Welcome to The Driftwood Spars, a landmark pub and brewery on the rugged north Cornish coast.
At Trevaunance Cove, St Agnes, land and sea meet in dramatic fashion. Mine ruins top the noble, precipitous cliffs, and winter storms regularly send waves crashing up the slipway. In the summer months the cove becomes a busy with beach-goers, queues for the ice cream parlour and après surf sun-downers.
Throughout the year intrepid walkers come to conquer this stretch of coast path, and are surprised and delighted to find they have descended into a nationally renowned enclave of beer appreciation. For Trevaunance is home to The Driftwood Spars and a piece of hallowed ground on the rugged north Cornish coast dedicated to the craft and enjoyment of beer.
A large independent freehouse with 15 bedrooms, the pub has weathered many a storm in its long history. Its name derives from the huge spars which support the roof, which were salvaged from shipwrecks in the 1650s. It had been a tin mining warehouse, a chandlery, a sail loft and a fish cellar at various periods, before being converted to a hotel and bar in the early 1900s. In the year 2000 a brewery was established just across the road, and a symbiotic relationship flourished in the cove.
There can be few pubs with such an enviable set-up. Louise Treseder, Landlady of The Driftwood Spars, can stroll across the road from her beloved pub and check on the latest brews alongside Head Brewer, Mike Mason. Once sure of her order for the week, barrels of freshly brewed, small-batch beer are rolled over to the pub’s cellar ready for racking and serving to appreciative customers in a few days. All the while you can hear the waves and taste the salt on the air; a sense of place, heritage and community seeps into every delicious drop. It all started with a remarkable chap called Pete, but more on that later…
After a torrid 18 months for pubs and breweries, Mike and Louise are thankful to be where they are; bruised and battered but still standing and full of ambition and cautious optimism for the future. Louise would never admit it, but she has been praised far and wide for the way she navigated the pub through the pandemic. “The safety of our staff and the wider community was our first consideration throughout it all,” she explains humbly. “It simply had to be that way. The pub is the heart of the village for our regulars, so if there was a precaution we could take to protect them, we took it.”
For Mike too, giving back to the community who sought out the brewery’s beer during successive lockdowns was essential. He set up an initiative where one day every month he and his colleague Tim help local people with jobs and projects, offering to do food shops for the elderly and vulnerable, give public spaces a bit of love, and running errands for struggling home schooling parents.
“It’s a bit of a cliché, but during tough times you really discover who your friends are,” says Mike. “And luckily for us we’re surrounded by them here in St Agnes. The community came together to support each other and to prop up local businesses, and because of that we survived.”
The strength of feeling towards the brewery and pub became apparent when they set up a crowdfunding campaign to purchase a Pilot Brew Kit – a system which will allow Mike, Louise and Tim to experiment with and release micro-batches of meticulously handmade beers. Within 72 hours the target of £2,800 was exceeded, an investment which Mike says has helped secure the future of the brewery, allowing for greater adaptability and also reducing waste. “We were overwhelmed at the generosity prompted by the campaign,” he enthuses. “I think people can see that we’re genuinely passionate about what we do, and that putting sustainability and community at the heart of business is what’s needed right now.”
Mike has also launched a fundraising initiative in collaboration with Fathoms Free. The brewery is donating a percentage of all profits from its Cove range of beers to the certified charity, which actively cleans the ocean around the Cornish peninsula. Fathoms Free undertake dives from their fast-response specialist vessel to recover ghost fishing gear; abandoned nets, pots, angling equipment and other plastic causes severe damage to the marine environment and the death of countless seabirds, seals, dolphins and other sea life. Each purchase of the eye-catching beers – there are four in the Cove range – will help generate funds to purchase a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) and fund retrieval dives.
Mike explains: “As a keen surfer I am only too aware of the problem of marine litter and wanted to find a way of contributing. The scale of the challenge is scary, but the determination of organisations like Fathoms Free is inspiring.” The rough seas along the rugged north coast often throw up discarded nets and other detritus; Louise is a keen sea swimmer and often collects this ‘ghost gear’ on her daily beach excursions at Trevaunance and is a keen advocate of the fundraising initiative.
Helping to clean up the coastline is an apt partnership for the Cove range, which celebrates St Agnes in all its glory. Stunning coastal scenery, historic locations, local ingredients, folkloric tales and community spirit have been Mike and Louise’s inspiration for the contemporary canned range, which has caught the attention of beer enthusiasts across the UK. Combining local ingredients like seaberries, ‘New World Style’ hops now being grown in England, and the finest British malts, the tight-knit brewery team have created something a little bit different for beer-lovers while celebrating their Cornish roots.
The first beer to be released was Beacon, a light and bright pale ale inspired by hazy summer days on St Agnes Beacon where, from a soft carpet of sea thrift, you can see 30 miles out to sea. This was closely followed by Seaberry, a reinvention of a classic Saison which incorporated sea buckthorn, or seaberry, which grows in abundance on the coast near the brewery. Then came Midnight Skinny Dipper, a smooth, rich milk stout inspired by local myths and legends of late-night shenanigans in the moonlit cove (this is the only non-vegan beer produced by the brewery, the rest are entirely free of animal products). Finally, Stippy Stappy is a hop-forward IPA which is named after the much-loved row of cottages in St Agnes, which once housed the captains of ships berthed down at Trevaunance Cove.
As with all beers from The Driftwood Spars Brewery, those in the Cove range are tested gluten free – something which was made possible thanks to Founding Brewer Pete Martin who sadly passed away last year at the age of just 57. Pete started working alongside Louise in 2007; his independent, pioneering spirit is the cornerstone of the brewery and lives on today. He discovered a way of making all his beers gluten free without stripping out any of their character – in this as in so many other aspects of brewing, he exemplified the care and attention to detail of a master craftsman.
It’s extremely touching to hear Mike and Louise talk about Pete and how they hope to emulate his achievements, securing the future of the brewery he dedicated so much of himself to. At Trevaunance Cove a sense of place, community and heritage meets innovation, experimentation and optimism – and neither winter storms nor Covid will stop them.