A while between blogs I know, but has been all go here at Thornbridge! May was a mega-busy month with Stef and I heading to Italy to go finalise the process flow and associated bits and pieces for the new brewery. Everyone at the pub I live above (The Coach and Horses in Dronfield) pulled out the classic “Sure it’s a work trip” lines, but alas, it was. We spent a solid four days in a small boardroom perusing a giant process flow diagram and painstakingly went through each inch of potential pipework and each potential process, whether it be the CIP (Clean In Place) for the Mash Mixer right through to where gas lines would be placed. We then began going through all of the software and automation, which is going to make the brewery state-of-the-art and allow us to produce some fantastic beers. We did get to eat fantastic Italian food, visit a couple of awesome brewpubs (Birrificio Barchessa Di Villa Pola and La Gastaldia) and drink some great Italian craft beers (the future Mecca of craft brewing I reckon) and a few bottles of delicious Prosecco as well!
But back to the brewery… Stef has been doing a massive amount of research over the last 18 months to ensure that we get a brewery that allows us to continue brewing beers like we do now, but also to give us flexibility to branch out into other styles.
I always find it kind of strange that when people here we are upgrading, the first thing they say is that our beer won’t taste the same, or that when such-and-such a brewery upscaled their beer tasted rubbish. The other is usually related to the perception of real ale… will it still be traditional ale, etcetera, etcetera. We’re ridiculously passionate about what we do here. We don’t cut corners and we strive for perfection in every beer that we brew. So, for the record, this stance isn’t going to change. Just because we now have something with a few more buttons, a lot more stainless steel, some programmable logic control and valves that will automatically open instead of us running from one side of the brewery to the other to do it manually, it doesn’t mean our beer will become crap.
In fact, we’re convinced our beer will become even better! By brewing larger batches of 30 barrels/50 hectolitres, this will straight away reduce the potential for batch variation that is inevitable in a smaller plant. You have to remember there are four of us that brew here at Thornbridge and we all have tiny discrepancies in how we do things. These have the potential to change the character of the beer, though the changes are so slight that it is impossible for the consumer to pick these up in a pint at the pub. This is because there are so many other factors involved in the flavour and aroma of the pint when it gets into your glass. How long has the cask been in the cellar. What temperature is the cellar. Has the publican cleaned his lines recently. Is the glass clean. How long has the cask been opened for. Is the publican’s cellar clean. What type of glass are you drinking it out of. Has it been through a sparkler. What have you eaten prior to the pint. Do you drink coffee. Are you a smoker. You get my drift. All of these factors and more have a lot more of an impact on the beer than what occurs in the brewery.
Saying that though, we’re all about continuous improvement and quality control. From receipt of hops and malt, right through to our oxygenation rate and knowing the pitching rate for our yeast within 10 000 cells per mL of wort that’s what we do and the new brewery will enable us to be even more precise.
A key part of the new site will be our laboratory and in particular, sensory evaluation. The plan is to build a tasting room which will allow us to do blind tasting of all our products at various stages of their shelf life. In fact, our newest employee, James Kemp (JK) was chosen because of his experience setting up tastings at Fullers and working in their laboratory. He also won three of the five major awards at the New Zealand Homebrew Championship last year. Again, we’re all about passion and knowledge and hopefully he’ll add a bit of both to the mix! JK is also going to be a regular behind the bar at our pub, The Coach and Horses, in Dronfield, where his education will continue as he pulls some great Thornbridge pints!
We’re yet to decide what type of sensory evaluation we’ll do, but more than likely it will involve tasting fresh cask and bottled beers and then trying them at intervals to assess their shelf life. Another interesting approach is to do accelerated shelf life tests, where the bottled beers are incubated at elevated temperatures for a set amount of time and then tasted for any off characters. This then gives us the chance to verify that the bottled beer we send out will be okay up to its best before date and give us an excuse to taste lots of beer!
I’m currently putting together my first video of the Birth of a Brewery… as amateur as it is… so everyone can see what our new baby looks like. So watch this space… I promise the videos will get better as I get more organised!