A Cornish brewing facility with a front-facing taproom pours pure and refreshing beers into the glasses of the discerning drinker.
Words by Hannah Tapping
The story begins in 2008 in a converted milking parlour on the edge of Bodmin Moor in north Cornwall. From this wild location, Joe Thomson, the then youngest brewer in the country, began his quest to brew progressive, drinkable beers in partnership with farm owner Stephen Medlicott. At a time when brewing in Cornwall was in its infancy, Joe originally brewed traditional English ales. However, his passion was for a more modern, dry hop style of beer – one that would suit the active and outdoor lifestyle embraced by himself and so many others in Cornwall.
Joe, now co-owner and Head Brewer, created Firebrand Brewing Co in 2013, following a philosophy of using the highest quality ingredients from around the world combined with Cornish spring water and American hops. He became one of the pioneers of brewing craft beer in Cornwall, creating a range of highly drinkable beers that deliver on flavour. Such was the growing success of Firebrand’s beers that the company quickly outgrew its original location and 2021 saw them move to a large industrial unit in Launceston.
With the expansion, new equipment (including a 15-barrel brew kit and ten fermenters) was installed that allowed Joe and his now 14-strong team to increase production and range along with creating a contemporary taproom that overlooks the brewery, designed for socialising with friends. Brewing six to eight core beers along with seasonal specials, Firebrand brews are available in keg, cask and cans giving them the versatility to be enjoyed at home, outdoors or in restaurants and bars across the county. Testament to its quality and taste you’ll find Firebrand served at top Cornish eateries such as Prawn on the Lawn, The Rocket Store and Canteen at the Orchard.
Proud to be Cornish – something which is evident in Firebrand’s logo which features a chough pictured inside the original milking parlour – the team are passionate about every drop of beer that leaves the brewery. Their flagship brew is Patchwork Rocket, which combines Citra, Apollo and Mosaic hops. The result is a palate of melon, peach and pine flavours creating an easy-drinking, hazy pale ale with a tangy bitter finish. Other top-selling Firebrand beers include Thundercloud Hazy Pale, a sweet, juicy and extremely moreish New England IPA full of intense hop flavours; and Helles Beach Cornish Lager, the go-to beer after a surf, paddleboard, or long walk on the beach, with its biscuity and floral flavour and a hint of spice.
Following on from the success of their move in 2021, this year has seen Firebrand take the alcohol-free market by storm. Joe explains that he became interested in developing an alcohol-free beer through a personal desire to live a healthier lifestyle. “I wanted to cut down on alcohol without giving up beer,” he says. “I tried many different styles of alcohol-free beer but found them watery, thin and lacking flavour. They were often full of lactose to add depth too. So, I decided to brew one that provides everything I like, the first really great Cornish alcohol-free craft beer. Shorebreak is low-calorie, full-bodied and loaded with hops to immediately appeal to any craft beer fan.”
Joining the brand’s core range, this non-alcoholic brew is the first of its kind to be produced in Cornwall and is kind to both waist line, at just 26 calories per can, and pocket. It was important to Joe that those who wanted to switch to an alcohol-free beer (Shorebreak comes in at a gentle 0.5%), whether that be a lifestyle choice or as designated driver on a night out, that there should be no compromise on taste. Brewed with Simcoe, Citra and Cascade hops for a welcoming bitterness, this is balanced with mango and lemongrass flavours for a clean and refreshing taste. Joe’s unique recipe and innovative brewing techniques allow him to create a clever balance of flavours without the addition of lactose, meaning Shorebreak is also vegan friendly. “Shorebreak was created for everyone to be able to enjoy beer without always feeling buzzed,” adds Joe.
Shorebreak’s success has been unprecedented, outperforming Patchwork Rocket since its launch in March last year, reflecting an upward trend in those switching to no- or low-alcohol drinks. It now accounts for 21% of Firebrand’s small pack sales (cans) and has been rated by national media as one of the best on the market. For those living out of county, Firebrand brews are available by mailorder, with a subscription club offering core beers with the addition of limited batch brews. While Cornwall has long-since been making a name for itself amongst foodies, its brewers are giving the chefs a run for their money such is the quality of execution and creative vision, with Joe and the Firebrand team leading the charge.