Take it to the Bridge

IMG_1602I 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.

InnovationPassionKnowledgeEven 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.

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IMG_1603I 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.

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IMG_1607We 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.

IMG_1608Next 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..

IMG_1609Every 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.

IMG_1610Immediately 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..

IMG_1614Our 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.

 

IMG_1616Tour 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.

IMG_1600Giving 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.

IMG_1631Finally, 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. 

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IPA Day Thursday 4th Aug 2011

A Celebration of IPA, IPA DAY 4th AUGUST 2011 – #IPADay

This is just an update really from a post created a few weeks back to remind you that it is International IPA day TODAY and there’s still time to get involved.

As far as I can find out there are no events planned in the Stoke On Trent, Staffs or local Cheshire areas, which is a damn shame, especially if you look at some of the other fantastic things organised in places like Mr Foleys Bar in Leeds as an example.

Sadly I can’t get to this as we have an early start on the 5th, when we’re on a mission to hit GBBF, so it looks like a night in with my own IPA collection, but I’m open to ideas…

What will YOU be doing?

……

The following is the extract of the piece from Raise The Bar:

Announcing International #IPADay: A Social Celebration of Craft Beer 
Attention all craft beer evangelists, brewers, bloggers, and suds-savvy citizens! OnThursday, August 4th 2011, you are cordially invited to participate in the largest international craft beer celebration and virtual conversation the world has ever seen.
International #IPADay is a grassroots movement to unite the voices of craft beer enthusiasts, bloggers, and brewers worldwide through social media. On Thursday August 4th, craft beer drinkers across the social sphere and across the globe will raise pints in a collective toast to one of craft beer’s most iconic styles: the India Pale Ale. This celebrated style represents the pinnacle of brewing innovation with its broad spectrum of diverse brands, subcategories, and regional flavor variations – making it the perfect style to galvanize craft beer’s social voice.

#IPADay is not the brainchild of a corporate marketing machine, nor is it meant to serve any particular beer brand. #IPADay is opportunity for breweries, bloggers, businesses and consumers to connect and share their love of craft beer. Getting involved is easy; the only requirements are an appreciation for great beer and the will to spread the word. Anyone can participate by enjoying IPA with friends, making some noise online with the #IPADay hashtag, and showing the world that craft beer is more than a trend!http://ipaday.eventbrite.com/

Tips on How to Take Part:

1.       Organize an #IPADay event at your brewery, brewpub, restaurant, bar, home, or office (Ex:  An IPA dinner/cheese pairing/comparative or educational tasting/cask night/tap takeover…). Share your events on the official #IPADay forum at http://www.ratebeer.com.

2.       On August 4th, share your photos, videos, blog posts, tasting notes, recipes, and thoughts with the world. Be sure to include the #IPADay hashtag in your posts Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, WordPress, RateBeer, Foursquare, Gowalla, Yelp, Untappd or any other social media site.

3.       See what other people are saying by searching “#IPADay” on Google,search.twitter.com, et cetera…

4.       Track down your favorite IPA’s, ones you’ve been meaning to try, and ones you’ve never heard of; share them with friends and share your thoughts with the world.

5.       Have a good time and know that by sharing your experiences online, you’re strengthening the craft beer community at large.

We have managed to team up with some of the UK’s top craft beer outlets, The Port Street Beer House, Manchester, The Free Trade Inn, Newcastle, The Rake, London, The Southampton Arms, London, Mr Foleys, Leeds & others TBC…  To run #IPADay events, mini fests, live blogging, tastings & more! Also being the week of The Great British Beer Festival what could tie in better with the UK’s largest beer festival than a day dedicated to the world’s most loved beer style!

You are encouraged to share links, blog & tweet about the event & above all use all types social media to promote International IPA Day on August 4th. The twitter hashtag is #IPADay.

Get involved in this Worldwide collaboration & give IPA it’s very own day!!

Register Yourself on the Event Brite IPADay Page.


Introducing, Project “Time Capsule”

I’ve been wanting to do this for a while but have never managed to get round to it, start to age some beers that is. It’s taken so long for two reasons really, time and lack of it, plus the fact that I’ve never had enough beers that fit the bill around long enough to start..

So to start the ball well and truly rolling, this month I placed an order which included a few extras so that I could taste specific beers fresh, then set another aside for the ageing process. These have joined others that I have amassed and set aside over the last 6 months. Finally though, I am able to introduce you to, project “Time Capsule

It’s nothing to look at I know, just an old beer delivery box, but once filled, sealed and placed in a coolish dark place, I’m confident that it should provide a decent enough environment which is about as close as I can get to a real beer cellar.

For those who have not ever tried this before, I am reliably informed that basically you just need somewhere with a pretty constantly cool temperature without too much fluctuation. It also needs to be dark or at least certainly not in sunlight to prevent the beers getting light-struck.

Beer choices are partly trial and error and some through research. Some beers suit ageing better than others, high alcohol Belgian Trappist beers for example, but avoid anything light and hoppy as they really need to be drunk fresh. I’ve thrown a few in here that may not really fit the bill but as it’s a first time attempt then I’ll learn as I go.

So what’s in the box so far?

6 x Westvleteren 12

2 x Orval, Rochefort 10, Chimay Blue, Hoegaarden Grand Cru.

Large bottles of Achel Bruin Extra, St Bernadus 12 and St Bernadus Christmas, De Glazen Toren Canaster Winterscotch, Leffe Christmas  and Gouden Carolus Cuvee Van Der Kieser.

Then single small bottles of Goose Island Pepe Nero, Samuel Smiths Imperial Stout, Kapitel Prior, De Halve Maan Straffe Hendrick Quadruppel, Sierra Nevada Bigfoot, Thornbridge St Petersburg, St Bernadus 12, Robinsons Chocolate Tom and finally a Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout (the last two are not pictured).

The list is by no means a closed book, I intend to add to it as I go on and obviously drink some in time as this becomes a living beast. Each bottle that goes in is labelled with the date it was bought or roughly at least, so that in a few years time I can keep track of how long each beer has been kept. Willpower depending…. 🙂

I’d definitely be interested in comments and suggestions from beer enthusiasts, brewers, publicans etc, in fact anyone really with knowledge or experience to share as to how you think this will work out, have I made any glaring errors for example.

Are there any MUST HAVE beers that just have to go into the box (there are a few already in mind)?

Are there any beers already in there that you just know already are not going to improve and I may as well just enjoy now?

How long, is too long (or not long enough)?

I am learning here, so any input will be gratefully received..

Wish me luck…

If you enjoyed reading this blog post then please spread the love by telling your friends. Facebook share it, RT on Twitter or send it on by email. I’d love to read your views just click the button and wax lyrical in the comments section of this page. Or if you’ve nothing to say, just click the rating stars below..  Cheers Phil

A blog about a blog about a blog… Featuring Thornbridge Hall Coalition Old Ale 7%

This is a beer review with a twist as it’s not actually me reviewing the beer, having more to do with the outside influences that really enhanced my enjoyment and the fantastic way that social media can be used at it’s very best.

The beer in question was Coalition Old Ale. Brewed in 2009, Coalition is the result of a collaboration between two of my favourite breweries, Thornbridge and Dark Star.

I saw a review of this beer back at around the time of launch and thought, “I have to try that”! I seem to remember it being this post on The Thornbridge Blog which tells the tale of how the beer came about, although I recall there also being a lot of excited chatter going on at the time on various blogs, Twitter, Facebook etc. Anyway to cut a long story short, a purchase was made and on arrival I put the beer away waiting for the right moment to drink it to arrive.

Flicking through Twitter last night, I noticed a note from @LeighGoodStuff announcing a new post on his blog The Good Stuff.

I had a moment of clarity thinking, “I’ve got a bottle of that in the fridge”, replied as such and before I could read all the responding tweets telling me as such it was open.

I took my beer outside to sit in the cool evening air and so sitting down at the garden table, glass in hand, I started to read Leighs fine blogpost (read it here).

As I was doing so @baron_orm chirps up on twitter that I should also check out his blog post too (there is a connection to Leighs), also to listen to the inclusive audio review on his own blog The Ormskirk Baron.

So now I find myself not only enjoying one of the finest beers I’ve had for some time, I’m also reading the extensive tasting notes and listening to the live beer rating chat from three established beer critics, this including @BGRTRob from Hopzine.

It was I can honestly say a really enlightening experience, akin to having an actual live tasting event in my own back yard. As each aroma and flavour was described I’d take another taste or sniff and think to myself “oh yeah, I can really get that”. Marvellous!

Now some folk may say that they would prefer to try and glean that information for themselves so as not to be influenced by the opinions of others, that could be true, that said for me, at that moment it really enhanced the experience.

As a consequence of the initial twitter conversations and my own continuing tweets on how things were progressing, we were joined in twitter conversations by several others including
@Darkstarbrewco @tuff86 @baron_orm @abarth50010 @leighgoodstuff @mybrewerytap @thornbridge
and @GhostDrinker amongst others. Essentially we now have brewers, retailers and customers all busily chatting away about how much of this wonderful beer was made, what is it like, is it still available (it is) and where from. All this of course, being visible the many hundreds if not thousands of followers not actually actively involved in conversation, a marketeers dream.

From a personal perspective, I’d just like to say a big THANKS to everyone above for a cracking evening of beer enjoyment!

If you want to try Thornbridge/Darkstar Coalition, I know of at least two online retailers: www.beerritz.co.uk and www.mybrewerytap.com, there may be more out there on tinterweb, specialist beer shops and I suspect at the Thornbridge brewery shop, so I’d definitely advise grabbing one now before it’s too late.

If you enjoyed reading this post please spread the love, Facebook share it, RT on Twitter or send on by email. I’d love to hear your comments and shared experiences too in the comments section of this page. Cheers Phil