When I grow up I want to be like John Keeling

The Great British Beer Festival* has been a whirlwind of people and laughter and celebration of all that is amazing about beer and brewing. The cornucopia of flavours and aromas that beers from not just the UK but around the world has been mind and palate blowing and even though I still have another day there, I don’t want it to end.

My left leg and recently snapped Achilles tendon has another agenda though… So I sit here now in Knightsbridge, wallowing through an inbox of emails, my ankle wrapped in an ice pack and a large egg-sized lump of scar tissue pulsing away under my skin where the healing continues. Stupid rugby!

The flipside is that there have been a couple of highlights already in this manic week. Firstly, having around 150-200 people turn up on Monday night for a Meet the Brewer event at the Cask Pub and Kitchen in Pimlico was absolutely awesome. I’ve never had to shout myself hoarse to such a group of enthusiastic imbibers before, and the brilliant Martin from Cask even put ten of our Thornbridge brews on tap, meaning there was something for everyone. Just when I thought the night was as good as it could get, Doug Odell from Odell Brewing arrived and we got to taste our recent collaboration brew, the 5.9% Colorado Red together and discuss what subtle improvements we could make. I was also really pleased with how well the experimental Bolvig went down… a little decadent twist on Saint Petersburg with the addition of coffee beans, vanilla pods and coconut.

Tuesday afternoon saw another beery highlight, with Tony from Fuller’s inviting me along to the release of their second Brewer’s Reserve. This time expertly aged in Cognac barrels (the first Brewers Reserve had its time in Glenmorangie casks). Beer writer extraordinaire Adrian Tierney-Jones does a lot better than I do at explaining the event, but needless to say, it made me want to be just like John Keeling

The legendary John (photo from the Fuller's website)

Sure, I’d never have the telltale Mancunian accent, that Northern drawl on the last enunciated words that is characteristic of John’s delivery, but I’d love to be able to hold an audience like John does. To enthuse and quip and amuse with brewing anecdotes and the voyage of discovery that creating beer holds. Hell, the patience to save as many Vintage Ales as he can to do parallel tastings is a gift in itself isn’t it!?

I’ve just looked through the brief notes I put into my phone about the beers we tried… The 2009 Vintage Ale with its concerto of cereal, barley sugars (the sweet that is – sucked and sniffed, not straight from the wrapper as John explained), tangerine and subtle lemon. The slightly vinous finish, whisper of almond and clean bitterness. It was a cracker and one to put in the cellar for a few years for sure.

The 2006 Vintage Ale showing the benefits of the aging process with an almost creamy texture, even a shade of Highland whiskey, some yeasty goodness and undercurrents of, well, currants actually. It was mouth poetry.

It didn’t stop there and the Brewer’s Reserve No.1 was brought out, having been aged in whiskey casks. I remembered trying a bunch of John’s experimental beers back in 2007 at a Barrel-Aging seminar that the British Guild of Beer Writers had held. Culminating from this research, it had been expertly blended… a mixture of the wood aged brew, Golden Pride, ESB and 1845. I tasted this when it first came out last year and was amazed at the  difference the year had made. From something that had shown a lot of whiskey character, this now came out all caramel malt-like, with warming wisps of boozy heat, sherry and fruitcake. Adrian Tierney-Jones picked up a hint of Brettanomyces which I also noticed. For those that don’t know what this is, I recommend you all go and buy a bottle of Orval from Belgium and you’ll get the finest hints of horse-blanket and funk and medicinal band aid that characterises this fascinating yeast.

Last was the Brewer’s Reserve No.2 aged in Cognac casks and coming through with perfumed pear drop and apple esters (my notes say Pink Lady Apple juice, probably helped that I’d had some of this the day before!), warming alcohol and the finest hint of marzipan. This was an exquisite beer and I already look forward to tasting it again in a year or two.

Brewer's Reserve No.2 (from the Fuller's website)

You can probably see why I want to be like John. To have the ability to craft beers that can stand the test of time and do it in a way that shows the innovation that has been lacking for too long in British Brewing. This year the GBBF had the ever-popular BSF bar, showcasing the great beers from the US and the rest of the beer world. It was always busy and seems to get larger every year with people waxing lyrical about the quality and diversity of the beers.

Let’s see this begin to happen for British beers too! Cheer John, you’re an inspiration.

*Our Jaipur took out Gold in the Strong Bitters section at the Champion Beer of Britain competition at this year’s festival… yay for us!


It all began a few years back when we asked Brooklyn Brewery Brewmaster and author of The Brewmaster’s Table, Garrett Oliver to collaborate with us on a brew. Our own brewing ninja, Stefano Cossi, took to the project with gusto and had a fantastic idea to use Madeira and Pedro Ximenez barrels to age the barley wine in. We used a blend of our own house yeast and Garrett’s yeast strain for this beer and the process involved over a year of maturation in conditioning tanks as well as a couple of months in the oak. The resultant three beers, the Alliance series, were fantastic, we got great feedback on them and we learnt a load in the progress.

We went a little closer to home next time, and invited Italian brewing maverick, Agostino Arioli and his talented team from Birrificio Italiano over to brew with us. Again, collaboration wavelengths were intertwined and we came up with a luscious 6% Rustic Ale that we coined SuJu (Super Juniper). Packed with loads of smoked, amber, chocolate, Munich and Vienna malts and a blend of delicious Hallertau Mittelfruh and Vanguard hops, a serious amount of sweet, resinous Juniper berries were also smashed to within inches of their lives and added to the brew. Again, the power of collaboration taught us a lot and was loads of fun.

Epic Halcyon came next with The Impish Brewer, Luke Nicholas, from Epic Brewing in New Zealand joining us whilst on a trip to brew his delicious Epic Pale Ale with Everards for the JD Wetherspoons International Real Ale Festival. We took our own Imperial India Pale Ale, Halcyon, and went crazy on the hops with over 100 theoretical bitterness units, resulting in a fantastic beer that oozed hop character and was far too drinkable for a 7.7% beer!

Since then we’ve revisited Birrificio Italiano, with Stefano brewing a barley wine destined for oak at their brewery. The BI guys have also been back to us to brew the same barley wine that is also aging away in oak here at Thornbridge Hall and I’ve also headed over to New Zealand to do our own collaboration brew which ended up as Epic Stout.

We’ve loved every collaboration we’ve been involved with, it’s always an education and due to the diversity of the brewing world, every single brewer you meet and work with adds something else to the mix.

That’s where Doug Odell comes in… We first met Doug last year when he popped in to the brewery to say hello along with a selection of his beers, which we tried and fell in love with. They showcased drinkability, from his multiple award winning IPA, right through to his 5 Barrel Pale Ale and seasonals, including St. Lupulin and his Red, every beer oozed class and balance with rich hop character or luscious, juicy malt flavours. To be honest, our jaws dropped as we took our first sips… we had developed a brewcrush 🙂

We met up with Doug again at the Great British Beer Festival in 2009 and had a chat about the possibility of a collaboration. Doug judges at the GBBF and comes over to the UK often, getting a lot of inspiration from British cask ale industry in the process. Our paths crossed again this year in Chicago at the World Beer Cup and US Craft Brewers Conference. It was there we made a decision… a collaboration was going to happen! In fact, myself, Doug and Little Creatures’ (of Australia) Chief Brewer, Alex Troncoso stood there chatting when we all realised that we were a select group of brewers! At this stage there are only four breweries in the world that use the fantastic Rolec Hopnik hopback, a vessel especially designed to capture as much hop character as possible without the loss of delicate aroma volatiles (the other brewery to use this vessel is the Victory Brewing in Pennsylvania). If Bill Covaleski from Victory had been there, we could have beer-geeked it out to the maximum and bored most of you normal folk with tales of our exciting hopbacks… The self-proclaimed Hopnicks perhaps??

I digress…(imagine that!). Emailing back and forth, a date was set, recipes began to be formulated, concepts were thrown around and a decision was made on the beer style. But before I share that, I thought I’d mention a little of Doug’s background.

Doug (with beard!)

A keen homebrewer on the US West Coast, Doug spent time in the 1970s at Anchor Brewery in San Francisco before making the leap and starting his own brewery in Fort Collins, Colorado in 1989. At that stage, it was only the second microbrewery in the state and Doug specialised in a draught product, building up a reputation for his well-balanced, full flavoured beers. The mid 90s saw the installation of a bottling line and the rest is history! With a fantastic brewery tap, a 50 US barrel Brewhouse and the recent installation of a 5 barrel pilot brewery, Odell Brewing has introduced a massive range of scope in their beers while retaining the balance that Doug found so important in English-style ales.

After the recent launch of Odell beers in the UK (through the fantastic Vertical Drinks who are also responsible for all of the delicious Sierra Nevada, Dogfish Head, Stone and Victory beer we get over here), Doug joined us to brew a Thornbridgified version of his World Beer Cup winning Red Ale. Full of a range of speciality malts, including Caramalt and Wheat malt and with a list of hops that is enough to make your mouth water, including Nugget, Centennial and Bramling Cross earlier in the brew and an amazing blend of Admiral, Phoenix, First Gold and Pilgrim in the hopback (in a tribute to UK hops and our decision to put an English twist on the American Red Ale style of beer), yesterday’s brewday was awesome.

The Colorado Red brewteam - Nigel, Andrea, JK, Stefano, Matt, Doug and Kelly

Had to put this one in... our attempt at a stupid photo just has JK doing something weird with his hands and Matt getting his teeth out there!

My first taste of the brew this morning, as the fermentation just kicked in, yielded a nose filled with dried fruit and resinous undertones with background candied peel, sweet banana, toffee and some underlying roasted character. A hint of spice lingered and the bitterness (aiming at around 45 IBU to help with drinkability) was already showing integration, even though the brew was a long way from finished. I am excited!

Our next stage is dry hopping. We’re all thinking about possible hop varieties to use… are we going to stick with the UK hop theme and go with Target, Admiral or perhaps Phoenix? Are we going to mirror the brew itself that is English brewed with an American, throwing in some big, bold US hops at the end in tribute to Doug and his home country? Do we go crazy and whack in the new uber-fruity Citra and mega-resin action of Warrior? All I know is that Doug wants us to expand our horizons and really dry hop it, going even further than we have before. With the malt backbone this beer has, I know that it’s going to be able to handle a good whack of hops. At the projected 6.1 – 6.2% alcohol by volume that we’re aiming for, it should be robust enough. We want a hop bomb, but of course we want drinkability! With 100 or so casks of our Odell/Thornbridge “Colorado Red” (that’s the working name at this stage) going to hit the shelves in the coming weeks, my mouth is already watering!

Cheers, Doug! It was an absolute pleasure and we can’t wait to get this beer into the pubs! Even more exciting, we can’t wait to get over to Fort Collins and collaborate again! (Thanks also to Andreas from Vertical Drinks and Alex from All Beer who came along for the day!)

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