THORNBRIDGE: FANCY A BREW?
Well, of course, my main reason to head up North last week was to spend time with my adoring family. They love me so no one else has to. But, the fact that Alex Buchanan, marketing guru for Thornbridge brewery had invited me to spend a day with them watching the magical transformation of malt, hops, yeast and water into falling down juice, was an added incentive.
Despite the sheeting rain, Thornbridge Hall is an impressive place set in over one hundred acres of land and the small brewery area at the back was already buzzing with activity as three of the brewers were hard at work.
Thornbridge brewery is owned in part by Jim Harrison, resident at the hall, and in part by Dave Wickett, the man behind of one of my favourite Northern beer makers, Kelham Island and they have taken on a young team to make their range of beers with each member barely more than thirty years old.
Despite their youth, their dedication and attention to detail is something to watch and it wasn’t long before, with cup of tea in hand obviously, I was watching Matthew Clark, a former Chef, cleaning casks for racking off the conditioned beer, Stefano Cossi, a food technologist from Italy, peering at yeast strains through the lens of a microscope and, David Pickering, the most experienced and travelled brewer, rubbing hops between his hands to release the oils before choosing the perfect mix for the daily brew.
They only make one ten barrel batch a day, but the fact they brew five times a week has allowed them to create a wide range of beers including the strong Jaipur IPA (available at Waitrose, beer fans) Kipling, another IPA, but made in the style more common in New Zealand and Halcyon, another IPA, but one where fresh hops are added to the beer in the conditioning tanks rather than during mashing to give a fantastic fruity aroma.
It’s all good stuff. Very good in fact, but my beer of choice is their remarkable Saint Petersburg Imperial Russian Stout, which packs a punch at nearly 8% but has a deliciously smooth chocolate note to the finish. They gave me a sample of a batch, which had been bottled conditioned and aged in whisky casks. I have it earmarked for Christmas .
By the time it came time for me to leave, the skies had cleared and Alex gave me a tour of the stunning grounds before generously loading me up with plenty of beer to take away including a couple of bottles of seriously strong Alliance, brewed with American beer legend, Garrett Oliver when he visited recently. At 11% it’s practically barley wine and I have been too afraid to go near it yet. But, I do heartily recommend their beers and, if you are not inclined to line up at beer festivals with middle aged, pork pie eating, Jethro tull loving men like DH, check the shelves of your decent off licences or supermarket where they are becoming more widely available.