Dave Wilmot, Granite Rock Brewery
By Colin Ramsay
Say to someone, “oh, I’m visiting a brewery”, and their eyes will either light up, envisioning a Willy Wonka-style extravaganza of beer, or narrow, imagining the phrase to be a placeholder for something entirely more sordid. However most small breweries have neither ornate iron gates nor too many holes in the wall, they commonly have a modest outward appearance and are almost exclusively found on nondescript industrial estates on the outskirts of towns. But that's okay, the brewing doesn't happen outside. In Penryn, Granite Rock Brewery are making magic and can help you to conjure up some home-brewed potions of your own.
Unlike many of the newest breweries popping up around the country, Granite Rock have a very grounded naming convention for their beers. That's because Penryn isn't just a convenient location to set up a business, it forms the very foundation of the brewery's ethos.
On a January morning I meet brewer Dave Wilmot at their premises on Kernick Road Industrial Estate. He's listening to Philip Glass in celebration of Glass' 80th birthday which I take as an encouraging sign of good taste. Entering through the well-stocked home-brew shop we settle down to sip coffee and chat in amongst the kit and pallets of bottles. Dave's got brewing in his blood; a genetic predisposition to brew. His grandfather taught his father how to brew cider, and while Dave has only been brewing ‘properly’ for a few years himself, he's determined to carry on the tradition.
Dave learnt to brew at Sunderland's Brew Lab and took the plunge with a small second-hand kit. He admits that the early days of full mash brewing were a little hit-and-miss but the business is now growing well with the help of his partner in life and brewing, Frances. They both had day jobs in the NHS working in the cognitive therapy assessment field; Dave retired in 2017 and is now brewing full time.
The brewery's line-up shies away from the industry trend for hoppy and bretty (yeasty) beers. Instead it goes all-in on traditional styles. CAMRA's 'Brew Your Own British Real Ale' was a recipe inspiration. Dave cites Spingo, from The Blue Anchor in Helston, and Young's beers as some of his favourites. The resulting beers celebrate Penryn's heritage.
At this point Dave's two passions, history and home-brewing, will come as no surprise. His favourite of the Granite Rock selection is Glasney College Porter, pairing classic brewing style with a strong historical theme. Glasney College was founded in 1265 and grew to be one of Cornwall's most renowned religious centres. It continued as an important site for clerics until 1548 when it was destroyed in a wave of disbandings brought on by Henry VIII's dissolution of the monasteries. The loss of Glasney College has left a gap in our understanding of the links between Cornish heritage and Celtic culture.
The founder of Glasney College, Bishop Walter Bronescombe, inspires another beer in the range. Bronescombe's Vision is a 5.2% Best Bitter and is named after the ‘visit’ paid to Bronescombe by Sir Thomas Beckett. It was this dream that led him to found the College. At 5.2% it’s strong enough to bring on visions in those who overindulge, yet it manages to retain a delicate flavour profile.
Dave tells me that one of the motivating forces for himself and Granite Rock is to share brewing passion with their customers. The brewery is visible from the home-brew shop we sit in, it’s an incredibly practical shared space. Their ‘day with the brewer’ events show competent home-brewers the challenges of larger-scale brewing and help beginners to understand the process. There's a wide spectrum of experience to draw on, varied discussions, practical demonstrations, and an important sampling of the final product.
Granite Rock’s process of creating a new brew goes like this: Dave thinks up a commercially viable idea, then this is ignored. Instead, exciting ideas are favoured, brews that they would personally enjoy. Their beer-creating process involves a lot of intuition, testing (drinking), and as Dave says, "a very experimental and hands on approach". It's this attitude, and the resulting beer, that earns Granite Rock a fond place in the heart of many a local drinker.
Check out Granite Rock’s Facebook page for events; homebrewers are encouraged to bring their produce to share and discuss - they also offer friendly sessions on wine.
Colin Ramsay, Falmouth, UK. Savvy business man, genius software developer, published writer, and self-proclaimed beer hunk.
Morgan Webb, Falmouth, UK. Photographer, easily the most stylish member of Draught’s team.