Brewery Visit: Thornbridge

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Back when Thornbridge started in 2005 beer in the UK was mainly split between the big, international companies making lager and established regional ale brewers, often still family owned. New breweries were known as ‘micro-brewers’ and sold almost exclusively in pubs on cask in a scene kept alive by the hard work of CAMRA.

The Thornbridge brewery was started in the stunning grounds grounds of Thornbridge Hall outside Shefield. They still use the original site and 10 barrel kit for new and small run beers. It didn’t take long for people to start taking notice of their hop forward, often high strength or experimental beers that carried far greater consistency than you’d normally find in a young brewery.

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You might recognise this statue from the beer labels. I was informed that it’s of Flora; one of many Roman fertility goddesses as well as the goddess of flowers, youth and spring.

 

 

 

Brewing is often described as a marriage of science and art, and part of the reason that Thornbridge collect awards at such a terrifying rate is their commitment to the technical side of brewing. Even on the small kit for an experimental brew they are monitoring and recording micro levels on a table top lab.

I 2009 they upgraded to a new facility. This new lab has top end equipment as well as sensory and tasting space. While it lacks the poetry of the original site, it is obvious when walking around that quality of the beer is the driving value in every step of the chain.

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We ended the tour of both breweries in their new sour facility. This is climate controlled and  kept at a constant temperature and humidity with beer in a wide range of casks. These beers are soured post-fermentation in barrels that have been previously used for wines, whisky (and whiskey) and some fortified wines.

Each of these barrels brings a different character and evolutionary effect to the beer during ageing, a process that can be hard to predict.

They have proved adapt at making sours winning both Gold AND Silver in the Wood & Barrel Aged Sour Beer category at this year’s World Beer Cup for Love Among The Ruins (gold) and Days of Creation (Silver). A stunning achievement.

I also recommend you try Serpent, their collaboration with Brooklyn Brewery if you get the chance. It’s a Belgian style Golden Ale that spent year on the lees in an old cider barrel.

 

 

 

P.S.

If you’re interested in which of their beers have on the 250+ awards they provide a full list on their website.

http://www.thornbridgebrewery.co.uk/awards

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Craft Beer in Northern Spain

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This summer I spent 10 days visiting Bilbao, Rioja and San Sebastien in Spain. While I drank plenty of wine I did find a few occasions to check out the rapidly expanding experimental craft beer scene when in the towns. Craft beer had the largest footprint in San Sebastien which isn’t surprising given the city’s passion for food and drink and it’s reputation as one of the worlds greatest culinary destinations.

To drink draught beer in San Sebastian everyone suggested I first head to the Mala Gissona Craft Bar which was described as the epicentre of craft beer in San Sebastien, although given there is a Craft Beer shop that was opening on the seafront in the area of Gros overlooking their famous surf beach competition could be hotting up!

Mala Gissona’s beers tasted good and fresh in a deliberate hop forward style and was served exclusively out of key kegs which were visible through a glass cellar door. While nearly all of the beers where theirs on draught including a few nice collaborations their bottle selection covered  most of the world’s best known innovative breweries.

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An interesting point was the prevalence of British craft beers in specialist off licenses and wine shops. Moor in-particular (who i’ve always been a huge fan of) seemed to be very well represented across the city as you can see above in a wine shop’s fridge.

It’s also worth mentioning that Bilbao has an outstanding craft beer bar in The Penguin which has regular international tap takeovers and I tried some beers from Founders in very good condition. Most bars I visited in Northern Spain are still only pouring one or two beers (normally a blonde and a ‘toasted’ lager which had a lovely creamy character) which makes trying a range of beers from small breweries quite hard. The term Craft Beer has entered the Spanish language (interestingly, not been translated) and I think it is going to be really exciting to watch Spain grow into a significant player in European Craft Beer.

 

Tasting: BBNo & BDLs – Session 4

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Last week I stopped by BottleDog and got myself a few beers that I’d been meaning to try for a long time. These included a few of the Brasserie de la Senne range from Brussels, one of the newest Belgian breweries and the most noticeably influenced by British and American craft beers that I’ve encountered.

This session beer is a 4% collaboration with local heros from Bermondsey, Brew by Numbers. Brewed on the 23rd of March it was nice and fresh with a huge amount of gas present; showing it’s Belgium roots early on.

The ingredients list barley, wheat and sugar as well as hops and yeast and this carries through in the style of the beer which is very light with a slightly thin and watery finish. Hop character is hardly detectable on either the nose or the pallet but is is undoubtably refreshing.

 

I feel this beer could do with greater complexity, to fit my tastes but overall it is unique, interesting and great to see the camaraderie of craft beer spanning boarders so effortlessly.

 

 

UPCOMING EVENT – Sierra Nevada Beer and Food

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I’m really excited to be hosting this event to kick of a predictably busy London Beer City. I’ve been working closely with Omar the chef at the Wall SE1 restaurant in House of Vans to pair this Spanish inspired menu with my favourite Californian brewery, the legendary Sierra Nevada.

We’ll be using their signature hop forward beers as well as their Germanic pilsner and modern classic, American Porter while sharing some classic Spanish food and talking about how and why these work so well together.

After dinner we’ve even got a showing of the mumble-core film Drinking Buddies that is set in an American craft brewery.

 

DATE: 5th August

 

VENUE: (under Waterloo Station)

House of Vans, Arches, 228-232 Station Approach Road, London, SE1 8SW

 

TICKETS: 

£35 – TICKETS FROM GRUBCLUB

 

MENU:

Summerfest lager on arrival

First course is slow-cooked lamb chops with Spanish omelette and fried onions accompanied by Hop Hunter IPA.

Followed by a paella with a side of cured cheese, which will surprise you with how well it works with the Pale Ale!

Next up we’ll be pairing Nooner Pilsner with pan-fried garlic prawns, as well as calamari with a side of padron peppers.

Our final treat is then churros with a dark chocolate sauce, which will send your mouth wild accompanied with the award winning Porter.

 

Chimay Blue: 19yrs cellar ageing VS fresh oak ageing

 

Following the brewery tour we ended up in Chimay’s beer ageing cellar, picking out a few bottles for tasting.

The two that I’m going to talk about today are a 19 year old Grande Reserve that has been kept in optimum conditions it’s whole life and an oak aged grande reserve, released last year for the first time.

This oak ageing is interesting for a few reasons; they use both American and French oak in brand new barrels then blend them together in varying quantities. First released in 2015 after five months in wood each release will have a different blend of barrels including old cognac barrels which can be seen above.

19yr Grande Reserve

Nineteen years is certainly a long time for beers to be aged for. To weather that amount of time it needs to be high strength, highly carbonated, contain wild yeast (to prevent oxidation) and ideally malt lead as hop flavours are more aromatic so will mostly have evaporated in that time frame.

The colour was a deep chestnut brown when this came out of the bottle and needed to be poured carefully, while not too oxidised it had a very definite musty character and a spirit character that brought whiskey to mind. Aroma was dominated by the mustiness of ageing but this reduced on the palette where rich dried fruit was evident.

 

Oak Aged Grande Reserve – Nov 2015 release

This beer was a mix of American and French oak where it had aged for five months in new barrels. The use of new barrels made the oak more evident and the vanilla smoothness of the American oak worked nicely with the rich treacle of the beer.

I found it hard not to be reminded of powerful red wines such as Barolo or Rioja Reserves here as that is normally where oak aromas of this nature would be found. My only regret with this beer is that I didn’t get a chance to play around pairing it with food as I believe it would add some totally new challenges and rewards as part of a tasting dinner.

 

Winner

For me it was a clear win for the oak aged beer.

The aged beer was a wonderful curiosity but I couldn’t help but feel it had passed it’s prime with respect to balancing falvours. The oaked beer however was an expression of the Chimay Blue I love but reinvented in a way that was as exciting as it was delicious.

Brewery Visit – Chimay

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In June this year I was lucky enough to secure a place on a trip to visit the Chimay monastery and look around their brewhouse. As it is not normally open to the public I jumped at the chance to see where these iconic Trappist Beers are made.

Trappist Beers must be made within the walls of a Trappist monastery under the supervison of the monks, the brewing must be of secondary importance to the main activities of the monastery and any money made after sustaining the monks is given to charity. Chimay is the largest of the 11 Trappist breweries in the world.

 

After looking around the very peaceful grounds and buildings, including the church that the monks pray in five times a day we moved into the brewhouse. What we found here was a stunningly clean, modern and professional set up, able to produce large qualities of very high quality and consistent beer. They use a single yeast strain for their four beers (Gold, Red, White and Blue as they are best known) and the control at every step of the way was exemplary.

This style of modern brewery is a far cry from the look and feel that many on the trip expect from a Belgium brewery. The reputation of Belgium breweries is more along the lines of Cantillon in Brussels (see previous posts) where wild yeasts and bacterias are allowed during the fermentation.

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Brewery (+Taproom) Visit: Canopy Beer Co

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This weekend I found myself in Herne Hill, in search of some craft beer on Saturday afternoon. I was with great pleasure that I think stumbled across the Canopy Beer Co and their tap room.

 

TAPROOM

Beers are priced from a very competitive £3.50 – £4.00 for a pint and styles ranged from Kolsch to Saison to Red IPA. As well as around 10 of their own beers they have a few national heros on draught such as Wiper & True and Magic Rock.

The modest space was rammed (especially outside) with a steady stream of people coming to visit all afternoon, some hung around for a beer and others made use of the milk-carton-style disposable growlers and took them to Brockwell Park over the road.

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In a welcome change from most who only open on Saturday afternoons the tap room is open five days as week: 5pm-11pm on Wednesday to Friday, Saturday midday to 11pm and Sunday midday to 10pm.

 

BEERS

I tried three of their beers; Kolsch, Pale Ale and Rye IPA. Overall I was impressed by the range of styles they brew and the quality of beer produced.

I found the Kolsch pleasant but a little light on bittering hops for my taste, I was however very impressed that there were no significant off flavours, hard to do in such an unforgiving style.

Journeyman Pale Ale was my favourite, a classic APA available in bottle, keg and cask. They had avoided the pitfall of many newer breweries and made it well balanced between the pale malt character and aromatic hop load.

The Rye IPA is (I think) one of their newer creations and had a tartness to it that made me think of Rodenbach, not unpleasant, but possibly not intentional either.

 

SUMMARY

All in all, I love this place, it truly feels like the brewery is at the centre of the local community and I strongly recommend you visit on a Sunday when there is a bustling market over the road.

 

More info here:

https://twitter.com/CanopyBeerCo

http://www.canopybeer.com/

 

 

 

 

Faro: Lindemans Tasting

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This bottle of Faro is the last of a range of beers I brought back from Belgium earlier this month on a ‘research’ trip with some friends. Faro is a style of lambic that has been sweetened with brown sugar before bottling and not something I’d not tried before. This bottle from the famous Lindemans came both capped and corked so I was expecting a serious beer.

The carbonation was higher than is often found in lambics, a direct result of the sugar allowing secondary fermentation in the bottle. I was impressed that it poured so bright and had an intriguing toffee nose. When drinking it the sourness of the beer and the sweetness of the sugar compete making it both complex and refreshing. I had a really strong sense of toffee apples while drinking this which made me think of some ciders I’ve drunk in the past.

Faro has to feature as one of my favourite lambic styles and I look forward to trying some from different breweries on my next trip to Belgium in June.

 

The beer styles of Cantillon

UNFLAVOURED BEERS

LAMBIC

This sour, aged beer forms the basis for all of their others. Fermented with the wild yeasts of the brewery it is a distinctive and funky character that can be quite challenging.

The best barrels are selected after three years of ageing and bottled under the name Grand Cru Bruocsella, by this point all of the sugar has been fermented out so there is no sweetness or opportunity for secondary fermentation.

 

GUEUZE

The most famous of Cantillon’s beers is this blend of one, two and three year old lambics, this can be stored for years while it continues to develop in the bottle.

 

FARO

This lambic is blended with caramel and candied sugar, coming out of the bottle both sweet and highly carbonated.

 

CUVEE SAINT-GILLOISE

A two year old lambic with Hallertau hops cold-soaked in it. This beer is made in honour of the Royale Union Saint-Gilloise football club.

 

FLAVOURED LAMBICS

All of these use two year old lambic with fruit soaked in it for 5-6 months. One third of the bottle will be made up of young lambic to allow for secondary fermentation.

Kriek: Schaerbeek cherries

Rose de Gambrinus: Raspberries

Vigneronne: White Muscat grapes

Saint-Lamvinus: Black Merlot grapes

Fou’foune: Bergeron apricots

Mamouche: Elderberry flowers

Lou Pepe Series – Kriek and Framboise : These beers come from one session and are primed using cane sugar instead of young lambic. As a result they are more intensely fruity and carry vintages.

Brewery Visits: Cantillon, Brussels

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Last weekend I visited Brussels, it was my first time in Belgium and I was more than a little excited to try the range styles Belgium is so famous for.

My first stop was Brussel’s last traditional, family run brewer Cantillon, famous for both its spontaneously fermented Lambic beers.

The beers are made with a 65% barley and 35% wheat grist with aged hops in the boil. As aged hops are used around 2-3 times more hop is required but this is done as they bring not only bitterness but also act to preserve the beer.

 

Once the beers are fermented they are stored in oak or chestnut wooden casks and aged for up to 3 years. Over 100 different yeast strains are used during the spontaneous fermentation plus 27 acetic acid bacteria and 38 lactic acid inducing bacteria.

An aged lambic is a very challenging drink so often different years are blended together to form a gueuze, a signature style of this brewery.