Covid has a lot to answer for, and a big social casualty in my part of the world was the Celtic Beer Festival, held in the Victorian St Austell Brewery.
This weekend, though, the festival makes a triumphant return, with a few tweaks here and there, but the central essence of a huge beer choice and great live music still in place.
The music offer includes a performance by The Fisherman’s Friends, who have been partners with the brewery for more than a decade. A series of 45-minute sets from a huge variety of acts kicks off at noon.
But let’s face of it, most of us will be there for the beer. As well as the usual selection of beers from other Cornish brewers, for many the highlight is the specials created by the talented brewing teams at both St Austell Brewery and Bath Ales.
Perhaps the biggest difference between this festival and the last is that it is the first without former brewing director Roger Ryman, who died far too early in 2020 at the age of 52. Roger’s successor is Georgina Young, recruited from London’s Fuller’s brewery originally to run Bath Ales, then taking on the St Austell role as well after Roger’s death. She talks me through some of the festival highlights while driving along a well-travelled route between her two brewery bases.
St Austell brewing director Georgina Young in the brewhouse at Bath Ales
“It’s all about resource,” she tells me as we discuss the in-house specials. There are just four fermenters for small-batch brews, so it’s a busy and well organised timetable in the months leading up to the festival. Members of the two breweries’ teams get chances to free their imaginations and develop their own recipes. Not even necessarily brewers, either, with other members of staff also putting forward ideas.
There are beers with familiar descriptors – pale ale, and double and mountain IPAs, for instance. But other brews stray into less familiar territory. Ingredients and adjuncts including mango, rosemary, coriander, and lime feature — even Biscoff biscuits!
But one special stands out. After 24 years there’s a return for Daylight Robbery, the 1999 Eclipse special which went on to be developed in to Tribute and which changed the fortunes of St Austell Brewery in the early part of this century. It was Roger’s first own recipe brew when he arrived at the brewery from Maclay’s Brewery, in Alloa. The 2023 version of Daylight Robbery is described as a clone of the original recipe.
More history in the return of Ellis Original, a beer developed by the Ellis Brewery, in Hayle, long gone, having been bought out by St Austell in 1934. The brewery buildings can still be seen in Hayle, behind St Austell’s Cornish Arms, now a mixture of office space and homes.
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Ans historical interest, too, in Gwanath, described as a “lost ale”. This has been brewed using a heritage wheat varety, Emmer, grown on the estate of the Lost Gardens of Heligan, not far from St Austell Brewery. The brewers explain: “This historic variety was found buried with mummies, found in Egypt along with beer and wine. We decided to create a ‘Sumerian ale’, brewed with Bappir bread made from barley flour and cooked in the Hicks Bar [St Austell taproom] kitchen. This was added to the mash along with Emmer flour, which we created by pulverising the wheat grown in the Heligan estate. We added date syrup to the boil as per transcriptions from Sumeria historical tablets. For a modern twist, we added hops to this beer.”
Elsewhere in the festival, expect beers created by London brewers, with whom Georgina maintains relationships from here Fuller’s days. There are collaborations, too, with the likes of Verdant, DEYA, and Neptune. New this time is a standalone Harbour Brewing Co bar. St Austell took a minority stake in the brewery, based just outside Bodmin, towards the end of last year. Harbour founder Eddie Lofthouse remembers Roger Ryman as a mentor and good friend.
The festival takes place in St Austell Brewery’s cellars on Saturday, 25th November, from 11am until 11pm. All profits from the event and ticket sales will be donated to St Austell Brewery’s Charitable Trust, which supports organisations and good causes in communities across the South West. Festival tickets are £30 on the door, including four half-pint tokens. Find out more here.
“It’s always been a popular event, so we hope people will be as excited as we are that it’s returning this year with over 100 beers from a host of fantastic breweries on offer,” says Georgina. “We can’t wait to welcome everybody back again, to celebrate good beer, good music, and good times together.”