Those Bloody Aussies…

Are ridiculously good brewers! If you’ve ever sat down and supped a Cooper’s Sparkling Ale or been lucky enough to get out there and visit places like Feral with their amazing range of breweries out in Swan Valley close to Perth, you’ll know what I mean. If you’ve seen what the legend that is Chuck Hahn has achieved with the Malt Shovel/James Squire range or look at the beers from places like Redoak and Wig and Pen, you’ll see a vibrant brewing community that’s bursting at the seams with inventiveness, creativity and cracking beers.

In fact, Extreme High Lord of Beer, Roger Protz chat’s a bit about it in these posts.

There’s one brewery over in Australia that we’ve started to make a few links with. Not only are they in the select group of breweries around the world that have a specialised piece of brewing equipment called a Rolec Hopnik (along with Meantime, Victory and Odell’s) but they also make one of the finer pale ales in the world. In fact, it’s one you can get quite easily over here and I recommend that you hunt it out and give it a try.

The brewery in question is Little Creatures, based in Fremantle. I’ve never been, but heard that it’s a must see with an awesome waterfront location, great food, awesome beer and top notch Australian custom. I’ve heard they even bowl overarm when playing cricket on that side of the country (ouch, low blow!!!).

The good ol' underarm incident. Nothing like reviving a bit of Trans-Tasman rivalry!

I got to meet Little Creatures’ Chief Brewer, Alex Troncoso when judging over at the World Beer Cup in Chicago earlier in the year and he mentioned they had a young, keen brewer who was keen to come and check it out over in this part of the world. A webcam interview and a blimmin’ long flight later, we had our newest brewer, Caolan Vaughan who comes to us with a well-established pedigree… not bad for a pipsqueak of 25 years old! He already has three years brewing experience with Creatures as well as some time at a few other Aussie micros. Couple that with his Brewing degree and we have a Thornbridger in the making!

I think the photo below sums up Caolan’s commitment to the cause… He’d been travelling for between thirty and forty hours on a series of planes and buses, yet still managed to make it to the Sheffield Tap where his first UK beer was none other than Jaipur! Not bad for an Aussie!

This Aussie is no Jaipussy!!

Already, Caolan has began to make some fantastic changes to the processes here at Thornbridge and is full of new ideas and a load of experience. I think he’s pretty chuffed that he doesn’t have to work rotating night shift anymore, but reckon he’s chomping at the bit to get things moving and help us get more Thornbridge brews out the door.

Our brewteam seems to get stronger by the day, which is brilliant to see. What with our two Italian Food Scientists, one a bona fide Doctor of the Zymurgical Arts, the other the UK Brewer of the Year, our other resident Kiwi, himself a former Homebrewer of the Year, a talented British ex-Chef and our newest assistant brewer, the  ex-IT ninja with a love of homebrewing and recent Brewing Diploma under his belt, I think the team is beginning to reach full circle. Great people make great beer.

As for Caolan… if you see him around Sheffield, say G’day and I’m sure he’d be keen for a beer and a yarn.

And at long last… finally I’m not the youngest brewer on the team! Hooray!!!

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!)

New Year, New Beer!

2009 has been an interesting one and a challenging one. Being part of the development, installation and commissioning of a new brewery has been brilliant and I’m sure all of those other brewers that have done the same over the last six months can testify that it’s not easy (I’m talking about you, Dark Star and Marble)!

As of today, we’ve put through 60 brews and we’re all beginning to learn more and more how the brewhouse works, how changes in process are affecting changes in flavour, how we can get our yeast to do what we want it to do. It’s a bit like ice-skating uphill, but hey, we like a challenge.

Lots of beer writers have given their opinions on the best of 2009, but I find it that little bit tougher to do this. For a start, we produce some beers that I think are great and I work and live in a pub that not only does great food and beer, it also had a pretty cool beer festival earlier in the year. I guess you could say my interest is vested and I can’t vote for any of these things. So I’ll keep it short and sweet instead.

Without a shadow of a doubt, my favourite Brewery of the Year has to be Marble in Manchester. I’ve read a few blog comments of late with people moaning that Marble are getting far too much kudos, or that they’ve been doing great beer for years, so why acknowledge them now etc. Whatever!

The Marble team personify the freakin’ awesome new wave of British brewing. You can argue with me that we’re following the Americans, or that the Italians and Australians and Kiwis are also doing great craft beers, but to be honest (and you all know this already), there are probably only a good dozen microbreweries in the country that are pushing the envelope (does the envelope need to be pushed, I hear you cry). Leaping away from the standard 3.5-4.5% cask ale that sells oh-so-well in a pub and tastes nice, but doesn’t flick that ever so important switch. I like this type of beer, but does it make me stand up and go wow? No chance. So instead, I can pop down to the Sheaf View in Heeley and ask for a beer (in the same alcohol range as I mentioned above).

In fact I can ask for a Pint… a Marble Pint (my Cask Beer of the Year). I can taste it and be blown away. I can tell everyone that I know how good it tastes. They can look at my pint of Pint and say it just looks like a standard pale ale. I can give them a good jab in the chops and tell them to stop being so bloody British and try drinking with your nose and mouth instead of your eyes. And I can be amazed and wowed and impressed and know that this country can take a traditional beer style and turn it into something else altogether. The Marble lads love beer. They travel around the globe to beer festivals, to the New World, to the Old World, all to hunt out good beer. And then they make it. That’s why they’re my brewery of the 2009.

Runner up is a bit more difficult. Joint second goes to Dark Star, with Mark Tranter, their head brewer brewing some brilliant beers. You can’t go wrong with Hophead or their American Pale Ale and I’m gutted I didn’t get to try their Saison. The thing I love about Dark Star is that Mark is a purely instinctive brewer. He doesn’t need the flashy Masters degree in brewing or the ten years spent in a macro-brewery learning the technology and science. He just follows his gut and his nose and his palate and does what he does and does if with flair. Leading the way in the revival of cask ale and the plethora of styles that can be brewed? Absolutely!

Also in runner up, which probably is no surprise to you all, is BrewDog. Martin and James are masters at what they do. They have a crack team of staff, a work ethic second to none and the spirit of Scottish invention is as strong in them as it was the guys who invented the telephone, bicycle, television, tyre, raincoat, gas light, steam engine (funny enough, a guy named James Watt…coincidence??), you get my drift. They have shown us that keg and bottle and cask can all showcase great beer and I’m sure this is only the beginning.

My favourite non-UK brewery of the year has to be Odell Brewing. Not only is  IPA absolutely exquisite, the St. Lupulin Ale was also my Bottled Beer of the Year. It screams hops, but it also screams control. It has balance and class and style and is incredibly quaffable. At 6.5% it slides down far too easily and with all of those beautiful pine and citrus and floral characters, it amazes me that it only weighs in at 40 bitterness units. It’s also a seasonal beer, so if you do see it this year, buy loads, you won’t be disappointed. Cheers, Doug. You rock!

A close second for Bottled Beer of the Year has to be Dogfish Head Palo Santo Marron. An absolutely unique brew, flooding the senses with vanilla and caramel, chocolate and tobacco leaf, raspberry and dark spirits, an unexplainable wood note, all perfumed and smelling of an old hardwood bureau, sun heating it and forcing out those crazy notes of cedar and sandalwood, even some patchouli? It’s 12% and it’s decadent. You’ll open a bottle to share and find yourself hiding in a closet like some weird, beer-geek Gollum, guarding it and obsessing over it. Hunt it out!

Pub of the year is a tough one. I generally just pop downstairs and have a pint at the Coach and Horses. It’s easy and lots of my friends drink there and its minimal effort. I do venture out of course! The Sheffield Tap is great. Has a big range of our beers as well as close to 200 bottled beers and a bunch of cool keg stuff. The Old Poet’s Corner in Ashover is cool, as is the Sheaf View in Heeley. I guess I like pubs that have a large and diverse beer selection and at the same time are comfortable and inviting and a great place to have a chat. Actually, the more that I think about it, I don’t think I can give a pub of the year award! I just didn’t get to enough pubs in 2009…how sad is that!

That’s my relatively succinct summary for 2009. Come on 2010!

Already we’re about to unleash our latest brew into the market. The new site has been dedicated of late to our core beers. The Jaipurs and Kiplings. Wild Swan, Lord Marples. So we thought it would be a good idea to try something different. Not only a different beer, but a different brewing style.  At the Hall brewery, we always did something called a single-step infusion mash, where we mix the milled malted grain and water together at a certain temperature, then leave it to sit and allow the enzymes to assist the breakdown of starch into sugars. At Riverside, we do also do a step infusion mash, but increase the temperature over a period of time. This allows the different enzymes to work at their optimum and assist in the breakdown of sugars and other carbohydrates more effectively than at a single temperature.

This time though, we went for a method more commonly used on the Continent. Back in the day, the malts used by brewers in places like Germany were a lot less modified (modified means that the starch wasn’t as readily available to be attacked by enzymes and broken down into sugars) than malts used in the UK. They developed a system where a part of the mash would be taken away, boiled to aid in the release of starch granules, and to raise the temperature, and then added back to the mash. This would increase the overall mash temperature and allow the enzymes present in the non-boiled mash to attack the starch that had been released by boiling. This system, called Decoction mashing takes a lot longer than our standard system, though it is argued that it can produce slightly different characteristics in the finished beer. Some say that it affects head retention, others say it gives the beer a cleaner flavour, some say it adds a hint of caramel character to the beer, some say it aids fermentation. Whatever it does, it’s worked!

The beer we brewed, called Equinox, (thanks to Mark from for naming this brew on Twitter) is 5.9% and has been brewed with a large amount of Vienna malt, as well as Maris Otter and Amber malts. Hop wise, we went for Warrior, Chinook, Perle, Ahtanum, Magnum and Centennial, so has a bunch of character and bitterness. In fact, here are my tasting notes for it.

Hints of biscuity malt, bananas, oranges, some berry fruit. Clean and crisp in the mouth with more light malt characters coming through. Subtle dryness blends into a rich, lasting bitterness, balanced well by a hint of caramel sweetness. A citrus peel after-bitterness lingers.

We should have a good 100+ casks floating around, so hopefully you see it in a pub near you! Well, by near you I actually mean within a 50 mile radius of our brewery…

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