Cornwall was once packed with independent breweries but over the years takeovers, closures and competition from larger commercial breweries saw most of them close. In the last 20 years the tide has turned with smaller independent breweries starting up, winning awards and finding themselves a commercial success. There are now 23 breweries in Cornwall, all with their own unique history and several that offer tours and tastings.
Skinners Brewery, Truro
Following their own personal dream, Steve and Sarah Skinner set up their own local brewery in Cornwall in 1997. Not entirely new to the game (Steve's parents had brewpubs in Jersey) the Skinners began brewing lighter ales using traditional methods and then went cold-calling local freehouses to find a market. Now promoted as the finest, hoppiest beers in Cornwall, the eight ales are named after characters from Cornish folklore with memorable names such as Betty Stogs, Cornish Knocker and Skindog. Forty-five minute tours include generous tastings on tap before being escorted through to see the operations and fermentation room.
St Austell Brewery, St Austell
Founded in 1851 and weathering the ups and downs of countless brewing trends, St Austell Brewery was started by Walter Hicks, a local maltster and wine merchant. It is still a family business owning 150 pubs and supplying a further 600 outlets. The tour is well worth doing in the Victorian brewery where you can follow the whole brewing process. Guides are happy to offer “secret” tips about spring water and fermentation. The accompanying museum is a fascinating insight into how little the brewing process has actually changed. Tours finish in the Hicks Bar, a great place for lunch with the obligatory samples, whether you take the tour or are just passing through St Austell. Bottled beer, wine, spirits and clothing can all be picked up at the Brewery Shop and Warehouse.
Chough Brewery, Helston
Originally the Organic Brewhouse, this brewery was started in 2000 by Andy Haymer whose niche was organic beers. However, difficulties sourcing reliable supplies of affordable organic material forced him to change the name to Chough Brewery in 2009 and use more regular ingredients. The ales have a loyal local following and you can sample Black Rock, Charlie's Pride and Helzephron Gold at many pubs around Helston and the Lizard Peninsular.
Sharp's Brewery, Rock
Another one-man enterprise, Sharp's Brewery was established in 1994 by Bill Sharpe at Pityme (yes, that's a real place name!) near Wadebridge. It now supplies its well known Doom Bar beer, named after the local sandbank, to 1500 outlets all over the country and is the largest brewer of cask beer in the South West. Look out for the three strong bottled brews, two of which are named after a local dog ‐ Chalky's Bark and Chalky's Bite!
Blue Anchor, Helston
Possibly the oldest brewery in the UK, The Blue Anchor is a well-known 15th century pub on Coinagehall Street in Helston. It has been in business for over 600 years with the brewery behind. It started as a monks' resthouse, brewing honey-based mead and is now famous for its Spingo ales, produced to traditional recipes. The historic authenticity continues throughout the old premises which has its own skittle alley and a lovely beer garden.