St Austell Brewery Tour

St Austell Brewery Tour

Written by Oliver Coningham on 13 July 2017 in Brewery Tour

Estimated reading time: 5 minutes, 12 seconds. Contains 1043 words

Visiting St Austell Brewery was a reminder that the beer we enjoy is often less to do with what ends up in our glass and more to do with how it arrived there. Wine experts will talk of 'terroir', the geographical and climatic conditions that influence the wine's character. Crucially what it misses is something else that has an equally important impact on the finished product: the people.

St Austell Brewery is a place where the arteries of its operation are clearly visible for all to see. From the attentive welcome we received upon arrival from Pippa who enthusiastically showed us around the key areas of the new Visitor Centre, to the chef at the Hick's Bar who quickly and confidently came out and assembled a vegan-friendly lunch from the various items on the menu.

St Austell Brewery Hicks Bar

Vegan food at St Austell Brewery

Not long afterwards, an enormous bowl of warm tortilla chips arrived topped with a fragrant three bean chilli, spicy jalapenos and a side if vibrant pink beetroot hummus. Several difficulties now faced us... Firstly, finding space for all of the delicious food and secondly, deciding upon a beer to have with it. The fridges were full of vegan-friendly bottles, but it was the range of also vegan-friendly keg beers that offered the best selection.

Nestled between Korev, their flavourful and well composed response to bland, mass produced lager and Mena Dhu, a six malt Cornish stout, was a selection of their recent Small Batch Brews; Underdog, an unfiltered Session IPA and Eureka, a single hopped American Pale Ale. Both beers evident of a brewery unafraid of setting aside tradition and expectation and embracing modern tastes and trends.

St Austell Small Batch Brewery

St Austell Small Batch Brewery

Our tour guide for the afternoon was Nick - an ex-policeman, butcher and hunter! It was an unlikely pairing and perhaps the beginnings of a comedy sketch. Nick was a knowledgeable host and as he showed us around his passion for the brewery was palpable. Tales of enjoying glasses of Sayzon in the sunshine at a colleagues wedding to his favourite St Austell beers and the best way to enjoy them. It was comforting to see his enthusiasm for 330ml bottles and cans too. Particularly the latter, noting their ability to neatly fit in the fridge and provide the perfect amount of refreshment, especially when it comes to higher ABV beers.

The brewery tour is now different from that of a few years previous. The new interactive Visitor Centre key to telling the St Austell story... Whether it's Tribute's humble beginnings as Daylight Robbery brewed to commemorate the 1999 eclipse to the new contract with British Airways for the smaller packaged 330ml cans. It is clear this isn't a brewery prepared to stand still.

One of the most enlightening elements of the tour was the cask processing area. It wasn't so much the large, stainless steel pipes that carried the beer from the main brewhouse to be racked into casks that provided most fascination, but - perhaps morbidly - the imposing tanks containing finings. Learning exactly how much of these need to be added to the different size casks and the processing involved of cleaning the returned casks of all the remaining isinglass and coagulated gunk.

St Austell Brewery finings tanks

With the tour drawing to a close the highly anticipated part arrives: the tastings. In the recently constructed Visitor Centre that neatly frames the copper and stainless steel Small Batch Brewery below is a new tasting area. Bottle laden fridges sit behind the modern, yet slightly industrial bar keeping up with the current craft aesthetic. Small chalkboards adorn a row of keg taps, each one detailing the contents within.

St Austell Brewery tasting area

Nick expertly guides us through each of the vegan friendly beers available; there are quite a few to sample. Beginning with incredibly fresh Korev, clean tasting with herbal and grassy notes backed up with subtle malt sweetness. The soon to be renamed Admiral Ale was an interesting departure; malt forward with a flavour akin to sticky date and toffee pudding.

It was the Small Batch Brews that stood out and offered the perfect counterpoint to the more well-known beers of Tribute and Proper Job. Sayzon, a light and spicy Saison brewed with lemongrass, ginger and a touch of cinnamon was equal parts intriguing, refreshing and moreish. The pair of Belgian inspired Trappist beers, Cardinal Syn a Belgian Dubbel and Bad Habit an Abbey Tripel were nothing short of outstanding. Each beer clearly shows its influence and are brewed perfectly to style. Cardinal Syn was rich and warming. Thick and wholesome with flavours of wholemeal bread, brown sugar and dark fruits running through it. Bad Habit was a paradox; strong, weighing in at 8.2%, yet still managing to be light and drinkable. It was a pleasure to enjoy the rest of the bottle as we absorbed the information around us in the visitor centre.

St Austell Brewery Visitor Centre

As we left the brewery clutching a box full of Small Batch Brews and another dominated by Eureka, it was a comment from Pippa and her colleague that really encapsulated the experience. Both of them have worked for the brewery for over 10 years and in that time they had both seen many changes. One of which was the importance of the marketing department which, they joked, had nearly as many employees as the brewery itself!

Where there are people there is also an infinite capacity for change and evolution. St Austell are a brewery that is steeped in heritage and tradition, yet unafraid to push forward and explore new territories. Whether brewing an exceptional lager that is worlds apart from the mass-produced yellow fizz that dominates many pubs and bars to their Small Batch Brewery that's constantly exploring and innovating. With each day that passes, each pint of beer brewed and enjoyed, St Austell are writing their own unique history.

St Austell Brewery Eureka American Pale Ale

Disclaimer: St Austell Brewery paid for our lunch and provided the tour of the brewery for free. I have long been an advocate of the brewery and regularly buy their vegan-friendly bottled beers. Therefore, I do not believe their generosity influenced my opinions of the brewery or their beers.

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