Stuart Thomson, Atlantic Brewery
by nadia leigh-hewitson and kim hewitson
In 2005 a man with a braid and an eco-friendly outlook starting selling his own handcrafted beers. This man was Stuart Thomson and the enterprise was Atlantic Brewery. Just more than a decade later and Atlantic Brewery has an orchard, hop field, and full organic certification. Its extensive range of beers and short but special catalogue of ciders are all vegan and un-fined. Stuart Thompson is the very definition of wholesome. He lives, works, and breathes the organic lifestyle.
Atlantic Brewery is Stuart’s home, literally - a beautifully converted 18th century tractor garage in the Cornish countryside. It's here that I met him on a bleak and blustery December morning. I immediately liked him. I don't know whether that’s because of the steaming freshly-ground coffee he made me or that his charming dog came bounding in to greet me.
He gave me the tour. We started with the brewery; clean-chrome against a modest, rustic-looking backdrop. Then up to the vegetable garden, orchard, and hop field – I'm advised to visit again when the hops are in season, apparently it's quite the sight. The irrigation system funnels rainwater to these fields from collection butts. The house is powered in part by its solar panels. While not quite as pretty to look at as hops, this infrastructure is key to the brewery’s eco-ethos.
Atlantic Brewery take this ethos seriously. They do everything to reduce their carbon footprint; growing their own ingredients, composting spent grains and hops, using recycled and sustainable packaging, and encouraging local sales of their produce. They even export some beer to France by sail. Stuart is passionate about the impact of the business. He gets excited explaining his views on agricultural and biotech development in Europe and the impact on ecosystems from industrial barley, wheat, and hop farming. He compared the last century of agricultural development to a failed branch on a Darwinian evolutionary tree, advising it be ‘truncated before it reaches its terminal conclusion’. He suggests that short-sighted and profit-led attitudes have drawn us away from diversity and towards monoculture.
Stuart admitted to me that it was the high price of organic hops that inspired him to start growing his own, “I planted Fuggles and they just grew rampantly”. Alongside his home-grown hops he uses other organic hops from England, America, and Germany, Stuart says “the palate of organic hops is quite limited, which is one of the reasons I started to diversify into botanicals – wanting to make artisan beers with interesting different flavours. It began with talking to local chefs eight years ago and we started putting other flavours into the brews”.
Atlantic have experimented with flavours such as elderflower, blackcurrant, cinnamon, and orange, though Stuart's own steady favourite remains the Blue - a Cornish Porter. Cheeky Vugga is a beer Atlantic make specifically for the Bowgie Inn, Stuart wanted to create something that isn't just a ‘rebranded mass-produced pale ale’. The choice of name was put to the public – no one suggested ‘Beery McBeerface’, sadly – instead they chose a reference to local beauty spot Vugga Cove. Atlantic also make triple packs of botanical and dining brew bottles for Heligan Gardens. These include an elderflower beer, a black bee honey beer (the only non-vegan beer of their range) and an orange beer called Mandarina – all made with produce harvested from the Gardens. To top it off Atlantic Brewery produce a tea beer range inspired by Marble Brewery's Earl Grey IPA.
The brewery have a broad customer base: ‘we like to think we brew something for everyone's tastes’. More traditional beers like the Red and the Blue are favoured by CAMRA members whereas the Lime Chilli Ginger, Elderflower and Earl Grey appeal more to the 'Craft Beer’ crowd. Stuart told me: ‘I enjoy meeting newer beer drinkers - they don't come with any baggage. They have an open palate, and an open mind’.
Find out more about Atlantic Brewery and Distillery on their website
Nadia Leigh-Hewitson, Falmouth, UK. Our illustrious Founder and Editor In Chief.
Kim Hewitson, Cheltenham, UK. One of the main inspirations for Draught Magazine, nice one Kim.
Morgan Webb, Falmouth, UK. Photographer, easily the most stylish member of the team.