Skinner's Brewery in Truro likes to do things its own way. A family run company, its maverick, punk rock approach to making beer has won it legions of die-hard fans in Cornwall and now it seems across Britain and overseas too.
A tour of Skinner's reveals what anyone who has drunk a pint of this stuff knows anyway – it is the combination of quirky and wholesome which makes it so unique.
Let’s start with the beer itself which is made from a blend of barley grown locally on three Cornish farms and hops. There are no additives at all –a barrel of Skinner's beer will go off within 5 days of being opened. Does this mean no hangovers?
The barley is baked until it is bitter and black and then boiled up in a mammoth whisky kettle sourced from Scotland. Much of the brewing process is still done by hand – there’s a guy shovelling the barley waste into the back of a trailer (it will then go off to a local farm for cattle feed).
For a brewery which pumped out 5 million pints last year it feels surprisingly low-key, just, you imagine, how beer was made 100 years ago.
Steve Skinner set up the brewery in 1997 and, from the beginning, they set out to do things differently. Not only would the beer be as pure and clean-tasting as they could get it but there would be a serious element of fun. They employed a local Cornish artist Nick Berringer who came up with the brand’s quirky and now infamous cartoon style. Each beer, they decided, would be named after a character from Cornish folklore.
Skinner's began with Cornish Knocker ( based on the Cornish tin mine fairy) – a fruity, floral number and one of the first so-called golden ales in the UK. Betty Stogg’s – the brewer's best-selling beer - came next and, more than anything else, the wild, red-maned Betty has given Skinner's its strong, inimitable identity. According to folklore Betty Stoggs was an unkempt, ale-loving, domestic slattern and the brewery even has its own real-live version - a punkish pantomime dame, decked out in curls and a vibrant red nylon dress who has to be seen to be believed.
Played by Steve's friend Fred Thomas - Betty Stoggs can be found all over Cornwall raising money for local charity (more than £35,000) and pogoing at punk rock gigs because, of course the brewery are big fans of Cornwall's music scene.
A giving ethos is central to Skinner's. It sponsors many sporting events, supports local charities (in particular the Children's Hospice South West) and flies the Cornish flag high.
And then there's the surf culture which is right at the heart of this brand. Skindog lager is named after the Skinner's 24 year old son Ben, three times European long board surf champion. The whole family (daughters Emma, Louise and Sophie as well as Ben) are surf nuts; now in his fifties Steve still takes to the waters most days.
Above all, then, this is a brewery that seems determined not to take itself too seriously and perhaps this is why it has become so popular, growing from a three-man band to a company which employs more than 30 people and is one of 3 leading brewers in Cornwall.
A tour of the brewery ends at the in-house pub where you can sample as much of this moreish beer as you like for just £7.50 and soak up the Cornishness of it all. For ale-lovers this is an essential stop on the tourist beat, for anyone else you’ll be glad to know you can get your hands on bottled Skinners in most supermarkets.