What is Ratebeer, I here you all ask in unison. Being the laziest of bloggers, I did my usual wiki search and discovered that a guy called Bill Buchanan began the site in May 2000 to act as a focal point for beer lovers to have a virtual yarn about the breweries and beers that they love. Considering this is something that people have done for years in pubs all over the world, it makes sense I guess. Everything else was extending throughout the virtual world: dating, role-playing, football games, and the use of colons (the grammatical ones…) in a correct manner. It was bound to happen!

As the name suggests...

As the name suggests...

Ratebeer was subsequently taking over by a guy called Joe Tucker who runs this virtual beer collection site from the States, boasting over 2 million beer reviews! That’s a lot of drinking, recording and discussing!

 I’ve had a bit of a rant before (I’m prone to long, circular arguments with myself when I write) about Ratebeer and how in the fever of beer collection, many a ratebeerian will actually rate a beer even when it’s obviously not in tip-top condition, but I also understand that people can write what they like! Saying that, I find Ratebeer a fantastic resource for feedback. I like knowing what people think about our beers, good or bad… as long as they don’t try and tell me how I’ve brewed them, as I wrote about here.

So here we are in the middle of July and it happens that the Ratebeer crowd are having their European Summer Gathering just up t’road (yeah, pretty bad for a Kiwi to go all Yorkshire, somehow the accents just don’t mix) in Sheffield and two of the Ratebeerians, Simon Johnson from the brilliant Reluctant Scooper blog and Ian Harrison from the excellent Pubs and Beer site have come up for a brew day!

Matt, Ian and Si... rubber gloves at the ready?

Matt, Ian and Si... rubber gloves at the ready?

Simon has been here and brewed before and wrote a really nice blog that you can check out here. Actually if beer rating sites annoy you, as they do quite a few brewers, then I’d recommend Ian’s Pubs and Beer site. The interesting thing about this beer rating site is that they will often go into the same pubs and taste the same beers and rate them every time. This is how it should happen! Drink the beers you like and rate how the pubs themselves have kept them. It removes the possibility of the pub just having an average pint or it being the end of the barrel or the beer having being on the handpull for who knows how long. A great resource chronicling some good pub and beer information anyway. In fact, it’s definitely up there with the Ratebeer site in that the web address states exactly what the website is all about!

So with Ian and Simon here, it’s time to chat about the beer! I’ve been back and forth to Simon and Ian over the last month or so talking about ideas for the beer, what they envisage for this brew, what sort of hops, malts and other ingredients we have available, generally building up an image in my head of the type of beer that they want to brew. Because there’s a gaggle of brewers here at Thornbridge, we all have a diverse range of ideas and thoughts as to how beers should be brewed. It’s great to bounce ideas off one another and create and evolve a concept to its fruition. I gave all of the boys Ian and Simon’s ideas and we got to work.

Beer blog boys brew brilliant beer

Beer blog boys brew brilliant beer

First up was Simon and Ian’s initial concept… A light, pale ale, with Liberty and lemongrass / lemon balm to the fore, perhaps some mint in there? Make a real summer quencher!

That was the concept, so we got to work…

Kelly's plan

Kelly's plan

I thought of a beer around 3.6-3.8% using pale ale malt, some flaked maize instead of wheat to help head retention, and a little crystal rye, caragold and crystal wheat. Maybe hopped with Liberty and some german hops… potentially Northern Brewer or even Celeia, a Styrian offshoot. Dosed liberally with fresh lemon balm and mint at the end of the boil.

Matt's plan
Matt’s plan

Matt has pale ale malt, flaked maize also, and a little Vienna and pale crystal malts, with Liberty and lemon balm. Again, around 3.7%

Dave's plan... world domination?
Dave’s plan… world domination?

Dave has pale ale malt, wheat malt, Vienna and a touch of crystal wheat, hopped with Styrian Goldings and Saaz and maybe some pineapple sage and Sorachi hops and a bit of lemon zest, weighing in at 3.8%.

JK's plan
JK’s plan

JK has pale ale malt, Munich, caramalt and wheat for head retention with some Liberty and Amarillo hops with some lemongrass and around 4.5%. He also has an interesting concept for a “mint choc chip mild” with pale ale malt, pale chocolate, pale crystal, and fresh mint with Liberty and Challenger or Cascade hops. Interesting idea, though maybe something for the autumn months!

So by our powers combined we came up with a recipe! We went for Maris Otter Pale Ale malt, wheat malt, Vienna malt, Crystal Rye malt and Pale Crystal malt, giving us a lovely light orange wort. Once Ian and Simon arrived we hit the hops, nosing Liberty, Sorachi, Willamette, Santiam and Amarillo before deciding on a good whack of Liberty (5 kilos in 10 barrels) and a touch of Sorachi. Sorachi emits intense mouldy orange and coconut characters and comes across quite lemony in the beer, so we had to be careful with this hop. If we used too much it may overpower the gentle herb and lemon Liberty notes and overwhelm the delicate notes of the herbs and spices that we added at boil end.

Coriander seeds were the obvious choice with their wonderful citrus and powdered ginger characters to accentuate the hops but the next decision was which other herbs were I to raid from our fantastic Thornbridge gardens. It was off to see Chris, one of the resident gardeners. Like our brewer Matt, Chris was also a chef, and they both bring with them a great nose, palate and understanding of flavours and how ingredients work in food.

Off to the glasshouse, first to be used was some lemongrass (pictured below), freshly sliced from the soil. This was added crushed and sliced with the crushed coriander seeds before the end of boil to aid oil extraction.

                            Lemongrass in the Thornbridge glasshouse

After boil end, in went the lemon balm, the mint and the Tahitian lime leaves. All slightly more delicate in their aromas, with the Tahitian lime smelling incredible, much more scented and delicate than Kaffir lime leaves.

Lemon balm in our brewery herb garden

Lemon balm in our brewery herb garden

Good ol' garden mint... all crushed up, it reminded me of Rowley's Jaipur Mojito

Good ol' garden mint... all crushed up, it reminded me of Rowley's Jaipur Mojito

Wonderfully fragrant Tahitian lime

Wonderfully fragrant Tahitian lime

The aromas in the brewery were fantastic, especially as the herbs and spices were bashed to within inches of their lives with a mallet. We’re all hoping like hell that these flavours make their way into the beer and gives us a wonderfully fragrant, light, easy drinking summer ale!

We’re yet to name this brew and I’ll update the blog as we go… should be a good’n!


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

Chocolate Waltzin’

What goes into the creation of a beer?

I’ll be honest. I’ve read a few random things in my time about producing new beers, my favourite a rating on our Belgian Dubbel style ale that we called Handel. One of the Ratebeer clan (Ratebeer is a website where people give their descriptions and ratings of different beers) described it as such… “Some brown malts were brewed with some Belgian yeast and some hops were thrown in without any genuine conception of how the finished beer would taste”. This actually made me laugh out loud! I won’t make any assumptions about how much this guy knows about brewing (although it seems he’s already decided how we make beer), but it couldn’t be further from the truth.

Using this example, Handel was actually based on a tried and true homebrew recipe from a young American homebrewer, Leah Handel, who had come over to learn about microbrewing with us and with Kelham Island Brewery in Sheffield. Her homebrew beer was tasted by Dave Wickett of Kelham Island when he was with Garrett Oliver, the esteemed Brewmaster of Brooklyn Brewery in the US. They thought it was great, thus she came over, learnt a bit about commercial brewing and gave us the chance to brew her beer on a large scale. We used a similar combination of malts as her recipe, as well as hops that we hand selected (well, nose selected actually… Brewers Gold, Hersbrucker, Vanguard and Pioneer) and to stick to its Belgian roots, we even made our own Belgian Candied Sugar in the Thornbridge Kitchen (one of the advantages of one of our brewers, Matt, having been a chef).

 We then used the same strain of Trappist Ale yeast that had been used by Leah, but instead of allowing the intensely complex aromatics that some of the Belgian yeast can give to a beer, we made a decision to use a blend of this yeast with our own Thornbridge strain… something we had done successfully before. The beer fermented down, and then was matured for 4 or so months before being racked into cask.

So yeah, I guess you could say we actually did have some type of thoughts about how the beer would taste! I’m all for people rating beer and letting us know whether they love or hate it, but if you are going to make comments like that, I think facts are pretty important!

This brings me to me next story of beer creation!

We’re really lucky to have great locals at our pub. Around Christmas this year, they brought the staff in all manner of sweets and chocolates and lovely Christmas cards. It was great! Best of all was that I’d steal a chocolate every now and then and I managed to steal a small Terry’s Chocolate Orange segment. I’ve had lots of different orange and chocolate combinations before, but this was really nice. A whack of sweetness, some smooth creaminess, a small hint of bitter from the dark chocolate and a perfumed orange character. Could I recreate this as a beer?

I thought and I thought and realised that the best way to do it would be as a mild. Where to next? I researched into mild production and found out some interesting facts, particularly pertaining to the strengths of milds in the past! Just over a hundred years ago, milds were weighing in at 6 and 7 % and used as many hops (in kilograms per barrel) as we do now in Jaipur!!! And these were the mild beers! (Remember, that mild refers to ale that was hopped in a lesser quantity than other beers such as bitters, pale ales etc.)

I went into our malt store and got a load of different malts and put them into glasses. I crunched through them all, sniffed them and finally decided on a combination of pale ale malt, mild ale malt and a few different roasted, specialty malts. I wanted something that tasted like chocolate… lots of warm cocoa character, a bit of dusty astringency and a load of smoothness. The malts finally decided upon, the next stage was water profile. Milds were big in the Midlands and also down South, where the water was ideal for Porter, Stout and generally dark beer production. London’s water profile is quite high in carbonates, which work wonders with dark, roasted malts and mellows out their astringency. Here at Thornbridge, we’re quite lucky and have very soft water. It means when it comes to developing and brewing different styles of beer we can alter the water chemistry by adding different amounts of brewing salts… gypsum, sodium chloride, sodium bicarbonate. The more balanced London water was the decision… I didn’t want the drier character that the Dublin water profile gives to its dark beers.

Brew day was upon us and again a decision was made based on the type of fermentability and residual mouthfeel we wanted in the finished beer. Because we do single-step infusion mashing in our brewhouse, we went for a slightly higher than usual mash temperature to allow a little more non-fermentable carbohydrate to come through. Molecules from the grains called glucans help with the viscosity and mouthfeel of a beer so I wanted to retain some of these. Coupled with the fullness that some roasted malts can give, it should work perfectly!

Hop o’ clock! Saaz and Sorachi were chosen… for one I didn’t want a load of bitterness, this was a mild and for once wasn’t about the hops… something of a rarity for us at Thornbridge! But I couldn’t resist, so the aromatic Sorachi Ace, with it’s wonderful over-ripe orange and coconut characters still managed to make the cut.

I also happen to like layers of flavour in a beer and think that complexity can come from using ingredients other that water, yeast, malt and hops. This is where one of the local Peak District chocolatiers comes in! CocoaDance, my favourite chocolate-makers, do fairs and farmers markets around Derbyshire and have sold some of their fantastic chocolates to many a prestigious store! I was most impressed when I came to the Thornbridge fair a few months back and found that Dave Golubows, the chocolatier, had made a chocolate truffle using Jaipur IPA for the fondant filling. It was great!

Myself, Stefano, our head brewer, and Rob Wainwright, our chocolate-loving chef from the Coach and Horses went out to visit CocoaDance in the beautiful Castleton, right at the base of the behemoth that is Mam Tor. His quaint little factory is great and he talked us through the chocolate-making process with a passion and excitement that reminded me so much about us talking of beer. I asked him all that I could and queried him on my concept… that I wanted to make a beer that tasted like a chocolate orange, yet something that was drinkable. We had used Seville orange zest in one of our beers before, but I was worried about its bitterness. He suggested one of his favourite dark chocolate matches, mandarin peel. I tried some and was impressed by the punch of citrus oils, the spicy, peppery, almost woody characters and the light but zingy orange bitterness. I was sold!

So in went some mandarin peel and a hint of star anise just to add a little extra warmth and liquorice nose.

The beer fermented down to 3.5% AbV and now it was time to add some chocolate. I’d had the chance to talk to a few brewers that have used chocolate in its various guises before. Some brewers go for a chocolate essence, which I’m not too keen on… I’d rather something a bit more natural. Cocoa powder and chocolate itself has been known to cause all sorts of problems clogging up filters during the wort boiling and I didn’t want any chocolate that was filled with milk fats or vegetable oils that could affect head retention. The only way forward was with true cocoa beans. We ordered a small sample of cacao nibs (the broken up beans that chocolate is made from) and aged one of our stouts, Saint Petersburg on them to see what sort of character they would give the beer. Wow! It was choco-alcoholic heaven! Decision made, we transferred the finished mild on to the organic cacao nibs that I sourced from Supernutrients and now we wait…

I’ve already christened the beer CocoaDance, it already tasted chocolaty and citrusy before the maturation on chocolate, so I can’t wait to taste it over the coming days as it waltzes on to be my dream beer.

Blog at WordPress.com.