Mike Mason, head brewer at Driftwood Spars

Head brewer Driftwood Spars Mike Mason

We cracked open a cold one with Mike Mason, head brewer at Driftwood Spars in St Agnes, to discover what it takes to create a new craft beer range

Tell us about your brewing background?

About eight years ago my girlfriend bought me a home brewing kit and I quickly got the bug. It soon escalated to brewing in my shed where I realised that I was enjoying it much more than my career at the time.

I started to volunteer at breweries around the Midlands [where Mike was based] while also studying for my brewing qualifications. My first brewer job was at micro-brewery Brewhouse & Kitchen in Lichfield, Staffordshire, where I scooped two SIBA brewing awards.

My long-term plan was always to relocate to the South West (I spent a lot of my spare time surfing in Cornwall), so when my partner got a job with Sharp’s Brewery in Rock I started looking for my own opportunity in Cornwall.

I’ll always be a home brewer at heart so knew I couldn’t work for one of the larger breweries. I need to have complete control of the process and that’s what’s great about Driftwood Spars: I do everything from ordering the raw ingredients to serving the beer in the bar.

At the end of 2019, I started chatting to Pete Martin [former head brewer at Driftwood] about joining the team and delivering a new range of craft beer. Pete was a brilliant traditional brewer and had a great grasp of what he wanted the project to be but needed input from someone who was more in tune with the craft beer market. Sadly Pete passed away in January before we started working on the project together.

What inspired The Cove, the new range of craft beers?

As The Cove was originally Pete’s concept, I’ve kept his original ideas and blended them with my own. I wanted to create a range that appealed to a broader audience than our classic beers and ales, and I loved the idea of taking inspiration from our surrounding environment and including locally sourced ingredients.  

You’ve said that the new beers ‘satisfy the modern palate’, what do you think that is?

Ales have gone through a bit of a renaissance: they reigned supreme in the early 20th century, before highly carbonated lager took centre stage with its relatively low bitterness and muted malt flavours.

That was the case up until the early 2000s but now we’ve landed somewhere between the two. More people are discovering new world hops, citrus flavours, wild fermented beers and milk stouts. Beer drinkers are more aware of the huge range of tasting notes available and feel more empowered to demand what they want. I don’t believe that’s just in the beer industry either, in terms of sustainability and environmental action, a lot of people have forced larger companies to take action due to consumer demand.

What ingredients and flavours have you been experimenting with to create the range?

Pete was really interested in experimental hops and exploring their flavour potential, so we’ve always had a good relationship with UK hop growers at Driftwood Spars.

For the flagship new beer Beacon Pale Ale, we were able to get our hands on some innovative UK-based hops. You don’t expect citrus flavours from UK hops but we used two varieties (Jester and Harlequin) which worked brilliantly.

The Seaberry Cornish Saison was inspired by its main ingredient, sea buckthorn [also known as seaberry], which isn’t native to the UK but does grow in abundance on the Cornish coast. We worked with a local producer who had been to Nepal and found the locals were using seaberry to make a hop drink because of its health properties – it’s got seven times more vitamin C than oranges. With the Midnight Skinny Dipper Milk Stout, we’ve been playing around with gorse foraged from Cornish cliffs. To say it grows in abundance in Cornwall is an understatement – it’s all over the cliffs and when in bloom you get a delicious coconut vanilla flavour.

Which foods pair well with the new beers?

The Beacon Pale Ale is clean and fresh, pairing well with fish and chips. It strips any oiliness from your mouth and refreshes your palate ready for the next bite.

The Seaberry Cornish Saison has a dry finish and some spicy notes because of the Belgian yeast, so would complement a curry.

The Midnight Skinny Dipper Stout is a smooth and sweet beer with chocolate and biscuit notes, therefore I’d recommend pairing it with an indulgent chocolate dessert.

Which is your favourite sip from the new range and why?

A tough choice but I’d probably go for the Seaberry. At the beginning I would have said the Skinny Dipper Stout as I love the deep creamy mouthfeel but the Seaberry Saison has come out nicely.

Find out more about Driftwood Spars’ new range The Cove here.

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