More than perhaps any other county in the UK, Cornwall has a real and distinct sense of identity. If you have ever spent any time in the county, you will know that – whether you are relaxing on a golden beach, exploring one of the seemingly countless pretty harbour towns or villages, or discovering an ancient historical site – the Cornish have a justified pride in the beauty and individuality of their home, and it is an appreciation that is quickly passed on to visitors.
It is not just through its physical features that Cornwall is able to celebrate its unique character, however. Down the years, the Duchy has also been associated with fine food, from cream teas and Cornish Yarg to stargazy pie and, of course, the pasty. Until recent years, though, what the county has done for the world of drinks – both alcoholic and non-alcoholic – has perhaps not been fully appreciated.
However, with an exciting batch of high quality producers and others who actively champion the now emerging sector, the future of the Cornish drinks industry is looking extremely rosy. In this article, we will introduce you to a few of our favourite brands, who represent just a handful of the myriad passionate drinks makers letting the world know all about the amazing skill and wonderful flavours that originate in England’s westernmost corner.
Anna Clark, who blogs about all things Cornish on her The Cornish Life site, told us what she thinks the county’s best beverages are, through the eyes of someone who lives there:
“Cornwall is probably best known for its cider, and there are plenty of locally made brands to choose from here! My personal favourite is probably Rattler (Cornish Cloudy Cyder, made by Healey’s); it’s strong in both flavour and effect, so go easy, but it’s definitely one to try.”
“If sweet ciders aren’t your thing, I’d highly recommend a new local peach beer brand called Jubël! Based here in Cornwall, you can find it in many of our beach bars along the coast, as it’s perfect for an after-surf drink. Alternatively, if you’re looking for a delicious and refreshing garden party drink this summer, you should try a gin & tonic mixed with Tarquin’s Gin; handcrafted & distilled here in Cornwall!”
It most likely will not have escaped your attention that gin is currently enjoying a huge resurgence in popularity, with thousands of pubs, bars and restaurants across the country suddenly creating extensive craft gin menus.
After Anna told us about Tarquin’s Gin, we thought that we had to get in touch with the man himself to see what all the fuss was about! It’s fair to say that we were not disappointed – Southwestern Distillery, which creates both gin and the anise-flavoured spirit pastis – is a true Cornish gem.
Read on to see what the company has to say about their beginnings, and how the growth in popularity they have enjoyed has not changed their wholesome, traditional brewing methods one bit.
“Nestled on a windswept hilltop overlooking the wild north Cornish coastline and the Atlantic Ocean beyond, Southwestern Distillery is a true throwback to the traditional techniques of old-school distilling and craftsmanship.”
“Established in 2012 by Tarquin Leadbetter, back when he was merely 23 years old and completely self-taught, we like to think that this is no ordinary establishment. At the heart of our distillation process are our three 200 litre copper pot stills – “Tamara, Senara and Ferarra.”
“Just as we have always done, we continue to heat these stills using a direct naked flame (our trusty paella burners) and even seal the top of each still with bread dough. This is true old-school, analogue distilling.”
“These antiquated, somewhat maverick techniques are largely unheard of nowadays, but we’ve never been fans of convention.”
“At all stages of the distillation process Tarquin meticulously monitors every variable; tweaking, nosing and tasting as he goes. We genuinely believe in the importance of human touch to maximize quality.”
“The result: multi-award winning spirits (including “World’s Best Gin” at the San Francisco World Spirits Awards 2017 for our Navy Strength Gin, “The SeaDog”) that have been lovingly crafted with the utmost care and constant consideration.”
“Post distillation every single one of our bottles that leaves the distillery has been filled, waxed, stamped and labelled by hand and then personally signed and given batch tasting notes by Tarquin himself.”
“No corners are cut, no machines used, and no quality compromised. When we say: ‘Handcrafted in Cornwall’ – we really do mean it.”
If you think that, while spirits are all well and good, nothing beats reclining with a proper pint of ale, you’re in luck – we also spoke to Skinner’s brewery, whose founder Steve Skinner was happy to tell us about the origins of a small company which has now grown into a multi-award winning Cornish sensation, producing some of the county’s finest beers:
“In 1997 I set out to start up my own community brewery on the banks of the Truro River in Cornwall. I started brewing my first golden ale – Cornish Knocker – using the finest ingredients my local area provided: Cornish grown barley, wheat and crystal clear Cornish water. So many factors affect the final product we make – the ph. of the water; the quality of the materials and the temperature we keep the yeast at, so we ensure that we only have the best ingredients so that we have consistently great-tasting beers.”
“We are really lucky in Cornwall that we have amazing producers all around us, and local ingredients help make our beers so unique. We’ve also got a thriving beer community, with pubs supporting local breweries and a huge number of local beer enthusiasts who help spread the word about our beers far and wide!”
As well as tasting amazing, we can also tell you from personal experience that the artwork and blurb on Skinner’s ales is something to behold. Many of their beers take their names from ancient Cornish myths, legends and places, and each bottle contains a detailed – and often amusing – explanation of what inspired it. In our opinion, using Skinner’s as an educational resource is even more enjoyable than reading a good book!
The last producers we will focus on in detail are the wine, cider and soft drink experts at Polgoon. We were very grateful to John Coulson, the Cornish winemaker who founded this now widely admired vineyard, for telling us the story of how he and his wife’s business grew from humble beginnings and – through several ups and downs – came to be regarded as one of the county’s greatest drinks success stories.
“I set up Polgoon Vineyard and Orchard with my wife Kim in 2006 and for the last 10 years we’ve been dedicated to producing artisan English wines, ciders and juices from our farm in Penzance.”
“We were originally Fish Merchants in Newlyn, but this changed when we bought an overgrown, run-down flower farm and started planting vines…”
“‘Polgoon’, Cornish for ‘Pond on the Downs’, is a word that describes the original setting of the location of the vineyard and orchard that sits on sunny hills, overlooking the sparkling sea of Mounts Bay. This unique position is reflected on our label that depicts an abstract view of the vines and the sea – two things we feel strongly connected to here at Polgoon.”
“We have a wide range of award-winning still and sparkling wines, ciders and juices sold in outlets across Cornwall and the West Country. Our mild Cornish climate and unique Cornish terroir means that the grapes we grow here are the grapes we use in our wines – which means most of our wines are single estate, something that only a few English vineyards can claim.”
“Our wines have always performed well when it comes to awards. We won a trophy for the Best Still Rosé in the UK for our very first Rosé produced in 2006. This came as both a delight and a surprise – it marked the moment we realised that we were really quite good at this!”
“But, every great story has its ups and downs and Polgoon suffered terrible harvests in 2007 and 2008 after enduring dire Cornish weather conditions, leaving almost no wine…”
“Determined not to be beaten, we planted an orchard and perfected a Cornish cider called Aval (Cornish for ‘apple’), a sparkling cider product made using the Methode Traditionelle, the same method used by French winemakers to produce their sparkling wines. We then added a further product to the range, Raspberry Aval, another Gold medal winner that has gone on to become our bestselling sparkling drink.”
“In recent years the weather’s been kinder and we’ve grown stronger and created more great wines. Of note is our Silver Award winning Seyval Blanc Brut Sparkling, a single variety, single estate wine. Made using the Methode Traditionelle, it’s light and pale in colour, with hints of lime and tiny bubbles bursting with greenfruits. It’s a very popular wine that’s perfect when paired with Cornish seafood – especially fresh Newlyn crab, Cornish charcuterie and canapés.”
“Our Pinot Noir Rosé Brut Sparkling 2014, a single variety, single estate wine, is also rather special. A delicate pink colour with a golden hue, it has a nose of zesty citrus and toasted crumb. With its delicate palate, hints of tangerine, honey and spice, it makes a perfect pairing with light and not too spicy dishes – excellent with sushi, salads and oysters.”
“The Bacchus, one of our signature wines, is consistently good and always awarded. The 2015 vintage, another single estate, single variety wine, has an aromatic nose and notes of gooseberry, elderflower, citrus and fresh spring grass. This is a classic, refreshing Bacchus displaying vibrant lemon and lime flavours with hints of grapefruit and passionfruit.”
“We have tours that run from April-October and it’s a great way to experience life on a Cornish vineyard, where we share our knowledge of growing vines and creating fine English (or should it be Cornish?) wines. These tastings give customers ideas about pairing wine and food as well as an appreciation for the character and depth of a wine. We also have a Vine House Kitchen serving fresh, locally sourced food and a Vineyard Shop selling other local produce as well as our own.”
“As Polgoon continues to go from strength to strength and our knowledge and expertise increases year on year, we endeavour to ensure our passion is always reflected in the quality of every product we produce – without exception, whatever the weather…”
Simply Cornish Hampers
If your appetite has now been well and truly whetted but you can’t quite decide which delicious drink to try first, why not try a selection of different beverages, or combine them with some top quality Cornish food? As well as ales, cider, gin, wine and even mead, Simply Cornish Hampers, based in Redruth, also provide a great range of local delicacies like fudge, chocolate, biscuits, scones and – you guessed it – pasties.
We were very grateful to the team, who see and taste so much fine Cornish fare every day, for sharing their thoughts on which local drinks they think are the very best currently available. Read on, and you might see a few names you’ll recognise from earlier on!
“At Simply Cornish Hampers, we are really proud to sell only Cornish produce. Working with Cornish suppliers means we get to know them well and often deal directly with the owner. ”
“Polgoon vineyard is a fantastic example of a family business which is true to its philosophy of putting exceptional standards above all else. Winners of the Cornwall Life Food and Drink Awards in 2015, they produce a delicious variety of Cornish wines and more. They choose to prioritise exceptional standards above all else.”
“Skinner’s are admired for their range of (very) locally produced ales, using only Cornish barley from within 5 miles of the brewery. Much of their range is actually vegan too, which is great! Quirky names complimented by great tastes.”
“We are a big fan of Cornish Cream’s range for their unique qualities – in particular their three liqueurs, which are just irresistible, as well as their Sunset wine, made from the juice of fresh strawberries. It is perfect for a celebration! Cornish Cream is such a friendly company, fully embedded in Cornwall.”
“We admire Cornish Orchards for their authentic, award-winning cyder making. We are also very fond of their non-alcoholic range, particularly the Elderflower Presse and Orange and Lemon Sparkle (which make great mixers too!) These guys produce truly fantastic tasting cyder.”
“Healey’s have to be admired for setting the mark in resurrecting the Cornish cyder industry, and for its innovation over the years in expanding its range to become the largest cyder maker in Cornwall. It’s so much more than just apples and a really great company to work with.”
“Gin continues to grow in popularity, and this includes Cornwall, with many well-known and less well-known brands successfully selling in and out of county. Recently we added Curio Rock Samphire Gin to our range and we won’t ever turn back! Their husband and wife team put the upmost care into each and every bottle. Distilled in small batches, this gin really does capture the wild aromas of the Cornish coast if you like a little fragrance in your gin.”
“I could not discuss drinks in Cornwall without mentioning the Cornish Mead Co, producing a classic range since the ‘60s. This is a really popular product (but don’t drink too much, it is not for the faint-hearted!)”
As you can see, there will be a huge diversity of high quality produce to choose from if you stay at one of our cottages on the Cornish coast this summer, so how could you possibly resist trying some of it? Get your trip to the county arranged soon and look forward to enjoying all that this glorious destination has to offer.