do it properly. Well, slightly more properly – I couldn’t bring myself to actually take notes, but I did work my way through the four pumps. Here’s what I remember.
This is the nearest thing to a Spingo best bitter; it’s what you get if you order a pint of Spingo. Middle, which according to the brewery was “originally brewed to welcome home those men who fought in the First World War”, is 5% a.b.v. It’s a dark bitter with a rich, malty flavour touched with sourness and sweetness. It’s a deep flavour, that seems to develop and unfold as you drink it. It’s got the richness of an old ale without the alcoholic clout; the attack of a Wobbly Bob with the mellowness of a mild. It’s very, very nice.
This, by contrast, is a light, bitter, clean-tasting pale ale, possibly because someone said it couldn’t be done. No sweetness, although there is a fair bit of malt.
A bit of an oddity, I have to say. Essentially it tastes like cider, or possibly mead; it’s pale yellow and heavy in texture, with a distinct apple flavour and a honeyed finish (literally – you’re left with your lips tasting of honey). 6%, but doesn’t drink it.
A darker, heavier, stronger (6.6%) version of Middle, with the honeyed finish of Bragget; a beer to quietly sink into (and come up tasting of honey). Stood comparison with some of the darker abbey beers. You wouldn’t want to order a pint – or rather you would, but you wouldn’t want to have anything else planned for the next hour or two. It reminded me a bit of the first time I tasted Marston’s Owd Roger, only better. Apparently at Christmas and Easter they brew a special Special at 7.6%; that really would be a beer to spend the afternoon with.
Nice pub – they’ve stopped serving food since we were last there, but the barman suggested we get pasties and take them through to the back; he even pointed out a good pastie shop. Nice pub, lovely beer. Albeit possibly not for hop-heads. Ed:
The beers were nothing special, all being a bit sweet and under-hopped for my taste.
Ah well, more for me.