Last year was a great year for Thornbridge as a whole. We got ourselves some more
places to drink in after work Thornbridge pubs. Joining the marvellous Greystones with its superb, intimate gig venue (see listings and buy tickets here), we turned Trippets Wine Bar on Sheffield’s Trippet Lane into Dada Bar, a kind of arty, exhibitiony city centre bar which has a bloody marvellous range of beer and lots of pics of famous Sheffield musicians currently gracing the walls (though none, scandalously, of Sheffield’s greatest, ABC. Sort it out please). The fantastic Coach and Horses in Dronfield became a fully fledged member of the Thornbridge family late last year. Now managed by the lovely Ellie Brightmore, it remains a busy place, especially on matchdays at next door’s Sheffield FC. Former manageress Cat Mueller will be pleased to learn her ridiculously high standards of service and fare she worked hard to achieve still remain. In my opinion, which is of course utterly redundant (other opinions are available) the Hallamshire House up Broomhill is my favourite new Thornbridge pub, mainly because it has a full size snooker table, but also because I really like Tom and Becky who run it. Many a fine evening has been wasted in there so far, and I cannot recommend it highly enough for those who like a ‘proper’ public house!
Last month, in conjunction with our sister company Brewkitchen, we took over the Beauchief Hotel on Abbeydale Road. This Victorian building has a restaurant, bedrooms a fantastic Cellar bar (now open!), beer garden and even a BALLROOM. And Simon bobbed over to see us the other day to tell us that we now have the historic Stag on Psalter Lane.
Both pubs will receive the Thornbridge renovation and refurbishment treatment over the next few months whereupon they will thus be restored to their superb watering hole status once again. As you may have heard, we were successful on Tuesday night at the Publican awards where we won the Best Pub Operating Micro Brewer award, so we must be doing something right. One thing should be apparent though – we aren’t rushing into acquiring pubs for a quick buck. These are long term investments that will serve their communities properly and sell our beer the way we like it – in the best possible nick.
Over the past year, our Brewing Director, Rob Lovatt, and Production Manager, Caolan Vaughan have now implemented all sorts of QA forms and Standard Operating Procedures across all aspects of the brewery. Whilst this is relatively uninteresting (nobody likes filling in paperwork, especially when you’re a bunch of maverick craft brewers like ourselves) this has enabled us to standardise all our practice and have checks in place to ensure we have 100% consistency and work to the highest international principles of brewing practice. Pretty essential stuff when you’re expanding the team and growing as a brewery. Over the past year we’ve had a damn good play, with cask collaborations with Dark Star and Kernel and we also brewed new beers destined for keg such as Tzara (more on this in a later blog I think), Versa, our great Weisse bier and Kill Your Darlings, our Vienna-style lager. A quick look on our website tells me we now brew regularly 9 different cask beers, 8 different keg beers and 9 different bottled beers. No wonder we’ve been busy! Making beers destined for keg and bottle has meant we’ve had to give vessel space over for additional maturation time. ’Why don’t you concentrate on cask beer then?’, I hear you ask. Well, because we like making beer for bottle and keg as well as cask, something our customers also like, and personally I find the Keg V Cask debate as moot as whether a rock band should have a keyboard player.
We are now at full capacity with the fermenting vessel space we have. Of course, if we shortened the maturation times on our beers and cut a few corners, we could squeeze in another few brews a month. This will never happen. Five brand new 120hl fermenting vessels have been ordered and will start arriving soon. This is a major investment and one our great brewhouse and team can now cope with. As well as the boring stuff, Rob and Caolan have spent a lot of time moulding us into a brewing super-team and quite frankly, it’s a pleasure working with the lads at the moment, especially big Matthew, the veteran Thornbridge brewer who remains highly sceptical of all of us, much like the old family cat confronted with a trio of kittens.
So, it was clear we needed to bring some more brewers into the team and we decided to try a few people out as apprentices. After all, the gift of brewing is a precious one that shouldn’t be given to people who don’t really, really want it. First into the role was Matt Cruz, one of our brewery operatives who had shown he was both passionate about great beer and had at least some of the necessary qualities to be a brewer. Therefore we felt it to be only right that we invest some time and resources into his development as a brewer. He is, of course, still learning (as we all are and always will be) but has had plenty of time in the Brewhouse and in the cellar and seems to be enjoying his education!
Next up was Will Inman, a business graduate who had spent a year falling in love with American beer as he worked behind the bar in the Old Toad in NYC. After arriving back in Sheffield determined to make it as a brewer, he pestered us for voluntary work experience and after noting his hard-working character and quiet, sensible demeanour, he has also been given a place on the Thornbridge Brew team. Unfortunately for him, his ability to learn quickly and his diligence has meant he is perfect for being in charge of the bottle filler, so now spends endless days changing label reams and unblocking the capper. We do let him have the occasional day doing other things like brewing, but only when he brings in some of his marvellous homebrew. Recent beers have included a Founders Breakfast Stout clone and a remarkably tasty beer brewed with the yeast grown from a bottle of Delirium Tremens.
Ben Wood, the last fellow to join the brew team, spent a year in Australia after finishing University, working at the William Bull Brewery in Griffith, NSW. Reluctantly, he came home, promptly decided to become a brewer and thus spent a year at the Dent Brewery in Cumbria. After moving to Sheffield he got in touch with us and did a couple of trial days – Ben learnt so quickly that Matthew promptly named him his ’Number 2′ and, as well as learning much of the cellar practice at the Riverside, is now intimately involved with brewing at the Hall (yes, the Hall brewery is back up and running, the barrel ageing store has been reorganised and is filling up with some very interesting beers indeed – more on these in future blogs when I pressurise Ben into writing about them). At the moment Will spends more time over at the Riverside with me but will soon swap roles with Ben – following our line of ‘everyone good at everything’. Either way all three of them are great lads and whilst they’ve all got more to learn (what brewer hasn’t?) we all know we work well together and are now ready to face the challenges an increase in production will bring.
We’re still winning plenty of beer awards for the trophy cabinet too. In October of last year we were particularly pleased to win Beer of the Festival at CAMRA’s Sheffield Beer Festival again, an award close to our hearts seeing as it was our very first, way back in September 2005. And February saw us win two Golds and a Silver at the SIBA National Keg awards, (plus Silver overall) leading us to ponder what would have happened if we could have entered more than 3 beers! As nice as it is to win awards, making the kind of beer we love without compromising and making enough great craft beer for the people who want to drink it is what we actually want to accomplish and what we are now in a position to achieve. So it’s fair to say we’ve been a bit busy and have enough to keep us occupied for a while. Nevertheless, this year you can expect more new beers, more collaborations (both international and domestic), more export, much more barrel ageing projects and maybe even a couple more new pubs…