Award-winning brewer Peter Martin of the Driftwood Spars Brewery, St Agnes, passed away after a brief illness on 10 January writes Steve Willmott. Not only is this a major loss to brewing in Cornwall, but also nationally, as Peter had gained so much recognition for brewing award-winning beers both during his time at the Driftwood Spars and also Bath Tub Brewery where he initially started his commercial brewing career in tiny premises at the rear of the Seven Stars pub in Stithians.
In the spring of 2012 his Driftwood Spars beer, Alfie’s Revenge, was judged to be the Champion Winter Beer of Britain at CAMRA’s Winter Ale Festival in Manchester.
Both before and after winning this top accolade Peter collected gold, silver or bronze awards for many of his other beers at CAMRA festivals in both Cornwall and throughout the country. Additionally Driftwood Spars beers picked up awards from the Society of Independent Brewers (SIBA), particularly at the SIBA South West annual beer festival held each year at Tucker’s Maltings in Newton Abbot. In recognition of his brewing and festival organising skills he was appointed to the national executive of SIBA a few years ago.
Peter Martin moved to Cornwall in 2000, leaving his old career in computers to move into a property on the edge of Four Lanes. There he could concentrate on his skills in wood and stone carving, at which he excelled and received commissions for his work from the Eden Project, National Trust and Cornwall Council. He later learned from a pub landlord in the village that his old friend and ex-Cheltenham neighbour Phil Preen was also living nearby, running the Seven Stars Inn in Stithians. He made contact and subsequently confided in Phil that his dream was to brew a special beer to celebrate his forthcoming 40th birthday, whereupon Phil announced that he was toying with the idea of establishing a microbrewery at the back of the pub – and Pete’s new career in brewing was born.
Phil set him up with a small brewing plant in the shed at the back of the pub, and invited him to be its Head Brewer. As it was only of 50 litres capacity (88 pints), just enough to fill one standard pub cask, they decided to dub it ‘Bathtub Brewery’, and operations started in 2004 (in comparison, St Austell Brewery currently produces 43 million pints a year). Three beers were developed and brewed in rotation for sale through the pub’s single handpump. Pete insisted it wasn’t a microbrewery – “more of a nanobrewery”, he was fond of saying.
No-one was more surprised – or embarrassed – than Pete when at the 2006 CAMRA Kernow beer festival in Falmouth, he walked off with the award of Beer of the Festival for Pete’s Porter, a dark sweetish brew at 5% abv, won in a blind tasting competition in which all of the 150 beers at the festival were sampled by a large team of judges. He also came very close to gaining a second trophy with Stithians Gold in the same competition. In a muttered aside to the then Cornwall branch chairman Rod Davis, Pete confessed in rather colourful language that he was a little worried by his win because it could lead to unmanageable demands for his Porter which he would in no way be able to satisfy!
In 2007 Phil Preen sold the Seven Stars and Bathtub Brewery was no more; Pete returned to his other occupation of stone carving to order. But then he met Louise Treseder at the St Austell Brewery Beer Festival. She had recently taken over the Driftwood Spars in St Agnes and had inherited the brewery there. Pete was a brewer without a brewery, Lou owned a brewery without a brewer, and events took their inevitable course….
Rod Davis of Cornwall CAMRA adds: Living in Stithians, I have many happy memories of Pete in his more relaxed moments. Known as ‘Fluffy’ to his many friends on account of the trademark woolly-tufted fleece which he invariably wore on our days out, he conveyed the impression of a genial polar bear, always ready to have a laugh with his mates. Of all the moments I can recall in his company, one memory I treasure above all the others. A group of around half a dozen of us from the Seven Stars were on the occasional gentlemen’s days out we took to visit other pubs, using only public transport to get around. After a few hours in the Penzance area, we took a no. 2 bus towards Helston to get nearer home. As it happened, it was an open-top bus that day (it was summer). As we were approaching Marazion, Fluffy took it into his head to stand up at the front of the top deck, doing the full Mark Antony to the bemused locals – “Friends, Romans, Countrymen, lend me your ears….. “. Although not so much Sir Laurence Olivier, as Private Pike doing his Hitler impression from the baker’s van. Anyway, the bus immediately screeched to a halt and an angry driver came pounding up the stairs to admonish him and threaten him with ejection from the bus if he didn’t sit down and stay there! We’d all forgotten the driver’s periscope, of course. Much chastened, Fluffy sat down, and once we were on our way again he turned round and simply said to everyone, “I feel like a naughty schoolboy!” Priceless!
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