Ben visits Cornish brewers Skinners to discover the work that goes into creating some of his favourites pints…
What: Brewery Tour
Who: Skinners Brewery
When: 21st November
I’ve always wanted to go on a brewery tour, I can’t believe it’s taken me this long to get around to it. With so many aspiring breweries in Cornwall – from the small-batch craft brewers right up to the big boys who have a massive national presence – it’s an important industry and a key piece of the great Cornish food and drink jigsaw. And let’s be honest, a tour is a great excuse to try a few samples…
Skinners is somewhere in the middle between micro and massive, and undoubtedly one of the more established players. It is still family owned (it was started by Steve Skinner about 20 years ago) and each beer is carefully brewed on-site in Truro under the watchful eye of Head Brewer, Paola Leather. The range is quite large these days with seven lines consistently produced, plus seasonal and signature ales.
During the winter two brews take place every day (in summer that rises to three); it’s quite phenomenal how much is produced on the relatively small site. As part of the public tour you get an insight into the whole process from start to finish – it’s a quick and simple method but nonetheless intriguing.
Just like cooking, a good beer starts with good ingredients. Skinners source their barley locally and have it malted in Devon in a traditional malthouse. Once this ‘grist’ has been steeped in hot water to release the flavours, it goes into the beautiful copper still to be boiled for around an hour.
Next, carefully selected whole-flower hops are added to infuse the different ales with various flavours. I stuck my head into loads of bags of hops and identified a whole array of smells, including intense citrus aromas and hints of chocolate.
The ‘wort’ (I love the terminology!) is then cooled and yeast is added. The fermentation takes about seven days as the sugar is converted into alcohol. It is then conditioned in tanks before being racked and either bottled (this takes place at another site just up the road) or put into hand-filled casks.
The brewery team were brilliant at explaining each step of the process, and let us smell, taste and see as much as possible so we got the whole sensory experience. The tour ends with a proper tasting of the various ales, accompanied by a Cornish pasty of course! I was already familiar with most of them (Lushingtons is one of my favourite tipples) but I tried Penny Come Quick for the first time and, as a non-stout drinker, was pleasantly surprised. All of Skinners Ales have great potential for food matching, which is something I would like to experiment more with in the future.
The thing I love about Skinners is, despite being a big company with plenty of strings to their bow, they are always keen to collaborate and mix things up a little. Case in point (shameless plug here) – they created a signature ale for my restaurant at Sennen, because we suggested it on a whim!
Head Launcher is a session beer which takes its name from Sennen Cove’s lifeboat controller, who oversees the launch and recovery of the life-saving vessel which is so important to the local community. The pale ale has a strong malty flavour balanced by floral hops, and a refreshing finish; I’d highly recommend it.
Public tours of the brewery run every week day and last around 1hr 30mins – booking is recommended. Exclusive tours and bespoke packages can also be arranged. Visit www.skinnersbrewery.com for more information.