Q and A, UK Beer and Breweries

Skinner’s Brewery | Q&A

Skinner’s Brewery | Q&A
Originally Posted on Sep 21, 2016

Are you curious to know about the people behind the beers you buy? Or perhaps you want to know what inspires brewers to brew and beer bloggers to blog? Our “Q&A” posts are a light hearted way of getting to know people working in, and connected to, the beer and alcohol industry.
Today’s post features Skinner’s Brewery. Located in Truro, Cornwall they brew award winning ales using whole flower hops and the finest Cornish ingredients.

Who are you/what do you do?   My name is Steve Skinner and I’m the founder of Skinner’s Brewery in Truro, Cornwall.  My official title is Director, but for years I have also been Chief Executive and Head Taster. Tasting our beers and making sure they are in top form has always been my forte – tough job!

When did your love affair with beer begin?   I was born in Jersey, my parents were prominent publicans and hoteliers there and I lived and grew up in pubs.  I moved to London in my late teens/early twenties to further my career in the pub trade, working for Ind Coope (Allied Breweries) first as an office boy and then as a managed house stocktaker, looking after pubs in Soho and the city.
It was then that I first fell in love with the city pubs, their atmosphere and ales and also the Firkin chain of brewpubs, which had an early influence on what I wanted to do in the future. I also loved the early CAMRA beer festivals at Alexandra Palace which were great fun.
I moved back to Jersey in 1979 when my Dad passed away to run the family pub, and then for the next 27 years began a successful career running some of the best and busiest pubs in Jersey, including setting up two brewpubs. During that time I became the founding chairman of the British Institute of Inn-keeping Channel Islands, setting up many licensed trade training programs along the way.
Throughout these years my passion for ale did not subside and I achieved my long time ambition of opening my first brewpub in Jersey, The Star and Tipsy Toad Brewery, in 1992. I had attended my first brewing course where I experienced my first brew at Pitfield Brewery in Shoreditch with Martin Kemp and Rob Jones, who were known then as the Yeastie Boys – Rob went on to create the superb Dark Star brewery in Brighton.
As part of the set up and creation of the Star and Tipsy Toad Brewery, I was very lucky to employ the services of a brewing consultant who not only taught me to brew, but created our early recipes and has been a constant influence on my brewing career ever since, helping me to set up a second Tipsy Toad brewpub in Jersey in 1994 and the setting up of our first Skinner’s Brewery site in Truro in 1997 and the second and present site in 2003 also in Truro. During those days in the early nineties, with Dave’s help, I visited and brewed with other small breweries of the time in the North of England: Malton Brewery, Kelham Island Brewery Sheffield and Hambleton Ales amongst others.

What was the inspiration for starting the brewery?   We sold the Tipsy Toad Brewpubs in 1996 and due to overstretching ourselves financially and some underhand moves from our business partners we walked away from the Jersey business penniless. Fortunately my family and I have always had a great passion for surfing, having competed when I was younger, and so on my fortieth birthday we decided to move to Cornwall with our four children and our cat called Toad, do lots of surfing and look for the best place to start brewing again, setting up our new business again from nothing: Skinner’s Brewery. Truro was always our first choice, it’s such a beautiful city and once we’d found a perfect spot by the river we didn’t look back and Cornwall quickly became our home and somewhere we all fell in love with.

We see that your bottle labelling has been revamped. Can you tell us about the labelling – where does the inspiration come from?   We have always loved Cornish folklore and all our original beers were and still are named after Cornish folklore characters. Betty Stogs is still our best selling beer by far. The last two beers created in our range Lushingtons and Porthleven have been named after surfing spots in Cornwall with spectacular waves, appealing to a young audience – these beers are very pale in colour and by using some spectacular American hops we have created the most refreshing zingy citrusy beers you can imagine. They also both won SIBA awards this year in the Golden Ale category.
With our logo and artwork we were always looking to achieve two things:
1- When our customers see our Skinner’s logo we want them to know and feel that’s the sign of top quality Cornish ale.
2 – When they look at our artwork, they can see a sense of fun, that’s pleasing to the eye, but also has a story behind it. We also want to purvey a sense of humour that also tells you we don’t take ourselves too seriously.
We have always used illustration as part of our style and design and with this in mind we decided to use a different artist for each beer brand. For continuity and provenance Betty Stogs was redesigned by her original artist, the extremely talented Nick Beringer.
The brands now all have their own identity, but you can clearly see they are all part of the Skinner’s family.

Where do you see, or hope to see, the brewery in 5 years time?   We are expanding all the time and constantly re-investing – there are some exciting opportunities in every direction, especially with our bottled and packaged beers. We have just opened a brand new bottling and packaging facility which has allowed us to be total masters of our own destiny and double our production. We are starting to look at export as well, which really does open up so many opportunities.

Looking ahead, what new things can we expect from Skinners over the coming months?   We have our stout Pennycomequick out in October in bottle and then possibly keg. It has had great success in cask, winning lots of competitions and building up a large following. Considering how dark it is, it really does drink so light and the hops we are using gives the stout it’s wonderful subtle fruity flavours. We can’t wait to try it in bottle, which it will be in for the first time this year.  We have plans to create a Saison sometime in the future but this is dependent on our capacity – watch this space!

Are there any other breweries which have influenced you?   Hop Back, Malton Brewery, Harviestoun, Dark Star and Oakham.  I love the beers from these guys and I’ll always go for them if I see them on the bar. I like the balance and hop combinations of their beers, which is something we have always been conscious of ourselves, when creating any of our own beers.

What have you found to be the hardest thing to master when learning to brew?   Consistency is something we strive for with every pint and certainly takes years of practice and dedication.

What do you think makes a great beer?   Balance, exciting your taste buds, condition, consistency and being able to drink more than one pint.

What was your first drink and where were you when you had it?   Bass was my first cask ale that I tasted, as it was the only ale you could get in Jersey when I was growing up. In those days it was all keg beers apart from Bass.  I remember also having sips of my Dad’s Double Diamond when I was little and loving the bitterness that the hops gave you, even then.

What drink can you no longer face having had one too many?   Armagnac – hate the stuff.

Many breweries are experimenting with adding unusual flavours to their beers. Are there any you think work well together and are there any you would like to try?   This isn’t really a new trend- it’s been going on for years.  I think some of the Belgium beers I’ve tasted have amazing complex flavours. I love some of the flavours you can produce from using fruit, heather, honey, wild yeast and other natural ingredients but I don’t like any beers using synthetic flavourings.

What is your favourite style of beer?   I love very pale beers where the hops are the prominent influence on your taste buds and I know this is reflected in some of the beers I have created at Skinner’s.  I also love Saisons and sour beers which also really suit my palate. When I was in Canada, a couple of years ago, I loved some of the small brewery sour beers I tried – amazing ice cold with a good cigar!

What is the silliest thing you’ve done whilst drunk?   In my youth I played Water Polo for Jersey and on one occasion returning on the ferry, victorious from our annual grudge match against Guernsey. We had been celebrating in the bar all the way home and just as the ferry was being docked in the Jersey harbour the whole team decided to jump off the back of the ferry (three stories high), fully clothed and swim to shore making our escape in different directions. The police were called and we were rounded up and arrested in “Great Escape” style, most of us were found in various pubs around the harbour, given away by the puddle of water surrounding us while we stood at the bar.  Luckily we all survived the jump and apart from a serious telling off from the police and making the front page of the local newspaper we were not charged and lived to beat Guernsey another day.

What is the best part of your job?   I still, after 20 years, get a great thrill going into my local pub, the Lewinnick Lodge in Newquay and ordering a pint of Lushingtons or Betty Stogs at the bar and knowing we created that beer. The novelty has never worn off!

You are stuck on a desert island, what three things are you taking with you?  Definitely my wife Lainey, my Skindog surf board and Skinner’s brewing yeast.

Thank you to Steve and Skinner’s Brewery for chatting to us.

You can view and buy beers from Skinner’s Brewery here.