I can still remember my first taste of Jaipur, from memory it was at the Post Office Vaults in Burslem (that part is vague..), but thinking about it now, and I still can’t quite believe that was ten years ago, it was probably my sort of gateway into new, exciting British beer.
I have a definite clear recollection of thinking “wow, that is damn delicious, but far too strong”, “I’ll have a half”…. Which again, is a fair assessment of my current drinking habits as I now almost never drink pints of anything, although clearly having just visited Thornbridge and collected my case of their 10th Anniversary “Jaipur X” a 10% Imperial version of the classic original IPA, my fear of higher strength beer has long since gone.
Even now as I write this, its as if a lightbulb has gone off in my head, “Innovation” the first word of three, proudly displayed on every Thornbridge label, “Innovation – Passion – Knowledge“, what it actually means to me. Ten years further down my own beer journey, the beers I most like drinking most are very much like, this, stronger, interesting, flavoursome and bursting with aroma, drunk and savoured in smaller measures.. It all pretty much started here.
Anyway, yesterday rather than take delivery, I decided to take a run over to the brewery and collect my Jaipur X (and a few other goodies), as it’s a lovely drive across the Peak District, through Leek, Longnor, Crowdecote and Monyash, then down to Bakewell. This stunning if bleak, countryside making the journey worthwhile in itself, but as if all this wasn’t enough, I was also lucky enough to have been offered a quick tour by Brewer and Production Manager, Dominic Driscoll as he knew I was heading over, an offer I was delighted to accept.
I was met by Dom in the brewery shop, who was mid brew but clutching a rather delicious glass of Cocoa Wonderland for me to sample, an absolutely sumptuous chocolate porter, it smelled amazing and tasted as good as anticipated, making me immediately sad that I was driving and unable to down the lot (one to look out for). He explained that he was a tad busy but left me in the capable hands of James Buchanan (European Sales and Marketing Manager) to show me around until we met later.
Stepping out of the cosy warmth of the shop and into the icy Derbyshire air, we took a stroll down to where it all begins and it starts to dawn on you how far Thornbridge have come since 2005 as you look out of the specialist grain store doorway to see vast silo feeding the automated mill within and onwards spiralling up through to the main brew house.
We follow that grain though to a room full of gleaming steel, row upon row of towering Fermenting Vessels/Conditioning tanks, linked as one by a series of shining arteries to the central hub that sits on a platform above. It’s here where we again find Dom at the breweries heart, absolutely not posing for this photograph at all (maybe a sideline as a catalogue model in the offing?).
Joking aside, he was actually hands deep into bags of glorious hops, a handful of which he thrust into my own mitts to break up and release those delicious aromas (that I could smell all the way home as I drove). Bag after bag of hops went into the next batch of AM:PM, ready to slowly filter through the leafy green layers gathering all that tropical fruity goodness as it goes.
Next stop was the control room, or “the bridge” as I called it, the brain of the “Thornbidge Enterprise”, where all the technical shizzle happens, if you’ve eve played Fiz, it’s like that on a massive scale and without that bastard Gary Blau..
Every inch of the process is mapped out before you on these two screens, with vessels, valves, temperature, inlet and outlets monitored, logged and controlled from this seat.
Immediately behind the captain’s chair, is the lab, where all the brews are tested, yeast propagated, beers force aged, clarity checked and mechanically shaken to make sure every beer you get is as good as the last, and doesn’t explode in your face..
Our last stop off was again after a quick trip across the yard to another unit, armed with a small key attached to a wooden key ring the size of a half brick. Inside is a warm room stacked high with barrel upon barrel of ageing beers, the latest batch Sour Brown took up one section, the other “Project Serpent” a very interesting sounding collaboration brew with Garett Oliver of Brooklyn Brewery, made using Oliver’s Cider lees aged on Four Roses Bourbon barrels.
Tour over we headed back to the shop to collect my previously acquired case of Jaipur X and friends, we said our thanks and goodbyes, I loaded the car then set off again into the snowy peaks towards Stoke.
Giving it some thought as I drove, what struck me was how good a beer could consistently be, even on such an industrial scale. The guys at Thornbridge may be brewing on massive kit, but it is still done with the same levels of passion and commitment to flavour and quality now, as it was when they first started, in fact probably more so. Only the finest ingredients are used and the same goes with additives to specialist brews, as I can testify after sampling peanut butter from a split tub about to go into Charlie Brown (a tactic I remarked which was employed to shut me up from my excited chattering). Big doesn’t have to be boring, bland or twiggy brown, as can often be the case with many of those trying to imitate what happens here using only fancy rehashed “craftesque” branding.
Finally, you may be wondering what I thought of Jaipur X, well, I thought it made my head go all wobbly…
A massive thanks to Dominic, James and all the guys at Thornbridge for taking time out to show me around and chat on such a busy day, Cheers guys, here’s to the next ten years.