My my, hey hey

Here’s a puzzle for you. A nationally renowned brewpub opens a sister pub, supplying the same unique range of distinctive beers as the mothership. One or two of these beers are regular guests at a few pubs in the region, but this is the only other place where you can regularly find the full range. In other words, the number of pubs serving these rare and desirable beers has just increased by 100% – and the new pub is in a tourist town.

Yet, when I was in there the other night, there was nobody there but a handful of locals; apart from me, there were no avid tickers, no curious tourists. What’s more, I don’t expect this situation will change very much. I think they’ll do all right, but they will be catering mainly to the local trade: very few tickers are going to beat a path to their door, and they may struggle to raise much tourist custom.

What is this paradoxical establishment? It’s called Out of the Blue, which I guess marks it out as a bar rather than a pub – at least, all the other pubs in town have names including the words ‘The’ and ‘Inn’. It’s in Porthleven, where we’ve just stayed for a week; Porthleven is in Cornwall, or more specifically on the west coast of the Lizard (the bunion of Cornwall’s foot). To be precise, it’s in the old Porthleven AFC Social Club – if you put ‘Porthleven AFC’ into Google Maps you can see the location & indeed the building (although it’s since been done up). It’s roomy, as befits its former use. The thatched bar is partitioned off from the rest of the room, and most of the other punters had gathered on a little row of seating opposite. I went for the rather cavernous main room – I had a comfortable chair and something to read (and several beers to sample), so I was fine.

But what of the beer? As you may have guessed by now, the pub that the beer comes from is the Blue Anchor in Helston (hence “out of…”); the beer range, apart from a few keg taps for people who insist on that sort of thing, consists of the renowned Spingo ales. There were four on that night: Middle (5%), Special (6.6%), Ben’s Stout (4.8%) and Flora Daze (4%). This was only the second time I’d tasted Middle and Special; the first time was before my hop epiphany, so I was a bit concerned that they might strike me as a bit sweet and under-hopped. I needn’t have worried. What did I write last time?

[Middle is] 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. [Special is] a darker, heavier, stronger (6.6%) version of Middle … a beer to quietly sink into (and come up tasting of honey). Stood comparison with some of the darker abbey beers. … It reminded me a bit of the first time I tasted Marston’s Owd Roger, only better.

I’d endorse all of that, except to dial down some of the ‘sweet’ comments – there’s sweetness in there, but you could say the same of the red and blue Chimay. These are balanced, complex flavours, the Special in particular. Terrific beers.

The other two weren’t in quite as good nick, sad to say. I’m reserving judgment on Ben’s Stout until I get the chance to taste it again; there was a distinct sourness to the initial flavour, which I wasn’t sure was supposed to be there. Interesting and drinkable, but I think it could have been better. If the stout had suffered in that way, Flora Daze hadn’t – it was a bit flabby and lacking in condition, but flavourwise it was excellent. You could call it a lighter, more drinkable version of Middle, but with a herby, aromatic hop character which is all its own. Perhaps nothing startling within the contemporary brewing landscape, but I’d have it again; in fact, I think it joins Middle and Special in the ranks of beers I’d go some distance to drink again.

Not all the way to Porthleven, though. I didn’t know about Out of the Blue when we planned our holiday, but drinking Spingo beer was very much on my itinerary; the Blue Anchor is in Helston, and Helston is two miles from Porthleven. It’s ten minutes on the bus, or (I imagine) a leisurely 45-minute stagger if the last bus has gone: it’s very reachable. And, of course, there’s nothing on the far side of Porthleven but sea. Hence the apparent paradox I started with. As well as increasing pub choice in Porthleven by a third, Out of the Blue effectively doubles the Spingo estate; but anyone in search of Spingo is still going to head for Helston, unless they’re actually starting in Porthleven. As for the tourist trade, all the other pubs in town are big on dining and sea views – two of them overlook the harbour; precious few visitors to Porthleven are going to find their way to a former social club set back from the road out of town.

Verdict: amazing beers, curious pub, bizarre location. (When you think what they could have done with an offshoot in Exeter or even Truro…) I can only think the idea is to have a Porthleven pub for Porthleven people – all those people who don’t much care for views of the harbour, what with seeing it every day anyway, and who go to pubs for beer rather than beer-battered squid. I hope it does well, even if it’s not got much to offer incomers and tickers like what I am.

One final puzzle: if you look at the Street View image of the old Porthleven AFC Social Club, “Jolly’s Beers” are prominently advertised. Jolly’s sponsor the league in which Porthleven AFC play. Googling tells me that they’re a drinks company based in Redruth, but I can’t find any reference to brewing – and in my experience “drinks company” tends to mean distribution, with perhaps a sideline in own-brand soft drinks. So what did you get when you ordered a pint of one of Jolly’s beers? It’s a mystery.

(Bet it wasn’t as good as Spingo, though.)

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7 Comments

  1. Posted 15 August, 2013 at 7:20 am | Permalink | Reply

    Reasonably confident that the reason nobody was there is because they’ve done NOTHING to advertise it, unless you count a sign tied to a tree by the turning. You’d have thought they might have emailed us about it… or are we being big-headed?

  2. Posted 15 August, 2013 at 8:52 am | Permalink | Reply

    They certainly aren’t shouting about it – its online presence basically consists of one reference on the Blue Anchor Golf Club’s site and one from the thatcher who did the bar! But even with a bit of publicity I can’t see people making the trek to Porthleven, or not more than once out of curiosity. If there were a huge gang of you, the size of the place would be handy, but apart from that it’s got nothing going for it that the Blue Anchor doesn’t also have.

  3. Posted 15 August, 2013 at 8:53 am | Permalink | Reply

    Anyway, how did you know about the sign tied to the tree?

  4. Posted 15 August, 2013 at 9:13 am | Permalink | Reply

    Whizzed past on the bus taking some friends on a coast walk the other week. Did wonder if we might bump into you…

    • Posted 15 August, 2013 at 11:05 am | Permalink | Reply

      At least you knew about it first!

      Where do you stand on the stout? I seem to remember you’ve raved about it in the past.

      Alec – Bragget is just weird; you could serve it as cider, or mead for that matter, and it would make as much sense as calling it beer. Very much a local speciality. We should be thankful they haven’t revived white ale (yet?).

      • Posted 15 August, 2013 at 3:51 pm | Permalink

        We generally love it. Really love it. We did have a dodgy pint maybe two months ago, but that was buttery rather than sour, and Middle had the same problem on that visit. It was on form at the Blue Anchor, we thought, the weekend before last, but then a touch of sourness in a stout doesn’t seem out of place to us, as long as it’s cherry rather than vinegar.

  5. Posted 15 August, 2013 at 9:52 am | Permalink | Reply

    We stayed just down the road from Helston a couple of weeks ago and I’d specifically planned our holiday to take in the Blue Anchor in order to sample the Spingo ales. Special was the stand out favourite, very much on a par with Owd Roger and Wobbly Bob, but perhaps not in the league of Old Tom. Middle was also very drinkable but I have to say that I did have a problem with Ben’s Stout and Braggart. I sampled these both on draught and in bottled form. Both exhibited the same “sourness” you noted. In my tasting notes, I used the term “vinegar’ in relation to both these beers; I’m pretty sure it shouldn’t have been there. Pity really, but like yourself I’ll reserve judgment until I can sample them again.
    I tried lots of different beers while we down there. Overall, Cornwall is well served by real ale pubs. One thing I noticed is that the darker ales were very thin on the ground. Sharp’s Doom Bar was about as dark as beers generally went. One of the stand out ales for me was Rebel Brewing Company “Bal Maiden”. Definitely worth a go if you get the opportunity!

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