cheers with beers

The Rise of the Cornish Microbrewery

In the early 1990’s there was very little choice in terms of locally brewed Real Ale or Cask Drawn Beer on offer in Cornwall. The market was dominated by nationally brewed brands sold through franchised retail pub chains and by the long established local brewer – St Austell Brewery, through their own independently owned pub estate.

Gradually that situation evolved as opportunities in the free trade, and in some pubco’s for guest ales became available. Entrepreneurial Brewers started to emerge… Bill Sharp founded the self named Sharp’s Brewery, and through a combination of high quality product, close personal contact with an ever increasing customer base, fast efficient service and (for the time) quite aggressive marketing, brought products to market that were instantly preferred by the buying public over the established National Brands. Doom Bar Bitter being the best known of these.

Sharps Doom Bar Amber Ale

A couple of years later, the city of Truro saw the birth of it’s own new Brewery. Steve Skinner, who had ‘cut his teeth’ as a brewer in the channel island of Jersey, with the Tipsy Toad brewery, established Skinners Brewery on the Newham Estate in the city. Recognising the strong partisan and patriotic nature of the Cornish people he set about producing a beer portfolio that would appeal to the local populus. Beers such as Cornish Knocker and Betty Stogs Bitter appeared, with a specific ‘Cornishness’ attached to their branding. These beers were also significantly different enough in terms of flavour to those being offered by Sharp’s that allowed both breweries to flourish alongside each other as they both set about gaining their own local customer base.

Skinners Brewery Favourites

St Austell Brewery, whilst already well established in their own pub estate, recognised the need to compete in the free trade. ‘Tribute,’ a brand that had morphed from their specially brewed eclipse beer ‘Daylight Robbery’ appeared. This beer, alongside Sharp’s Doom Bar and Skinner’s Betty Stogs rose to great local popularity and together this trio of brands set about dominating the local cask market for the next decade and more. 

A Quiet Revolution…

Whilst Cornwall was witnessing the rise of these three very dominant brands and, in turn, the rapid growth of these brewers volumes. A quiet revolution was also happening in the Micro brewery sector, as this space was being vacated by the local ‘big three’, smaller brewing operations – one man, small batch, brewhouses came into being. Lizard Ales, Ales Of Scilly, Tintagel Brewery, Castle Brewery, St Ives Brewery, Keltek Brewery, The Organic Brewhouse (later to become Cornish Chough), Harbour Brewing Co, Penpont Brewery (later to become Firebrand) to name just a few.

Cask beer in general was enjoying a renaissance, aided and encouraged by organisations like The Campaign for Real Ale (Camra), the popularity of this style of beer was rocketing, but that, in itself, was an issue for these small operations. Whilst the growth and proliferation of this beer style was fuelling sales, the actual ability of these small brewers to find a space in the market to sell their product was decreasing. 

Changing Times

The ‘Beer Orders’ – a statutory instrument introduced by the government to allow access to ‘tied’ pub estates owned by the big national breweries through the use of ‘guest ale’ slots in these previously impenetrable outlets did allow for some additional sales. However pubs were, and still are, closing with alarmingly regularlarity. Since 2000 the U.K. has lost more than 25% of it’s public houses – due in most part to the prevalent economic conditions, the changing of people’s recreational habits and, more latterly, the Covid epidemic and subsequent near 14 month complete shutdown of Public houses during the Government enforced lock downs.

So, what does a burgeoning draught beer market do in the face of rapidly declining dispense locations? Answer; They package – bottle, can, bag-in-box, mini keg – any other method than the traditional… How do they reach their target audience? Answer; They sell to shops, non traditional outlets, wholesalers, on-line retailers (like ourselves), or direct from their own websites.

This more direct method of sales has allowed this growth to happen rapidly, probably only now reaching saturation point. The churn of Micro breweries has increased. Closures are on the increase, but there is usually someone quickly ready to fill the gap that has been left.This increased competition inevitably leads to greater quality and efficiency, as brewers fight to maintain their customer base.

The Cornish Beer Scene

Visitors to our county are absolutely spoiled for choice, a stroll through our bottle store in our create your own section will show this through the myriad of beers available. A long association with the brewing industry led me to an opportunity that I couldn’t let pass by. In my capacity as Trade Quality Manager at one of the main local brewers I was asked, many years ago now, to arrange a beer festival in the domed stage area at the Eden Project. The brief was simple, buy the beer, set it up, keep it Cornish…  So, after a good deal of planning, a lot of phone calls, much stock collection we managed to achieve this, and in fact we did for the following three years.

This experience planted a seed in my mind.. I asked myself, can I make a business of this? Can I do this in bottle, or can, on-line, using only Cornish brands? I discussed it with my wife, we hatched a plan, we spent a lot of money and ‘Hey Presto’ twelve years and four websites later here we are with the shiny new ‘Cornish Drinks Company.’

We were and still very much are, incredibly passionate about offering quality local Cornish products to customers anywhere in the U.K. It doesn’t matter if you live hundreds of miles from us. We visit these brewers, we know them, we know what great product they and subsequently we, offer. We hope our customers find this site enjoyable to peruse and easy to use. We know that the products offered within are second to none. We are so proud to be able to offer beers from the most South Westerly Brewery in the U.K. (Ales Of Scilly) One of the oldest Brewpubs in Britain (The Blue Anchor, Helston) and the most Southerly Brewery on the mainland (Lizard Ales).

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