Firebrand Bar & Restaurant opened its doors in November 2014 as the newest manifestation of serial-entrepreneur Joe Thomson‘s insatiable appetite for Cornish food and drink.
The restaurant’s story began six years ago when Joe, then just 22, returned home to Cornwall after managing a hotel on Shetland. He’d worked in Austria and Malta and decided he wanted to go back to university and get the kind of steady, well paid job most of our grandparents plan for us.
Anyone who knows Joe would laugh at the thought of him sat in an office all day. The slightly-less-conventional commercial diving topped his list of career choices as Joe had got into sustainable cod farming while living on the island. (Though the company went bust, so it turned out not to be quite so sustainable after all.)
Joe got a place on the Marine Aquaculture course at Plymouth University, with the three years split between the city and Newquay. Luckily for beer drinkers everywhere, he ended up in Launceston as the town was the only place where a landlord would rent him a home with a dog and without a viewing. Sustainable cod farming’s loss is undoubtedly brewing’s gain.
Fate continued to smile on the Cornish real ale and craft beer industry when Joe was offered a job as a barman at the excellent Rising Sun in Altarnun on Bodmin Moor. Just ten minutes after accepting the position he got a call asking him to go for an interview at a pub with Special Brew on tap, where it’s unlikely his favourite topic of conversation evangelising that someone should start a local brewery would have got quite the same reception. Farmer and regular Rising Sun customer Stephen Medlicott listened and set Joe a challenge. If he could come up with a proper business plan then Stephen was willing to convert an old milking parlour and back Joe’s venture. The pair got the equipment installed and the brand new Penpont Brewery brewed its first batches of St Nonna’s and Roughtor in late 2008. It got a good reception locally, so Penpont added Cornish Arvor but wild yeast ruined the beer. Frustrated, they started again from scratch but the hard work paid off and they have since enjoyed steady growth and won multiple awards.
The lack of experience continued to be problematic when the seven-month-old brewery debuted at the Royal Cornwall Show – a large and prestigious agricultural show. Arriving at 10am on the opening morning, they were forced to lug the beer a mile across fields as access for vehicles was now shut off. But it’s this inexperience which lets Joe succeed when others claim something can’t be done. There’s a lot to be said for not thinking things through and focusing your energy on just doing them. It’s proved a winning philosophy, and not just with the brewery. The Beer Cellar chain which has shops in Launceston, Truro and Exeter is also continuing to grow and introduce more and more drinkers to craft beer and real ale.
At the beginning of 2014 Joe founded Firebrand Brewing Co so he could concentrate on the modern American IPAs he found himself drinking at home. Initially selling the new beer – Creation – under the Penpont banner, it received a negative reception in Cornwall where the brewery’s real ale customers thought it was too hoppy. Upcountry, however, the reaction was fantastic and the beer secured two SIBA awards. Realising that the new style of beer required a new style of branding, Firebrand was born. Joe and Chris Hassall, his Beer Cellar business partner, produce bold flavoured beers using plenty of US hops, and experiment with unusual ingredients and barrel ageing to create an ever-changing range – many of which you’ll see on tap in the restaurant.
Meanwhile, Exeter’s Beer Cellar was doing a roaring trade in American food with an outsourced kitchen. Joe loves American BBQ and its big, bold flavours with large chunks of meat smoked low ‘n’ slow. (Who doesn’t?) The lure of opening a craft beer bar and restaurant in Launceston got stronger and he began searching for premises where he and his brother Eddie – conveniently a professional chef who trained under Rick Stein – could indulge their love for fine American soul food. The Cuckoo’s Nest on Southgate Street came up for lease and all the pieces fell into place. We hope you’re enjoying the result.