World Beer Cup Awards

I have just returned from the World Beer Cup in Philly with my best haul of awards there to date as a head brewer and I still cannot still quite believe I pulled it off.   We won the Gold with ‘Love among the Ruins’ and Silver for ‘Days of Creation’ in the barrel aged sour beer category.  These are two iterations of the same project; our barrel aged sours.  A friend of mine, Alex Troncoso, founder of the new Lost and Grounded brewery in Bristol, sent me a message after the win: “What an amazing achievement! It is not an easy competition to win a medal, this is simply phenomenal!”

For me, this pretty much sums it up. This is my fifth time judging at the WBC and the overall quality and number of applicants has increased dramatically.  When I first started judging in the first round, it wasn’t unusual to be able to kick out at least a third of the entries because of faults. This year, whilst judging American sours, I remember sitting there being incredibly impressed by the quality of the beers and thinking that we would be very lucky to win anything.

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Rewind back 5 years ago.  Myself and Caolan Vaughan (now head brewer at Stone and Wood in Australia), who was my right hand man at the time, were busy trying to ramp up production and implement stringent QA systems to a good team who were not used to that way of working.  Going into any brewery and increasing production and changing the working culture can be challenging to say the least!  So, in order to relieve the stress and inject even more creativity, we decided, as a pet project, to do some barrel ageing in a small room at Thornbridge Hall.  Caolan wanted to go down the route of big dark beer in wood.  This resulted in the Heather Honey Stout – http://www.ratebeer.com/beer/thornbridge-hall-heather-honey-imperial-stout/186938/ and an Imperial Oatmeal Stout –http://www.ratebeer.com/beer/thornbridge-hall-imperial-oatmeal-stout/198462/.  I fancied trying my hands at American-style sour beers, as I had always loved the Lambic and Oud Bruin styles, but was particularity impressed when I tasted Russian River’s sour beers.  The balance and complexity of these beers was simply sublime.

There are two mantras which I have when it comes to barrel aged beer:

  1. The beer should be better than when it went into the barrel.

With barrel aged beers and in particular attempts at sours, this is obviously not always the case and consumers are expected to pay a high price for the resultant ‘beer’.

  1. We shouldn’t ask our customers to pay for our mistakes.

When I discussed the sour beers with my boss, we agreed that if we weren’t 100% happy about the final beer, we would ditch it, because I didn’t want anything sub-standard going out into trade.  Give me the remit of producing a Wit beer, Weiss beer, Stout, Dunkel, Double IPA etc and I pretty much have it dialed in on the first brew. However, with barrel aged sour beers, I was extremely apprehensive of getting it right and more than aware I might make mess of it.

Over the next five years I produced three batches in all, including the winning beers.  Batch 1, which we brewed and matured at the Hall, was packaged into 500ml bottles and labelled as ‘Sour Brown’.  This beer was really well received and went down brilliantly.  No-one else in the UK had really produced a successful American-style Sour Brown and it was a real leap forward.  But personally, I felt there was scope for improvement, as by the time we had bottled it, I had learnt a huge amount about the process.  Each time I learnt something new and changed something, I wrote it down, whether it be the EBU, the storage temperature, the timing and pitching rates of the bacteria and wild yeasts, how often we topped up the barrels, how much fruit, what type of fruit, how much residual extract to leave, the humidity of the room…the list of details that affect the final product is endless.  Records for making barrel aged beers are so important as you don’t really get to know what the effect was of a subtle change until up to a year later, so we were fastidious about this.

I think what was really key though was the blending.  Prior to packaging, we did numerous blends to get it right. There were some barrels which were really funky and I think on their own, they would have been picked out as having faults and only desirable by the real sour connoisseur.  However, blended back, they really gave the overall beer an edge; they were like the magic dust sprinkled over the blend!  We also blended back some barrels from the second batch which were a bit less sour, which reigned in the final blend and improved drinkability.  It would be wrong to think I achieved this all by reading books and trial and error.   I also had a lot of communication with Vinnie Cilurzo from Russian River, who really helped me out with so many of the questions I had.  I think anyone who has had the pleasure of his company, or even just tasted his sour beer range, can vouch for the fact he is an inspiration.

Back to the World Beer Cup.  After three days of judging, I decided to move on to check out Sierra Nevada’s new brewing facility, which was simply out of this world in every respect.  To get back from Asheville, it was two flights back to NYC and I didn’t really want to travel back for the awards ceremony in Philly. Although I was hopeful we had maybe won an award, I didn’t really hold out too much hope owing to the sheer volume and quality of competition.  I think there were entries from 1907 breweries from 55 countries this year and in the barrel aged sour beer category there were something like 120 entries.  So to actually get the call from my old mate Caolan, while sat in the airport waiting to return to England, that we had won gold and silver in one of the toughest categories, just blew me away!  I did have an inkling it was a good beer and sent a few bottles to friends a month before, who were all pretty damn good brewers, but had heard nothing back, so I was assuming that they were being polite by not saying anything!  I also had a visiting Lambic blender comment when tasting one of the barrels that he thought the beer had gone too acetic.  Although he didn’t brew a Flanders style, it still sowed a seed of doubt in my mind.

It’s pretty common as a craft brewer gets bigger and more successful that a certain crowd can criticise you for being no longer being craft or that your beers weren’t what they were.  So you must forgive me for having a little chuckle to myself, knowing we cleaned up in the probably the hottest beer category for hipsters!   We sold out of the first small bottling run of both beers with most going overseas, but we have bottled more of the same batches now so you can get your hands on it very soon.

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The Beauty of Cask Beer

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When I moved to Thornbridge, I hadn’t really had any real experience of producing cask beer. I came from a brewing background of mainly Germanic styles, which were filtered, carbonated and packaged in keg or bottle format. I naively thought that producing cask beer would be a doddle compared with the challenges of filtration, or the trials and tribulations of running a bottling line day in day out. One has to remember that at Thornbridge, we produce many beers in both casks and bottle format. It quickly became apparent to me that I needed a different approach for producing the same beer in cask and keg. After a few months, I thought it was best to minimise the hard lessons I would learn from experience and I decided to visit masters of the art – John Keeling and Derek Prentice at Fullers.

Without wanting to get too technical in this blog, the main things I found were key to making the best cask beer were:

– There is an optimum amount of yeast required to help the matrix form for beer to drop bright in the cask with the finings and the yeast count need to be as homogenous as possible throughout the beer. The approach to filtered beer is get the yeast count as low as possible prior to hitting the filter, if there is too low a yeast count in the cask it can result in beer which doesn’t drop bright.
– With bottle or keg beer, I always like to have a fair bit of residual gravity which works well with the carbonation. However if you have too much residual extract with cask beer, it can taste ‘fat’ and chewy in the mouth and it loses it drinkability. For example, we brew Jaipur in bottle with 0.5 plato more residual extract than cask. It’s a bit of a pain, adjusting the mash temp for every brew, but definitely worth it.
– The yeast we use for bottled beer is WLP 001 (supposedly the Sierra Nevada strain), which works great and produces a kind of ‘blank slate’ for the hops to shine. However, this yeast doesn’t suit cask beer in my opinion and results in beer with less character.  Investing in a traditional Yorkshire cask strain definitely gives a greater depth of flavour to our cask beers. Again, it’s another inconvenience, managing yet another yeast strain in the brewery, but something that we’re well used to now.
– Another well known cask brewer once told me that 90% of cask producers ferment their beer out completely, as this means it’s much easier for the pub manager to handle in the cellar. However, I feel that fermentable residual extract is absolutely vital to producing the best possible cask beer. You only need to look at the reputation Timothy Taylor’s have for quality and the stories of our lively their casks can be to realise this.

Cask beer, to me, is a quintessentially British phenomenon and something we should be really proud of as a brewing nation. I’m disheartened to read that some of the new ‘craft’ brewers on the block have decided to either drop cask beer from their range, or even decided to not produce it in the first place. Believe me, my life would be a lot easier if we were only producing keg and bottle, but I feel by not producing cask beer it would be disrespectful to our roots and initial success as a brewery. Last Christmas, a friend asked me what beers I had enjoyed over Chirstmas and he was surprised to hear I had spent a good few days enjoying several pints of Timmy Taylor’s Landlord from cask, in the local village pub, next to an open fire. I said to him ‘my friend, this is a good a drinking experience as you will ever get!’. I know, as do all of my brewers, that cask beer when brewed and cellared well, is simply unbeatable and the drinkability is untouchable.

A significant figure in US brewing wrote this to me in a e-mail recently:

‘In the US, the UK isn’t “sexy” right now – it’s not perceived as loud, young, local, new and different enough. No one talks about the GBBF here at all – it’s all about Copenhagen, etc. The best you can do, really, is to be the best version of yourself’.

I know what a difficult market the US is to crack, particularly when you’re up against the literally thousands of different IPAs now produced in the USA. Cask beer seems to attract a premium over there, which is the opposite of here in the UK. Despite this, I can’t remember a single story of anyone really enjoying cask beer in the States. Wouldn’t we better trying export cask to the US? Now getting it over there and tasting fresh is another story….

 

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Brewery News 2016

 

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Given it’s the beginning of the year, I thought it was an opportune moment to let you know what myself and the rest of the brewing team are hoping to achieve in 2016.

Arguably the most significant event of this year will be the installation and commissioning of a brand new KHS Filler. It has been a long process and I have spent many an hour sat round a table persuading my fellow directors that this was the right decision.

The decision making process began early last year. We had numerous options on the table, including a cheaper machine, a less dramatic jump in capacity of the new filler and the most contentious option, which was purchasing a canning line instead.

In terms of the canning option, I have had even good friends in the industry question if this was the right decision to make.

I have written on canning lines previously and I have not changed my view. In fact, listening to this recent podcast with Dan Gordon, a Brewmaster who opened his first brewpub in 1987, and Charlie Bamforth, arguably the most well-known of brewing’s Professors, has only compounded my view:

http://www.thebrewingnetwork.com/the-session-dan-gordon-dr-bamforth/ (from 1 hr 40 onwards):

Here is the transcript of what was said on the subject of canning lines:

Dan Gordon: Oxygen is super critical. We measure oxygen content during bottling and anything over 25ppb we consider unacceptable. What’s interesting is the movement in the craft sector towards cans. Theoretically for quality and environmental stability, in terms of light getting through, oxygen is the worst enemy we have and the best can filler cannot get values that are less than double that of a bottler.

Host: Really?

Dan Gordon: Yeah. You can’t vacuum a can.

Host: Oh, I see.

Dan Gordon: It’s one of those things they call the crafty brewing sector. They’re going for image and not on quality as if it were really driven by quality there wouldn’t be any craft beer in cans.

Charles Bamforth: No-ones saying oxygen can get into a can, the original level is higher but it wont pick up over time

Host: So what surprises me about this is that the big brewers seem to be dedicated to quality, so i’m surprised that cans are their vessel of choice.

Dan Gordon: The sales and marketing department drive the package. Not the brewers. You can buy a very cheap canning line cheaper than a very cheap bottling line.

Host: You know this is different to what all our other guests come in and say?

Dan Gordon: It’s just fact. We’ve analysed lots of beers that come into our place for trouble shooting and the main problem is always oxidation. If you spend 3 million dollars on a canning line then yeah, you’re going to have a pretty damn good product. But it’s not going to be as good as a 3 million dollar bottling line.

Host: You’re saying they can’t get to the 25ppb level in a can?

Dan Gordon: No how, no way.

So while cans are fashionable and are easy to carry around, we have to do what is best for our beer, which is why we have decided to invest in the KHS Filler.

It is the Rolls-Royce of bottling lines; its technology will enable us to achieve extremely low levels of dissolved oxygen in the bottle, it will future proof the growth of the brewery and will prove to be an extremely robust piece of kit with greatly reduced downtime. The bottom line is that we are putting our beer first.

One thing we don’t do here is grow exponentially and then allow the beer quality catch up, so although we plan to install even more fermentation and maturation vessels this year, we will be able to keep up the consistency and quality for which we are known, and our famous maturation times will not be affected.

Recently we have been experimenting with dry-hopping schedules and temperatures and are looking into the use of improved separation techniques to complement the centrifuge. Hopefully this will lead to even tastier, more stable beer than we already have.

Looking ahead to new releases, you may have heard rumours of Project Serpent… a few years ago, we embarked on a large project with Brooklyn brewery with the aim of producing a totally unique and novel beer.

After months of hard work, this beer has finally been packaged and all our hard work has finally come to fruition. Rather than go into all the details on this blog, here is a link to an article written about Serpent: http://www.brewersjournal.info/meet-the-brewers-when-brooklyn-brewery-came-to-thornbridge/

As hard as it is to try not to produce more beers, we invariable end up with more! Although we have brewed lots of German styles already, my brewing team have all caught the bug for these beers and have all made pilgrimages to Bavaria in the last couple of years.

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So in tank at the moment, sleeping the long sleep of the righteous, is our Helles, a style myself and Dominic have been wanting to make for a long time. Despite this being harder to sell than trendy hoppy or sour styles, I love this kind of beer and so we brewed it anyway. And no, we won’t be dry hopping it with Citra!

Speaking of fashionable hops, with the arrival of several tonnes of Mosaic from the US, we will be making a new double IPA, despite already having Halcyon in our stable. Regarding its recipe and production process, I won’t copy any text or graphs out of books to bore you with on this blog, but I am pretty sure the hopheads are going to approve. So basically with the Helles, we’ve brewed a beer for myself and with the Mosaic IIPA, one for the hopheads!

It’s been a while since we made a new strong dark beer, something I feel we’re pretty good at, so we’ve re-brewed the extremely popular Raspberry Imperial Stout and also come up with a new one. Some time ago, Will, one of our brewers here, came to me with a beer he had brewed on the pilot kit; a bourbon oak-aged vanilla stout.

Normally I am not a fan of dark beers, but this was simply delicious, so we decided to make a couple of big batches of it. This will be bottled next week and I’m sure fans of strong dark beers will love it.

Moving back to the brewing team, last year we added two new faces: Chris Lewington from Daleside Brewery and Sam Russell, who joined us from York brewery.

Bearing in mind we’re a much larger operation these days and there is absolutely no room for errors here, as the consequences are far more costly in terms of beer loss and monetary value, the lads have proved themselves already to be brewers of the highest calibre and they have fitted in extremely well into the tight-knit brewing team we have here.

So going forward into what will be an extremely busy year in terms of production, I am confident we will be making the best beer in the country.

Hopefully soon I can grab a spare half hour and write some more about our expanding barrel ageing programme, but for now I’d better get back to work.

 

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Sours and Fashion

If something is fashionable, I usually avoid it like the plague. I have to say I don’t think I would have started rock-climbing or brewing 20 years ago if they were as fashionable as they are today; rock-climbing is now full of metrosexuals and wannabe outdoor types and brewing is full of hipsters who are more concerned about the bushiness of their beards or how complex their tattoo sleeves are, rather than the quality of their raw ingredients or the oxygen pickup in package.

That also goes with beer styles. My heart sinks and my brain starts to wander every time a young, enthusiastic craft brewer at an event starts to tell me about their latest crazy Saison or dry hopped Mosaic IPA. I am generally given carte blanche to brew what I like here at Thornbridge, as we think the best recipe for success is to be brewer-led and set the trends rather than follow them.  This year we brewed a Biere de Garde, a beer I was personally really satisfied with and all the brewers thought was something special. However, the first batch didn’t quite sell as quickly as I anticipated, but I am sure if we had called it a Saison, it would have flow out the door, regardless of quality! I thought this was a real shame and wish people would be a little more open minded.

After IPAs and then the Saisons fad, the next big thing amongst the craft fraternity was Sours. There are a broad range of sour beer styles, ranging from incredibly complex, spontaneously fermented Lambics, through to barrel aged beers where a clean beer is inoculated with Brettanomyces and Lactic bacteria and then matured for a period of 12-18 months. Then, on the final end of the spectrum, short of adding pure lactic acid to a beer, there are kettle sours. Kettle sours seem to the beer hot on the lips of hipsters at the moment.  I have tasted numerous kettle sours here and in the US. With a few notable exceptions, I have to say the UK versions I have tasted are appalling. I would describe them mostly as phenolic, wort-infected messes ranging from little to moderate acidity, sometimes made almost palatable with additions of fruit.

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So, I decided despite sours being all the rage, to give them a bash, as the ones in the US were pretty clean and I thought a well-made ‘simple sour’ could be a good summer drink. On further investigation, it seems the predominate way sours were approached in the UK was to hang a bag of malt in the copper prior to the boil for three days. The flavour defects I was picking up all made sense to me now.  The volume of inoculum produced from simply hanging a bag of malt in the tepid wort would nowhere near be enough to outcompete wort bacteria.

For me, the only way to avoid such off flavours was to propagate a good starter of Lactobacillus brevis to add to the kettle. Seeing as our very good friends from the Wild Beer Co in Somerset seem to specialise in sour beers, we thought it would be a good idea to bring Brett Ellis, their head brewer, up for a couple of days and discuss recipe formulation and process.  With these details decided, the pure culture of Lacto was propagated in good time and added to the base wort.  The next day, I was happy to see the pH of the wort had dropped to 3.6 in less than 14 hours; indeed, if it dropped any further we might have fermentation problems. We then boiled the wort to lock in the sourness and kill off the bacteria and dry hopped in the Hopnik with a moderate amount of Amarillo.  The final beer had a pleasant grapefruit tart character, but was crisp, clean and the dry hopping with Amarillo really complemented the sourness.  Coming from Bakewell, there was only one name we could feasibly call this beer – TART!

I now think we have nailed our process of producing excellent quality kettle sours and as I feel we are pretty much in control of the microbes involved, you can certainly expect different types of sour beers from Thornbridge in the future.  In fact, we made one just yesterday for the US market, this time rather than dry hopping with pellets, we filled the Hopnik with bags and bags of fresh sticky Galaxy hop cones.  This batch is off to America, but we have something very similar on the way for the UK market…

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Hops and Flucloxacillin

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Two weeks ago, my two year old son was prescribed a ten day course of antibiotics. The antibiotic in question was the most utterly disgusting, most bitter medicine I have ever had the misfortune of tasting. In fact it made Jaipur X taste positively sweet! No matter what we did to try and disguise it, we found it impossible to get even half a dose down his neck. He would scream, kick, punch and spit the medicine out as if he was fighting for his life every time we tried to administer a dose. I found it pretty distressing and tried to make my excuses not to be around during medicine time. However, I was shocked to come home 5 days later and see him actually willing to suck the antibiotic neat from the syringe as if it was strawberry milkshake!

This started me thinking about hops; in particular how drinkers get desensitised to the bitterness of hops and the hop-centric craft beer wave the UK and the USA continue to ride. I can remember 12 or so years ago when Alistair Hook came back from the States with an American IPA for me to taste. I have to say I was not that impressed, as the rasping bitterness was just way too bitter and I felt I couldn’t taste anything else for the next hour or so. However, a few days later, I was wanting another taste of the beer, and so started my love of extremely hoppy beers! I’d certainty noticed the more I drank heavily hopped IPAs, the less I noticed the bitterness and even wanted to venture onto double IPAs. I noticed the same when I first tried chilli peppers in my teens: at first I found the heat unbearable, but over time I got used to a little more heat and soon everything I cooked had to have Habaneros in the recipe.

I have since learnt to recalibrate my palate in terms of chilli and hops. Let’s drop the chilli peppers at this point and concentrate on the hops. I think the craft drinker, particularly those relatively new to craft beer, can often be too obsessed with hops and bitterness in general. There are loads of other styles out there where hops take a seat at the back. Take Vienna lager, which is all about the Munich malt, the subtleties of a Helles which has been lagered for 6 weeks, or the unique flavours French yeast strains bring to a Bière de Garde. There are fascinating flavours here that need to be appreciated which are just as worthy of adoration as EBUs. In fact, I feel hops are often used to cover up poor brewing practices up and/or downstream.

A few months ago I sat down to write the recipe for our 10% Jaipur. When you brew a new beer, particularly a big beer with such a high charge of malt, it’s difficult to predict on the nose where the beer will finish up. That’s why with a new beer I often brew it in two batches and blend back. For the first batch I was aiming for 75-80 EBU and actually ended up with 65 EBU! This was despite reducing the predicted hop utilisation significantly to compensate for the increase in gravity. We measure the EBUs of every batch we brew here, but I know loads of breweries who don’t, and if they aren’t I am thinking their beers might not be as bitter as you might expect. In fact I know a few brewers who tell the customers it has a high EBU, but target a lower EBU as it makes for a better more balanced beer.

I suppose what I am getting at is while hops are indeed a magical and compelling aspect of brewing, I do hope that brewers and customers try and look outside hops and bitterness when it comes to deciding on what beer to brew or drink. There are such a plethora of styles to explore in the world of beer that it’s a shame to see people chasing EBUs, when they could be discovering new flavours and facets of beer that don’t have hops at the forefront, but are in balance with the rest of the beer, such as their first bottle of Orval, a Rodenbach Grand Cru or a Maß of perfectly lagered, crisp, bready Schönramer Hell.

So, is it time to recalibrate your palate?

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Looking back at 2014, looking forward to 2015

It doesn’t seem that long ago I was asked to write a quick review of 2013, but it’s that time of year again when I look back on what we’ve been up to and let you know some of what next year has in store.

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Alex, Simon, myself and Jim accepting the BBC’s Food and Farming award for best drinks producer 2014

It’s been another marvellous year to be part of Thornbridge, particularly with plenty more awards coming our way.  It started in February with 4 medals at the Dublin Craft Beer Cup.  April gave us a silver medal for Wild Swan at the World Beer Cup, while our Kölsch won a gold medal at the International Beer Challenge and yet again picked up ‘World’s Best Kölsch’ at the World Beer Awards.  June saw us win the Best Drinks Producer Award 2014 at the BBC Food and Farming Awards, which was a great award to win as it recognised Thornbridge’s ethos as well as the beer.  However, in September, we were particularly pleased to win ‘Beer of the Festival’ at a reinvigorated Sheffield CAMRA Beer Festival.  Some ‘Great Taste’ triple stars for Jaipur and our Weizenbock, Otto, round off what has been another amazing annual haul of awards of which we can all be very proud.

This year has seen an expansion of our barrel ageing projects. Our first batch of Sour Brown was 18 nervous months in the making up at the hall brewery. We were delighted with how it came out, but we only made a small amount and due to interest sold very quickly, so we decided to brew a large batch at the Riverside brewery. There are currently 40 barrels of Sour Brown maturing away with our house blend of lactic/pediococcus and brett culture. We predict it’ll be another six months until we can consider packaging this and then only if we’re happy with the flavour profile. However, having learnt a lot from the first batch and on tasting the second batch, we’re confident this beer will be fantastic and we’re looking forward to sharing it with you all.

Following on from the Sour Brown, we have also embarked on a significant project with our friends at Brooklyn brewery. We’ve very much kept this one under our hat (well not completely: 120 bourbon barrels raises a few questions during brewery tours!) as it’s something of a novel concept which has taken some thought and planning to make work. photo 3 (2)Garrett Oliver, Brooklyn’s Brewmaster and I were put in touch with Tom Oliver at Oliver’s Cider and Perry, who produces some of the most complex and beautiful ciders and perries in the country, relying on natural yeast and bacteria present on the fruit for fermentation. Throughout the last year, Tom has been posting us the lees from his fermentations for us to use…in a beer! I will explain more about this in a separate blog post, but we’re confident ‘Project Serpent’ will be something special.

With so many barrels (over 200 at the last count) requiring warmer than normal maturation temperatures and ever more interesting projects on the horizon, this year coming we will have a barrel room purpose built which will keep our ‘wild’ casks at an optimum temperature all year round and help us towards greater consistency of the process.

One of the great things about Thornbridge is the fact we’re known for being strong advocates of keg beer, but we make proper cask conditioned beer too, and always have done. This year we’ve moved back to a traditional fruity British strain from Yorkshire to really perfect our cask beer range. As a huge fan of cask in general, particularly beers like Harvey’s Best and Timothy Taylor’s Landlord, I feel that the subtleties which contribute to fantastic English cask beer are often overlooked and misunderstood by the new wave of brewers in the UK obsessed only with hops. With our second house strain now happily bedded in to complement our American ale strain, I feel as happy with our cask beers now as much as I do about our bottle and keg range.

Producing so many beers, it’s difficult to think which has been our favourite to make this year.  Indeed, I am often asked by other head brewers how we manage to brew such a diverse range of beers and keep the quality and consistency that we do. I think the answer lies in a very strong QA system and a great, long-standing team of excellent brewers who are genuinely passionate about the beers we brew.  Anyway, I was somewhat hesitant when we began the left field project beers as I was worried they’d be perceived as a novelty. However, with careful planning and plenty of lab trials we managed to produce a cracking range of beers and received tremendous feedback for our efforts. In fact, Charlie Brown, our Peanut Butter Brown Ale was probably our fasted selling beer ever and the 5000 litres we made had left the premises in less than a week!

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Some of our new 100 hl tanks awaiting shipping.

To be fair none of our beers stay in stock very long and despite our best efforts it is a constant frustration to never have enough beer for all our customers. However, we have embarked on a carefully planned expansion with Musk Engineering, a UK-based firm who have recently completed projects for our friends at Hall and Woodhouse Brewery and also Fyne Ales in Scotland. In Early January we will have 6 new 100 hectolitre cylindro-conical vessels arriving, then a month later we will be modifying our automated brewhouse and rewriting the software to enable us to mash in more frequently. This first stage of expansion will allow us to increase production while not compromising on quality in any way. This means more staff and we’ve already employed a new brewer and more brewery operatives to spread the load and I must say they’ve fitted in nicely.

Before I get back to work I’d like to tell you about a few beers we’ll be making next year. We’ll be brewing a Smoked Bock in the Bamberg style using 100% Beechwood smoked malt. We’ll also be bottling our Chocolate Porter, Cocoa Wonderland, a beer we made for Sheffield Beer Festival that won Beer of the Festival and subsequently wowed the crowds everywhere it made an appearance on cask. We have a new sour beer on the way; a blonde ale made with botanicals, around 6.5% abv and aged in Tequila casks. I suppose the last thing I should tell you about is Jaipur ‘X’…2015 marks 10 incredible years of Thornbridge Brewery, and the first thing we will be doing to celebrate is brewing our most famous beer, Jaipur, as a triple IPA to 10% abv. This will be available in the New Year in kegs and bottles and marks the first of some great surprises we have in store to mark our first decade as a brewery.

May I wish you all a magical and peaceful Christmas and all the best for the New Year.

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English Imperial IPA

Just in case we weren’t busy enough with the run-up to the festive season, I was asked to produce a new beer for release in time for Christmas.  My team and I had a discussion and, after a bit of debate, we decided on an English Imperial IPA.  I’ve had the idea to do one for a while, and when Eric and his team from Left Hand Brewing came to visit us earlier this year, he brought a bottle of his 400 Pound Monkey EIPA.  Not only did it taste great, but proved the idea was viable.  Obviously US hops are very much the fashion these days, indeed we acortinire known for using a substantial number ourselves! But I’ve always felt that English hops, when used correctly, can easily give the US hops a run for their money, and an English Imperial IPA felt like enough of a new challenge for us to get right.

The base of the beer was similar to our Halcyon – however, we wanted a bit more maltiness in this beer, so to bring the colour up slightly so we used a touch of British Munich and Crystal in with our house base malt, our Low Colour Maris Otter.  Having such great British malt available to us is a real advantage and is something UK brewers should be extremely proud to work with.

It was important we picked the right British hops for the job with this beer; not only would they have to provide a pleasant and robust bitterness, we also wanted the aroma to really shine through.  I’ve always been very fond of Challenger, and after chatting with our hop merchants, selected Challenger to be the single hop we would use for this beer.  Often single-hop brews can be a bit one dimensional but we felt there were enough other components of the beer, such as the bready maltiness and the yeast flavours, to make this hop’s flavour profile work perfectly on its own.  Essentially we have created the perfect showcase for a Great British hop!  I would describe Challenger’s hop flavour as a having a smooth, floral character but used in the quantities we have in this beer, I get loads of ripe oranges and citrus too, and definitely enough pungency to provide that all-important hop-hit.

We selected our classic English yeast strain to provide its signature fruity complexity, something that a traditional modern IPA American strain simply cannot do. Again, the fashion these days is to use an American strain to allow the hops to shine through, but we wanted the beer to be more interesting than a standard modern IPA, and our English yeast strain allowed exactly that.  However, left to its own devices, it would struggle to attenuate the beer to where we wanted it to finish, leaving us with a touch more sweetness than we would have liked. So we essentially dual-pitched it with an American strain, which is a more aggressive attenuator, to finish the job and leave us with a beer with the desired level of dryness that we wanted.

So, by combining the very best of English ingredients and taking a little inspiration from the Americans, we feel we have created something a little special just in time for everyone to drink it on the bar at Christmas.  Be careful though, as it weighs in at 7.4%…

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