The delicious story of Doom Bar: a Cornish ale’s rise to greatness

The delicious story of Doom Bar: a Cornish ale’s rise to greatness

by Great British Chefs 11 June 2021

Sharp’s Brewery’s flagship ale is one of the most recognisable beers in the UK today. We take a look at the history and incredible growth of the popular ale and find out why it's such a great choice for pairing with food.

Great British Chefs is a team of passionate food lovers dedicated to bringing you the latest food stories, news and reviews.

Great British Chefs is a team of passionate food lovers dedicated to bringing you the latest food stories, news and reviews.

There’s never been a better time for beer drinkers. The number of breweries founded across the UK has exploded in recent years, meaning the choice on offer is bigger than ever. The past decade has seen the biggest growth but the beginnings of this new wave of beers can be traced back to the 1990s, when breweries began shaking off the old stereotypes of cask ale to offer something fresh, new and much more accessible. Doom Bar was the first to shine a new light on cask ale twenty-five years ago – today, it’s recognised as one of Britain’s best.

First conceived in 1996, Sharp’s Brewery’s famous bitter has grown from a local Cornish beer to the number one cask ale in pubs and premium bottled ale in homes across the country. By remaining true to its original roots but unafraid of keeping up with current trends, Doom Bar isn’t just a name you see on a pump clip in your local; it’s a drink perfect for enjoying alongside food, whether that’s sipping in a sunny pub garden or enjoying in your own home. When Bill Sharp first launched Doom Bar from his brewery in Rock, he couldn’t have known just how popular his amber ale was about to become.

Having been open for just two years, the brewers at Sharp’s decided to try blending two of the brewery’s original beers (Sharp’s Own, a traditional malty ale, and Cornish Coaster, a lighter golden ale) to create a beautifully balanced beer. The result? A moreish amber ale with equal amounts of roasted malt and dried fruits on the palate and a distinct spicy aroma. All that was left was to give it a name, and what better way to mark its Cornish provenance than to name it after a notorious local sand bar respected by sailors?

The Doom Bar is situated at the mouth of the River Camel, where it meets the Atlantic Ocean and acts as a natural form of protection to the estuary as it calms the tide. Formed centuries ago by waves depositing sediment, this semi-submerged ridge of sand has caused numerous shipwrecks over the years due to the difficulty in negotiating it by boat. That’s why even today sailors approach the Doom Bar with caution, knowing that overconfidence will lead to them running aground.

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Doom Bar quickly became popular amongst Cornish publicans and it started to appear in pubs outside of the county. An official recipe for the beer quickly followed and, in 2004, Bill sold the brewery to Nick Baker and Joe Keohane who took Doom Bar back to its roots with the words ‘Rock, Cornwall’ clear for all to see on pump clips and Cornish seascapes appearing in advertisements. Over the next ten years Doom Bar only became more popular; the public’s general increased interest in British provenance combined with Doom Bar’s easy-to-enjoy flavour led to it becoming a household name amongst beer drinkers across the country.

By 2013, what started as an experimental blend at a small Cornish brewery had become the UK’s number one cask ale, outselling beers from much larger, more established breweries – all within just seventeen years of being created. While Doom Bar’s cask ale was making its meteoric rise to the top, so too was its bottled beer which, a few years later, also became the UK’s most popular. The Doom Bar range has continued to expand in recent years, making it more accessible than ever. Canned Doom Bar is perfect for convenience, Sharp’s nine-pint mini casks allow Doom Bar drinkers to bring the pub experience home with them, while Doom Bar Zero means that those avoiding alcohol can get in on the action. There’s even a handy fridge pack containing ten cans of Doom Bar, perfect for ad hoc BBQs with friends.

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Dining with beer is something the Sharp’s team are very keen to encourage. 'Beer shouldn’t be an afterthought,' says Ed Hughes, Sharp's own beer sommelier. 'It can be at the heart of any dining experience and an equal food match to wine. We truly believe there is a beer for every palate, every dish and every occasion, whether that’s a fancy dinner party or watching a sports game with friends and with the range of Doom Bar products we have now, from a chilled bottle of Doom Bar Zero to a pint of cask ale in a pub, there really is a Doom Bar for every occasion.'

As well as a range of different ways to enjoy Doom Bar, the beer itself pairs fantastically with a wide range of different foods – something which a number of top chefs, particularly in the brewery’s surrounding area of North Cornwall, have embraced. This led to the release of Sharp’s own cookbook Just Add Beer in 2018, which features recipes from some of the finest Cornish chefs in the business alongside beer pairing notes. It’s not as simple as what food goes with a Doom Bar, it’s about what type of Doom Bar goes with the food; the Scotch egg at Michelin-starred Paul Ainsworth’s pub The Mariner’s, for example, pairs wonderfully with a pint of classic cask Doom Bar, while a bottle of Doom Bar is a perfect match to Guy Owen’s bao bun at the fabulous St Enodoc Hotel in Rock. At the Waterfront in Polzeath, head chef Callum Hirst has a delicious lamb rump chimichurri flatbread with pickled cabbage, which works brilliantly with a chilled bottle of Doom Bar on the sea-view terrace. Wadebridge’s Halfway House Inn has even designed a Sharp’s pairing menu which, of course, begins with sourdough both made from and accompanied by Doom Bar.

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The maltiness and hoppy bitterness of Doom Bar makes it the perfect match for a wide range of dishes, such as the buttermilk chicken served at Paul Ainsworth's pub The Mariner's
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The bao bun at Guy Owen's St Enodoc Hotel in Rock is another dish which complements the flavours of the ale

It’s Doom Bar’s versatility when pairing it with food that makes it stand out. Due to the perfect balance of malty flavours and hop bitterness, it has the ability both to cut through richness and complement sweeter tastes. This means that a pint of Doom Bar is the perfect accompaniment to either a hearty Sunday roast or a salted caramel ice cream as the light fruitiness of the beer and its subtle bitter finish and sweet malty notes complement a multitude of flavours. This means that you can stick with Doom Bar as your drink for an entire meal.

It may have come a long way since Sharp’s first decided to blend two of their beers together in 1996, with new and original ways of drinking and even cooking with Doom Bar still being discovered, but what has remained constant is the taste of this classic amber ale. The carefully balanced maltiness is unmistakable and transporting. Whether you’re having a bottle at home with dinner or a pint in a cosy pub, it’s hard not to let images of Cornwall’s glorious coastline fill your mind when drinking Doom Bar.