Let’s brew a Lager

It’s been a long time coming and always been something that I hoped we’d be able to do one day at Thornbridge. We’ve got the technology, so it’s time we brewed a lager!

I know that straight away some people will read this, purse their lips, make their eyes go all squinty and deride it as a bad idea with a deft,  “What are these ale breweries thinking with all their high-falutin’ ways… imagining they can now make fizzy, generic, chemical-ridden lager.”

For those people, stop reading now please… I don’t want you to learn anything by reading any further. I believe that your ignorance is something to keep you in your own blissful (yet safe) state while those around you enjoy awesome craft beer and get their black belts in Bliss Kwon Do! It’s true that some people only enjoy cask ale, but for those out there that enjoy the myriad of flavours and taste experiences that beer as a delicious beverage provides, then this is for you…

This also ties in with our recent experimentation with bottling processes and with our first foray into kegging, albeit not in the traditional manner. It is actually quite surprising how many publications and beer authorities refer to keg beer as being a filtered, pasteurised, carbonated (or brewery conditioned) product. What happens if the beer you are putting into a keg (which is just a container for serving) is unfiltered and unpasteurised. As always with beer and brewing, the boundary suddenly becomes blurry.

We have begun using a product called a KeyKeg which is slightly different than a regular keg. Kegs usually contain product that is under pressure. This pressurised vessel is then filled with gas (usually carbon dioxide, nitrogen or a blend of the two) every time the beer is served at a bar. A constant pressure is maintained within the keg so that the beer that is being poured into the glass at the bar doesn’t fob or come out flat, but is still nice and fizzy and comes out at a good rate. Within the keg itself there is an interface where the liquid and gas meet. If the pressure of the gas and liquid are slightly different, you can either get dissolved gas leaving the liquid or dissolved gas entering the liquid, so that an equilibrium is reached.

A KeyKeg works differently. For a start, the KeyKeg is entirely disposable, consisting of a plastic and foil bag that is encased with a clear plastic ball, held within a corrugated cardboard frame and all wrapped up in shrink-wrapped plastic. The bag itself is filled with the product. As the bag fills, it displaces the gas that is held within the large plastic ball. To get the beer out of the Keykeg, the filling is done in reverse. This time, whenever the tap is opened at the bar, gas is forced into the clear, plastic ball and squeezes the bag, pushing the beer out. At no time does the beer come into contact with either gas from a bottle or the air itself. Brilliant!

The KeyKeg and it's cardboard outer

We have done a few kegs of both Jaipur and Kipling to test this technology and see how our unfiltered, unpasteurised beer tastes like under a different form of dispense. The beer is exactly the same stuff that we put into our bottles. If you like our bottled ales, then you’ll like our slightly unconventional keg ales as well.

So whenever we have an inkling that something will work and it does, what follows is further experimentation! In the past we’ve been heavily involved with our great friends from Birrificio Italiano in Italy. We’ve collaborated on a few beers, had a couple of brewer exchanges and had many a great night together. It also helps that one of our favourite Pilseners in the world, TipoPils is brewed by Agostino, Maurizio and Stefano at their amazing brewpub close to Como, a must see if you’re visiting the Northeast of Italy.

The plan is for their brewer, Maurizio Folli (pictured below) to come and spend a week with us and we’ll brew a version of their celebrated Extra Hop Pilsener, jam-packed with Hallertau Magnum and Saaz hops.

The planned brewdate for this is October 26th and we’re already ridiculously excited. The hope would be for us to join the ranks of all the other fantastic craft lager brewers that the UK has.

Another thing to point out, both lager and ale are types of beer! It amazed me when I first arrived in the UK and sat chatting to “lager drinkers”. They would look at me and tell me that they liked lager, but didn’t like beer. I educated them…

For those that don’t know, the main differences between lager and  ale centre around yeast and fermentation temperature. Generally lager yeast ferment at a cool temperature (11-14 degrees Celsius) and take 2-3 times longer than ale yeasts to finish fermenting. Ale yeast, on the other hand, ferments in 3-7 days at temperatures ranging from 16-25 degrees celsius (or even higher in some cases). Lager is called lager because traditionally it was stored/matured for a long period of time. Lager comes from the German and refers to this storage period.

We’re going to use the finest German malt we can get our hands on and do the same with the hops and yeast.

No chemicals, the finest ingredients, a long maturation (lagering) period. It’s going to be amazing!

The new standard for the Average British Beer Drinker

More Citra, I need more Citra!!!

We’ve just launched a new beer called Larkspur. I had two pints of it the other night and it made me weep. Why would beer make me cry?

Is it the nose of ripe tangerine, those oil filled cells that burst and sting your eyes when you hedonistically squeeze the loose peelings, knowing the citrus bouquet that lies within?

 The mango that has fallen from the tree and is sliced open on the spot, it’s heady, tropical fruit sweetness invading the senses and transporting you to a beach on Thailand.

Is it the pull of passionfruit, just like those I would pick from my Nana’s passionfruit vine? Their skins all wrinkly after the sun had ripened them to perfection. The burst of flavour as I would bite through the hard skin to reach the rich, juicy pulp inside?

Larkspur is all of these. The fascinating Citra hop from America delivers and incredible tropical fruit salad of aromas. It fools me into thinking I’m drinking juice. The power of the flower.

We only got ten kilograms of the hop this year and already I dream of next year and the possible bounty that will arrive from the American hop harvest. This is what makes me cry! We only brewed thirty five casks of this beer. We based it on our Kipling malt recipe and then used Citra instead of the New Zealand Nelson Sauvin we use in Kipling. This allows us to find out how the hop behaves in a beer we already know a lot about. We can look at it’s perceived bitterness, the flavours, the aromas and of course the drinkability.

The parentage of this hop is also quite interesting… a real international mix of  German Hallertau Mittlefrueh and Brewers Gold, American grown Tettanger and British East Kent Golding. Who would have thought the heady mix of fruit salad could have come from such an interesting blend of hop mothers and fathers?!

It’s been great to see a bunch of breweries around the country use Citra to great effect. I just wish they would all stop so we could brew some more.

Larkspur. If you see it in a pub, taste it and let me know what you think…

UK Brewer of the Year, Thornbridge’s Stefano Cossi!

The enigmatic, zymurgical genius that is Stefano Cossi was honoured last night with what I can only describe as the highest accolade in UK Brewing. The All-Party Parliamentary Beer Group acts to promote the wholesomeness and enjoyment of beer as well as highlight the importance of the British pub and the social, cultural and historical importance of the brewing industry. The Brewer of the Year award is recommended by the Institute of Brewing and Distilling and is an amazing acheivement!

Stefano hails from the North-East of Italy, where he studied a Food Science degree at Udine before heading north to the UK to begin a brewing career with a brand new brewery called Thornbridge. Nestled away at the base of the Pennines close to the picturesque Bakewell, Derbyshire, the little 10 bbl brewery was made up of salvaged kit and originally manned by Stef, Martin Dickie (of Brewdog fame) and consultant and master brewer Dave Corbey.

Almost six years later, Stef is still here, working twice as hard and helping revolutionise the UK craft brewing industry with his exacting, scientific approach, brilliant understanding of flavour and aroma combinations and inability to compromise when it comes to quality. Not just the quality of the raw materials, or the beer that we produce, but also of the brewery itself. Over a period of a couple of years, Stef worked tirelessly to get a conceptual brewery from ideas and imaginings right through to a finished product. I had the enviable task of being involved with this and can honestly say that Stef’s eye for detail is second to none. He assimilates scientific papers and brings the theory into practice and like all good brewers, is all about continuous improvement.

The ideas that Stef comes up with have always impressed me as a brewer. Bracia is a fine example. Stef had bought a load of chestnut honey from a local producer close to his family home in Italy with the idea of using it in a beer. I remember smelling and tasting chestnut honey for the first time with him, amazed at the complexity and completely unique character it had, unlike any other honey I had tasted. A recipe was formulated, we brewed the beer and still, to this day, every time I crack a bottle of my dwindling supply from that very first brew, I am amazed. It takes skill and foresight to do this. Stef has bucketloads of both. This can also be seen with our barrel-aged beers. Stef visiting sherry-producing regions, sourcing Pedro Ximenex and Madeira barrels for aging, absorbing loads and loads of information on the wood-aging of ports and sherries and whiskeys and wines and applying this to beer.

For myself, coming in as a new brewer back in 2006 and for a time, just the both of us running the original Hall brewery it has always been interesting working with Stef. We had both studied Food Science, so had similar backgrounds. I had come from a big brewery environment and Stef from small. It was great to see our ideas and concepts meet somewhere in the middle. It was cool for me to downscale big brewery ideology and begin crafting and (I’d like to think) for Stef to see my background and approach that to craft. It was fun to brew my very own recipes for the first time… experimenting and constantly evolving already established beers. This approach has been absorbed by our entire team. Every one of our brewers is given the opportunity to do this. We have no tradition at Thornbridge and don’t find it all that necessary to follow certain styles or practices. We just want to make great beer and this is something that Stef has helped foster.

Legendary Roger Protz and the man behind Thornbridge, Jim Harrison, share a beer (hopefully it's Jaipur!)

Our brewery director, Jim Harrison, sums it up, “Well deserved for Stef, but also to everyone at Thornbridge for the amazing teamwork that allows us to compete at this level”. I agree!

In my mind this is a major step for microbreweries. This type of accolade is often given to well established brewers of regional or even larger breweries and for one of the little guys (we run a 30 barrel brewhouse) to be on the radar with regards to the pursuit of brewing excellence, it has to be a great thing for the burgeoning craft industry.

Would I say that Stef is a perfectionist? Absolutely! Would I say it helps us as a brewery produce the best beer we possibly can? Undoubtedly! It seems like others think so, too!!

Stef tests to check if his tankard is stainless steel 304... ideal for brewing vessels you know 🙂

Bigger Brewery, Crapper Beer?

I’ve only worked in five breweries in my time as a brewer. They’ve all been slightly different, some big and able to brew hundreds of thousands of litres in a day, others smaller and brewing only a thousand or so litres a day. They’ve all been great breweries and produced technically great beer. Some of them have even started small and then got larger as demand for their products grew.

But there are always murmurings. whispers with hands over mouth, knowing nods and winks. Little statements along the lines of “that’s not even craft beer you know”, “that beer is just made of chemicals”, or “it’s not as good as it was before they upsized”.

It’s the last statement that upsets me. If this statement was to come from a professional brewer, someone versed in the intricacies of the brewing process and technology, someone formally trained on a tasting panel with the chance to taste the beer in the same situation every time, then nonsense like that above wouldn’t worry me at all. But often it doesn’t. It tends to come from the people we make beer for. The customers or the folk who love a pint or the beer geeks, sometimes even from the blatantly misinformed.

Why should I be upset? There seems to be a thought that once a brewery increases in size, it loses it’s craft approach, the beer suffers and there’s that inevitable “it’s not as good as it was when they were smaller”. I’ve seen this time and time again on blogs, I’ve chatted to people and heard it again and again, yet it always upsets me. When a brewery is lucky and successful enough to grow, the last thing on the minds of the brewers is that the beer should taste different or be substandard. Sure, sometimes it will be subtly different due to slight variations in things like vessel dynamics, water supplies or processes, but there is a lot more that comes into play with beer flavour than the brewery or batch size. You also have to remember I say subtle changes. These are discrepancies that are generally not even able to be picked up by the brewers at the source of brewing, let along further down the supply chain.

Let’s take cask ale as an example. I brew a cask of Hopton as per normal. 4.3% alcohol, Maris Otter pale ale malt, Amber malt, Bramling Cross hops, a hint of Pilgrim as well in the bittering addition. I brew it at the Hall. I brew it at Riverside. One brew on our 1640 litre brewery, the other on our slightly larger 5000 litre brewery. I taste them side by side. They taste, for all intents and purposes, the same. The rounded, biscuity malty kick is the same… it should be, it’s the same recipe. The slightly citrus, hinting at berryfruit hop nose is the same. As it should be.

The cask sits in the cool store at our brewery. It goes out to a pub. We put our standard shelf life on to it. The publican decides to allow it to condition for 2 weeks in his or her cellar and places it on a horizontal stillage. That’s the right of the publican. They can do what they want to do with the product they serve. The beer is spiled, allowing a release of condition for a couple of days, goes on and is sold. The first day it is full of condition, sparkling bright, tiny effervescent bubbles and a lingering white foamy head. The second day is similar. Maybe a little more rounded in flavour, a bit softer, a bit smoother… the air that has been drawn into the cask as every pint has been pulled has started a series of chemical and biochemical changes to kick off. The effervescence is a little less than it was, but it’s still a cracking pint. The third day dawns, a pint is drawn. Again, the beer tastes fine, though maybe the hop character is more subdued, the mouthfeel a little more tired, but it’s still a decent pint. Business is slow this week though and the cask isn’t finished. The publican leaves it on for one more day. He or she has tasted the pint and is pleased with the flavour and aroma. There is no wet carboard oxidised character. There’s no vinegary taint that can result from aerobic infection, the beer is beginning to get a little tired, but is still decent, a lot better than some of the fresh ale that has come from some other breweries. The cask gets finished and the cycle is repeated.

Let’s think about this. Over a four day period, probably one more day than is acceptable for a 4.3% cask beer if you ask me, the beer has changed. It’s gone from bursting with condition and freshness to being a little lifeless, yet still an acceptable pint. Imagine you are the customer on that first day. You’ve never heard of Thornbridge, don’t have a clue about the beer, but give it a try. It’s fantastic. Lovely, rounded maltiness, nice clean and crisp hop notes, well integrated, so not too much malt or hop dominates. You love this beer. In fact you like it so much, you write a blog about it. You keep an eye out for it every time you go to the pub, but don’t see it again until 6 months later.

You eye the pump clip and ask for a pint, wetting your lips in anticipation. The pint sits in front of you. Okay, the head is almost non-existent… a bit strange. You take a sip, put the pint down and walk out (or ask for a new one, depending on your demeanour). It is flat, has none of that character that you remember from when you first tried it, it is verging on sour and you make the decision that the brewery must have changed something.

Never mind that the pub you went into may be new to cask ale, doesn’t know how to serve it, doesn’t have a rapid throughput of ale, has dirty, greasy pint glasses, seldom cleans their lines, has a filthy, damp, wild yeast and bacteria ridden cellar or any of a plethora of problems. Never mind that the cask itself may have got to a pub via a wholesale distribution company who had held it in their ambient warehouse for 2 weeks before discounting it heavily and selling it with only a week left on the shelf life. In your eyes it is the brewery’s fault.

You decide to look up their website. They have just upscaled. They are now three times the size that they were! You grin to yourself as you have knowingly found a solution. You know for a fact that when breweries get larger, there beer proportionally becomes worse. You know that it is the businessmen and money-counters that now run the brewery, scrimping and saving and using “chemicals” instead of wholesome ingredients like hops and malts. It doesn’t matter that “chemicals” cost a lot more than the standard raw ingredients. You were down the pub the other week with one of your beer drinking buddies and they had heard from a reputable source that lagers were made of chemicals. Your mate even told you the name of one… Dihydrogen Oxide… sounds bloody nasty, you reckon. The brewery must have joined the dark side. Cut down on their hopping rates to save money, used cheap adjuncts instead of wholesome British malt. You’re gonna have to blog about this one…

But before you do, you decide you’re being a bit tough. You give them one more chance and go for one of their bottled beers… Your mate had had it at home for almost a year and gives it to you as a gift. You pour it into the glass and notice it’s a bit hazy. Your beer drinking buddy had told you that hazy beer must be infected. It tastes okay, not as hoppy as you would like a big IPA to be, maybe even a bit oxidised and sulphury. However, you think that this brewery might actually be okay after all. A bit on the dubious side, you buy one of the same beers from the new fandangled brewery… the one that is three times larger. Probably going to be rubbish, you think. They are bigger and we all know that bigger breweries mean crapper beer. It tastes completely different, way too many hops, bitterness that you don’t think is rounded. It’s that new brewery for sure.

It doesn’t matter that the first bottle had sat on your mate’s shelf in the sun and heat for a while. It doesn’t matter that it was past it’s shelf life and had also been sitting on a bottle store shelf… in the sun and heat, for a month or two before it was bought. It doesn’t matter that the recipe has changed. That the hops used in each batch showed completely different characteristics (even though they were the same hop) and the idea behind the beer was to showcase this. It also doesn’t matter to you that it’s an extremely fresh bottling. You make the decision that it’s the upgrade. They should’ve stayed small.

As you can see from my examples, I’m not playing around at being subtle. This is endemic to the industry and is a real shame. I’m yet to meet a brewer that isn’t passionate. Whether they are brewing Carlsberg or Heineken or running a 500 litre brewpub. The guy that works his butt off making sure that every keg of Fosters is consistently of a high standard and meets the same flavour profile that it is expected to every time is just as passionate as the guy brewing a quadruple IPA in a brewpub, his nose in a bag of hops, mash paddle in hand. Both of these people are working at making the best product they possibly can. If only they could control what happens downstream.

Think about the situation you are in when you taste beer, especially if you are reporting on it or going to publish tasting notes about it. What had you had to eat prior to tasting the beer, had you had a coffee earlier that day? A cigarette? Maybe you’d had a cold the week before or a spot of hayfever. Perhaps you’d tasted using a different glass than usual. Perhaps when you did a comparison, you forgot to factor in the age of each product. Maybe last time, you’d been drinking big, bold IPAs before tasting, whereas this time you had been supping Milds. All of these things are important.

Tasting beer (and commenting on it) is interesting as it is both objective and subjective. It is based on your experiences and what your incredible olfactory system is able to do. It’s based on tastes, textures and aromas that you have experienced in your past and the power to recollect these and relay that information. And it is about opinion… it is about what you like and dislike.

As consumers and as customers, we are all allowed to have an opinion, whether it be educated or uneducated. Just remember though… it might not be the brewery’s fault…

*I am aware that “crapper” is not a standard comparative adjective…

We LOVE Hops

It’s a pretty redundant thing to say really, I’m sure all craft brewers think hops are pretty awesome. In fact, I’m yet to meet a fellow brewer who doesn’t inhale deeply of that sticky green goodness after it’s rubbed vigorously between one’s palms, look you in the eye, sneeze three or four times covering you in a mixture of smashed lupulin glands, mucus and small, wet pieces of dessicated hop petals and declare the greatness of the mighty Humulus lupulus.

That’s exactly what we all get together and do once a year with Paul Corbett and Will Rogers of Charles Faram, our sole hop supplier. Their team manage to source all of the hops we love from around the world. Whether it be from Slovenia, the Hallertau regions of Germany, the American Yakima Valley or the northern tip of New Zealand’s South Island, the Faram team provide us with an amazing selection of choice hops.

So this year saw our annual pilgrimage to sunny Worcestershire (it doesn’t rain there does it?) to get our noses stuck in. Catherine and I had already spent the weekend there staying at The Talbot at Knightwick, a mighty pub if ever there was one (you can read last year’s blog about it here) and walking around the picturesque Brockhampton Estate, so we met up with fellow Thornbridgers Stefano, JK, Andrea, Matt and Dave and it was time to sniff!

How do we get this through customs???

It’s always fascinating noticing the differences and similarites that each variety expresses and this year was no exception. Where there is a number in parentheses, this is where we smelt different batches of the same hop… amazing what subtle differences in growing and harvest conditions do to the hop aroma! Below is my aroma notes so you don’t have to annoy Charles Faram on the phone or email!!!

First Gold – citrus, sweet, perfumed

US First Gold – more delicate than UK version, more earthy and green but quite similar

Sovereign – delicate with hint of raw vegetable/carrot

Fuggles – cut grass, capers, nasturtium

Progress – citrus tending towards lemon, a hint of resin

Sonnet – woody, resinous, hint of varnished wood

Northdown – floral and a touch of resin

Goldings – a little dusty, very delicate with lemon undertones

Hallertau Hersbrucker – chocolatey and perfumed

Saaz – woody, spicey, pungent orange

Hallertau Tradition – cut grass, a touch floral

Lubelski – very delicate, a touch perfumed

Crystal – a hint of sweat, Nelson Sauvinesque, loads of aroma

Celeia – cinnamon, orange

Aurora – cut hay, lemongrass, piney

Bobek – sandalwood and citrus

Boadicea – very perfumed, cut grass, capers

Liberty – very delicate with a hint of floral

Mount Hood – dried fruit, guava, raspberries and cream

Hallertau Northern Brewer – big hop oil perfume, underlying citrus, nice and fragrant

Hallertau Mittelfruh – a hint of vinyl with floral characters

Pilgrim – Earthy, green, chocolate raisins

Target – very intense, yellow stone fruit, pineapple

Phoenix – sweet perfume, grassy, a hint of vegetal

Perle – Pina Colada, orange, pineapple and coconut

Admiral – banana, peaty and smokey

Pioneer (1) – dried fruit, some floral perfume

Pioneer (2) – More grassy and less fruity than (1)

Bramling Cross (Kent) – grapefruit, citrus, similarities to Riwaka

Bramling Cross (Herefordshire) – same character as Kent with more perfume, yet more delicate

Sorachi – coconut, mushrooms, oranges

Willamette – a little lemon, quite delicate

Cascade – a hint of resin and citrus with a little background turpentine

Ahtanum – Bergamot/Mandarin oil, very fragrant, yet delicate

Hallertau Brewers Gold – quite delicate, a touch biscuity

Herkules – lemon, banana, massive!!!

Hallertau Magnum – strongly perfumed, some citrus

Chinook (1) – sweaty, piney, fantastic

Chinook (2) – less sweaty than (1)

Chinook (3) – more floral than (1) and (2)

Centennial – lemon, herbal, citrus throughout

Amarillo – banana, grapefruit, a touch of orange

Simcoe – lemon, Sauvignon wine characters, a touch delicate

Citra – tropical, quite peachy

Pallisade – green notes, perfumed, some Allium notes

Bravo – citrus throughout with a hint of curry spice

Summit – massive citrus, chive flowers, slightly tarry

Apollo – similar to Summit but with a touch of roastiness

Lots and lots and lots of hops!!!

Another brilliant day out learning things that no book or visit to a big brand brewery will ever teach you. A word of warning though, most brewers are well aware of the soporific (that’s sleep-inducing for those too lazy to use the thesaurus option on your computer) qualities of the Hop flower, yet it doesn’t look like anyone mentioned this to Dave and Andrea…

Succumb to the Power of the Hop!

And yes, I am well aware how dodgy the photos of plastic bags filled with green vegetation look. How would you explain those photos to a drug enforcement officer!?!

The Beer Blogger’s Poem – The Sequel

Just when you thought that you’d had your fill

Of brewing’s William Topaz McGonagall

He comes right along to finish his telling

Of the bloggers poem (with some correct spelling).

Of those he has missed, of those he has kept

The ones that sat at home and wept

For not being waxed all lyrical

By a weird Kiwi brewer from up Thornbridge Hall.

We’ll start quite close, across the way

A Swift One’s blokes will save the day

If to Huddersfield by train you go

The place for a pint you’ll easily know.

There’s good old Phil, his palate keen,

A beer merchant who brews beers clean,

A Saint, a Sinner, new media junkie

And even a beer that’s serious funky!

Back up north, the stouter breeds,

The Good Stuff puts the Leigh in Leeds.

Cannot forget our ladies fair,

Melissa takes the beard from beer

Then there she is, beer writer in stow,

She’s patient, attentive, the Beer Widow.

And of her writing, I can’t be faulting,

The elegant prose of Impy Malting.

My gosh, my rhyming makes me spew,

Unlike the beers of Crown Brewer Stu!

He twitters like mad and brews like crazy,

One thing he’s not is tardy or lazy.

And who can forget he who puts on a show,

I watch them with interest, Zak’s YouTube video.

He teaches, he preaches, tells of flavours weird,

But I can’t help but ogle his fantastic beard!

If there’s one guy who’ll make an ale revelation,

A ninja at writing and beer observation.

It has to be one of those Welsh rugby clones.

ATJ, Adrian Ti-er-ney Jones.

If the North West is called out for having no flair,

Then no one has clicked on the link that is here.

Tandleman will push and others will pull,

I wonder if he’s a “My pint’s half full?”

These two will never go out for a coke,

They’re concise, they’re precise, they’re Bailey and Boak.

He counts and he drinks and directs CAMRA well

For London (the Greater), for some t’would be hell!

But passion is evident, without it we’d miss,

The fantastic writings of the Beer Justice.

And heading abroad, again we do go

But not o’er the ditch to County Carlow.

Instead it’s a Bullet that we can all Bite.

In German, Gute Nacht, but for us it’s Good Night!

You’re probably wishing the same of me.

Take something for sleeping, no maybe take three.

And stop with this dreadful and tedious poem.

And get on a boat and head south for home!

In Newcastle they talk about Walking the Dog

I’d rather read Beer Reviews by Andy Mogg.

Or something else interesting, something I’ve seen,

A mag on the interweb, they call it Hopzine.

For lots about brews, this guy shows a care

Jeff Evans, the author with his Inside Beer.

Another whose name is a challenge to match,

It’s meaning cantankerous, or even crosspatch.

The Pub Curmudgeon speaks of pubs, beer and smoking.

And forces debate on the smoke that we’re choking.

But last and not least is the head of the pack,

He blogged and brought controversy onto his back,

But we all forget all the headway he’s made

He’s helped push the beer to the sun from the shade.

And provoked responses, the good and the bad

Epitomal Protzy, the true real ale lad.

At last, as you know all good things must end,

Now head to the fridge and the bottles you tend.

Slump down in the sofa, slump down with relief.

And pray my next poem is absent or brief.

The Beer Bloggers Poem Part One

I think that it’s time, though you may not agree,

Bloggers now blogged with some more poetry.

On many a day and on many a whim,

I find myself reading, the backlighting dim.

The computer screen glowing, whispered tales of yore,

Mostly about brewing, beer, pubs, food and more.

I usually begin with a nod to the man

Who Scoops so Reluctant,who scoops when he can

I follow along with the lads from up high

Who make Penguins nuclear,who make Penguins fly.

Then to the King with his beer-writing Crown,

I chuckle, I’m shocked and impressed by Pete Brown.

For depth and for vision. For passion and edge,

Mouse arrows head southward and click on Mark Dredge.

His Pencil and Spoon are forever enthralling,

Here is a guy who has answered his calling.

And who can forget Dave of the Woolpack,

He cooks and he brews and he’s on the write track.

Jeff Pickthall tells well of pubs, CAMRA and ale,

A great one to read, honest tales without fail.

Stonch is the same from a landlord’s perspective,

We all know this word kind of rhymes with reflective.

If it’s tales of the ale from the lost days of yore

That you wish to know greatly, minutiae pore,

There are two young fellows you cannot pass by,

Martyn Cornell,  the Zythophile puts PA in I

Impressive collections,brewing records bygone,

Tip my hat, bow deeply, Barclay Perkins’ Ron.

European contingent for fermented Wort,

How can we forget he who is Knut Albert.

You’re probably starting to get really bored,

Switch off your computer, put on a record.

For I will continue to write couplets for ages,

And annoy all senseless as you scroll down the pages.

I think I’ll continue with more bloggers soon.

But my favourite of this year

Well, it’s Pencil and Spoon

The Birth of a Brewery Part Two

The long awaited sequel to my debut film. That’s right, the oh-so-imaginatively named Birth of a Brewery Part One. This time, I got inventive and changed the name from Part One to Part Two. The reason for this is so people could differentiate between the movies and also so I could write an introduction that included a bit of sarcasm.

In reality though, we all know that Back to the Future II was loads better than Back to the Future I, mostly due to the inclusion of a hover skateboard… I do remember thinking that they would be invented by the new millenium… how wrong I was. Of course, Aliens and Terminator 2, with it’s cool liquid-metal-melty guy were also sequels that improved on the originals.

I hope this vid-blog follows the same path!

I am worried about part three though… when was the third movie in a trilogy the best???

Anyway. Lot’s of shiny stainless steel awaits!

Busy Busy!!

Been a while between blogs and all been busy here at the brewery! Stefano Cossi, our head brewer, is working day and night getting the new brewery sorted, with delivery and commissioning getting closer and closer. We’re all in the process of finalising, looking through the joys of the process descriptions, sourcing and ordering equipment for our laboratory and generally running around like ants around a popsicle on a hot summers day!

The toughest decision to date though has been the floor colour! May green is the final choice… didn’t even know that months of the year had colours!

What else has been happening? We had a great party here at Thornbridge a few weeks back and because it was for a birthday, I decided it was prime time to open my Thomas Hardy’s Ale, bottled all the way back on the 1st September 1979. So at almost 30 years old, there was never a better time. It would be fair to say that it was lacking slightly in carbonation, but the flavours were fantastic! Often, when I taste a beer, I’ll often smell the cap of the bottle and this one definitely didn’t disappoint. A massive hit of Marmite/Vegemite with a hint of blood… a type of just-rusting iron but nothing overpowering. Do they still make bottle caps that robust?

Thomas Hardy's Ale 1979

The ale itself was more port and sherry than beer. Once the waft of age dissipated (which took a few minutes), the unctuous, black liquid came into a world of its own! Really complex with lots of dried fruits. Mostly sweet prunes, syrupy figs and plump raisins with a bit of chocolate, some liquorice and a black cherry character. I detected a little vanilla in the swallow and a little of the marmite and metal that you could smell on the cap. It’s texture was all thick and gooey and so similar to the Pedro Ximenez I have chilling in my refrigerator. I’m going to have to try this at a warmer temperature to see if it’s as close to the ale as I think it will be. All in all, an interesting tasting experience and amazing to see what age can do to a beer. I wonder if the O’Hanlon’s bottles will be as interesting as the Eldridge Pope bottles in years to come. Just in case, a bought a box of the 2008 last year and will dutifully try these every year or so to make sure!


What else has been happening? We were visited recently by Kim Scheider, a brewer from Michigan in the US and her husband Karl Walser. Kim is the head brewer at North Peak Brewing (http://www.northpeak.net/default.html in Traverse City, Michigan and even hand-bottled a couple of her beers (that are usually only served in the brewpub) for us to taste. She also brought a couple of Dogfish Head’s 90 Minute IPAs for us to taste. A beer that I’m yet to try so looking forward to that.


We also had a bit of an epic tasting at the Coach last weekend with Phil Lowry (from Beermerchants). You can check out his blog action here. His good mate and fellow beer guru, Angelo Scarnera, blog ninja, Simon Johnson (www.reluctantscooper.co.uk) and Danish Ratebeerians, Jan and Charlotte also came along to taste a few beverages… Fellow Thornbridgers (Matt, Stefano and Dave Corbey) joined us and we got down to some serious supping. We managed to get through a bunch of Mikeller beers, some fantastic Port Brewing Co beverages (with Santa’s Little Helper being the highlight of the night), a selection of Pannepot beers, an interesting cherry lambic called Keralensis (a blend of beers from brewers Alvinne and Struise), a massive 10% Millenium edition Malheur (that would probably have been better in a trifle than as a drink) a few other assorted beverages and finally a good ol’ Thornbridge Bracia (and maybe an Orval or two) to finish the night. Because there were a load of us, am happy to say there were no sore heads in the morning!


We also had a great night out last week at Rowley’s restaurant in Baslow with their annual Thornbridge Beer and Food evening taking place. Chef’s Richard and Rupert along with Alastair put together a great night with some awesome food and some pretty good beer as well!

Upon getting there we enjoyed some wonderfully delicate pork scratching and a pint of Lord Marples, our 4.0% traditional bitter, and then once we sat down we were served the most delicious bread. The bread itself had being rested for 8 hours and used no actual bakers yeast. Instead it relied on the Champagne yeast from our Bracia to work away and the extremely subtle chestnut honey character could just be detected and worked so well with the sweet, lightly caramelised onion that had been rolled through it. The texture was great, all fluffy and moist. A great start!

What followed was a fantastic piece of theatre! Using a “smoke-gun”, Nelson Sauvin hops were smoked and the resultant smoke was collected in wine glasses and held in the glass with a beer coaster. The coasters were then removed and the smoke pillowed out, all burnt, resinous hoppiness. Wild Swan was then poured into the glass allowing a hint of smoke character to remain in the beer. It reminded me a lot of one of our other beers, Ember, which is a pale ale brewed with a portion of smoked malt. This beer was accompanied by a Nelson Sauvin Hop Smoked Halibut with Caramelised Onion and Pearl Barley Risotto. The risotto was cooked to perfection and the barley was soft in the mouth, yet still firm and chewy. The smoked halibut combined well with the light residual smoke character in the beer and the sweetness of the onions helped balanced the bitterness of the Wild Swan. It was grand!

The main course was an Osso Bucco of Derbyshire Pork. The best way for a layman like myself to describe this cut of meat, is that it’s the bit just before the shank. It was braised in our Kipling beer and honey and served with a pickled cabbage and small roast potatoes. The fascinating thing about the cabbage is that they had actually pickled it in one of our beers, Wild Swan. The beer had been left out to go sour (helped by the action of acetic and lactic acid bacteria and anything else that would have been present on the cabbage leaves) and the resultant sauerkraut-esque pickle was great. This dish was served with bottled Kipling. The sweetness of the braise tied in perfectly with the hint of caramel from the beer and the light, fruity bitterness helped wash away the pork fat and refresh the palate. Another great combo.

Finally came our dessert of a deconstructed Lemon Meringue (consisting of a slice of intensely sour-sweet lemon curd tart and some neat, little meringue rolls) topped with a fantastically bitter-sour Jaipur and Lime Sorbet. The Sorbet was a bit too much for some, but I thoroughly enjoyed the intense lime-pith bitterness and the hint of Jaipur hop bitterness. The drink of choice for this was a Jaipur Mojito, invented by the host, Alastair and a fantastic success. Who said you couldn’t do a beer cocktail!

So, as you can see, we have been a bit busy, but it’s definitely a good busy J

Karl, Kim (from North Peak Brewing Company) and Me

Karl, Kim (from North Peak Brewing Company) and Me

Rants and Reactionary Ramblings


There’s been a lot of press around lately in a few trade-related magazines regarding microbreweries. The articles have mentioned brewers from a few larger breweries talking about the inconsistency of beers produced at microbreweries and that microbreweries are seemingly just one-trick ponies crafting beers that mostly just have novelty value to get CAMRA folk to try them.

Is this just a story for stories sake, an attempt to completely divide an industry that should be working together now more than ever, or just sour grapes from larger breweries who have been producing good, traditional, quality beers that, have unfortunately not moved with the consumers palate.

I live in a pub called the Coach and Horses in Dronfield, North-East Derbyshire. My Kiwi girlfriend, Catherine manages the pub. It provides us with wages and is our home. As it is the Thornbridge Brewery tap, it is also partly responsible for me having a job. We serve beers (and by beers, I mean the generic term of ales and lagers) that are not Thornbridge beers. I’m not a fan of some of them and some of them are produced by large breweries. I find their quality and consistency excellent, yet I find them lacking in flavour. Yet, according to some customers and other folk I chat to, this was not always the case.

It is almost as if an accountant has come along, tried to cut costs wherever possible, spoke with managers of the brewing process, convinced them to use cheaper hops, or an isomerised hop extract that provides a similar bitterness and aroma for a cheaper amount or even to use caramel extract instead of kilned specialty malts to cut costs. But I’m sure this has never happened.

I’m also sure that no marketing executives have ever convinced the brewery bosses that triple filtering a beer sounds like a great thing to turn into a marketing initiative as it somehow denotes that the beer is of superior quality. I’m sure they’ve explained that the average beer drinker is oblivious to the fact that filtration can steal some flavours and aromas from the beer and that the perception of a beer all comes down to their brand awareness and how it makes them feel as they hold the bottle/branded glassware, logos held high for all to see.

I’m sure these same brand managers have never come up with billboards highlighting the use of cheap, starch-filled brewing adjuncts such as maize or corn in place of richly flavoured malts as part of the marketing strategy.

I can keep going, but I’m sure you get the point. It is true that microbreweries can sometimes produce inconsistent beers. I know this because I am a brewer in a microbrewery and I know that we constantly work on flavour matching our beers due to the inconsistencies that can come with small-batch production and the effect that variations in ingredients can have on these batches.

But what I also know is that I once worked in a large brewery. I learnt about the importance of quality and consistency of product. I understand it and everything we do at Thornbridge is based around the production and delivery of a high quality product.

I do though, have a bit of a gripe with consistency of flavour when it comes to microbreweries.

We are producing a product that comes from nature. The water, hops, barley and yeast are (or were) living things. In winemaking, the irregularities in grapes that occur from nature result in a vintage. One year the wine is incredible. The next, it is terrible and should be all made into vinegar. This is accepted in winemaking, yet not in brewing. Sam Calagione from Dogfish Head Brewery might have the answer in one of the best articles I’ve read for a long time. Read it here. Sam likes to say that Mother Nature makes wine, while brewers make beer.

Does this mean that people are happy to accept that it was a crap year, it rained far too much, so the Chardonnay tastes like water, yet the minute their pint of ale doesn’t taste the same as that one they drank four years ago, that the brewers are doing something wrong? Hmmmm. Maybe. Yet, from experience, I can say that when you brew beers that are, for example, heavily hop-lead beers, and the subtle nuances that can occur in a hop crop from year to year are exacerbated by using a massive amount, then yeah, it might taste slightly different. Brewers don’t accept this though, which is why we always experiment with a variety of hops, in variable amounts to ensure that the beer tastes as good, if not better year upon year. Inconsistent maybe, but hopefully better!

Brewers do make beer, and if they aren’t working in a mega-beer factory producing quality, consistenct products, they’re probably toiling away over a hot copper, recording every possible variable that they can with a lack of expensive laboratory analysis, sensors and automated and computerised equipment. These guys are also trying their damnedest to produce flavour-filled, quality and hopefully consistent products as well.

To any large brewery folk reading this, us small guys just want exactly what you want. We look up to you and all of the quality checks and the facilities you have to educate and learn. The potential vehicle you could use to let everyone know about great beer. I love being a brewer because of the comradeship and passion and openness that permeates this industry. So, let’s all just work together and teach people about beer. No more grumpiness about micros stealing market share, yet doing it with bad beer. Please!

I know, I live in a dream… Somebody get me a beer!



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