Thornbridge - 13 years of Innovation, Passion, Knowledge
It’s not all fun and games working for Hopt. In fact, we take our work very seriously indeed. Especially when we get a visit from a supplier. Especially when that supplier is Thornbridge Brewery. Especially when that supplier brings samples with them! On 15 February, we were lucky enough to welcome James and Mo, Thornbridge Brewery’s Director and Logistics Manager, who’d driven all the way from the north of England with a trunk full of their award-winning IPAs, Pale Ales, Stouts and Barrel-Aged Sour Ales, all for our tasting pleasure.
Founded in 2005, Thornbridge Brewery is an independent English brewery that now ranks among the country’s – in fact, the world’s -most respected. From the word go the brewery produced top-quality Cask Beers, fermented in and poured directly from traditional wood barrels as well a dizzying range of bottled beers, based around many of their finest Cask recipes.
In addition to traditional brewing methods, they also strive to innovate, whether in their choice of top-quality ingredients, or the recipes used. Naturally, Thornbridge Brewery’s selection is diverse, offering Stouts, IPAs, Imperial IPAs and many, many more styles, all brewed with the same Thornbridge finesse.
But while they remain a traditional brewery, they’re not afraid to introduce a little technology to proceedings. One recent investment is in their bottling line, where they have brought in a system that ensures no oxygen is introduced to the beers. This innovative process is essential to ensuring that the Thornbridge’s beers don’t fall prey to the evils of oxidisation - a modern paradigm for the development of that prince of beers, the IPA. They also spend a whole week testing samples from every batch through a process of forced aging. And when you’ve got orders coming in from as far afield as Dubai and Australia, you want to make sure your product arrives in tip-top condition.
"Thornbridge's motto – more than just a slogan – Innovation, Passion, Knowledge is a fine metaphor for what they do."
And it’s not just pubs and beer sellers who value Thornbridge’s contribution to the international Craft Beer scene. Thanks in no small part to the excellence, enterprise and great care of the brewers, Thornbridge’s beers continue to win awards at an international level. One of its most successful beers is Jaipur, a traditional IPA with a solid malt base and a remarkable tropical, pineapple chunk hops character. Since it’s launch over a decade ago, as one of the UK’s first Craft American-style IPAs, Jaipur has scooped over 150 awards, including the coveted Best in Show at Sheffield’s prestigious Steel City Beer and Cider Festival. Not a bad result for a first time out at a major competition!
Based in Bakewell, in the heart of England’s beautiful Peak District and surrounded by some of England’s most beautiful countryside, this award-winning Craft Brewery is now entering its 13th year and continues to go from strength to strength. It’s motto – more than just a slogan – Innovation, Passion, Knowledge is a fine metaphor for what they do.
The brewery itself used to be housed on the historic Thornbridge Hall estate, a 17th Century Manor set in rolling parkland. Over time, thanks to the sheer popularity of its beers, Thornbridge moved to nearby Bakewell and bigger, more modern premises that would allow it to realise its full potential.
Today, proud of its heritage as well as its place within the local community, Thornbridge now sponsors two of the region’s largest events, the Eroica Britannia – a three-day family cycle-touring event around some of Derbyshire’s most challenging climbs, and the Thornbridge PeakEnder, Thorbridge’s very-own family-oriented Beer Festival that brings together arts, adventure sports, music, food and, most importantly of all, great beer. This weekend event features tastings and talks hosted by their own staff, as well as guest brewers – luminaries from the International Craft Beer scene.
"So just what is it about Thornbridge that makes this brewery such a resounding success?"
During the tasting, we caught up with James and Mo from Thornbridge and found out a little bit more about the brewery, as well as what goes into making some of their best and most popular brews. So, what is it that makes Thornbridge so popular? As James explains, it’s a mix of taking pride in your work, and a can-do attitude. The award-winning Jaipur is a case in point.
“Everybody said there was no market for a crazy strong Amercian-Style IPA in England. We’ve got a history of drinking beers around 3-4%.” Undaunted by the nay-sayers, Thornbridge thought ‘why not?’ “We decided to do it anyway,” and the result was an internationally acclaimed Craft IPA with over 150 awards and medals to its name.
Another fine example of the brewery’s can-do attitude is AM:PM, a super-sessionable Session IPA that’s proving to be a best-seller. “There’s a big market for Session IPAs right now.” Explains james “You get the same big hop flavours, but with fewer headaches.”
But not only is AM:PM the kind of beer that you can drink more than a couple of, like all Thornbridge beers it’s also the result of a long R&D process. “We made a lot of test batches before we released AM:PM… …You can cover up a lot of brewing mistakes with too much hops.” In any case, the hours paid off and the results are excellent.
And it’s not just IPAs and other members of the Pale Ale family in the Thornbridge catalogue. They’ve also turned their highly versatile hand to Porters and Stouts. One of the highlights of the 2016 Beery Christmas Advent Calendar was Cocoa Mint Stout – a kind of very grown up After Eight.
One of their most popular brews, and another to scoop the coveted title of Best in Show at the Steel City Beer Festival, is Cocoa Wonderland – a sumptuous chocolate porter brewed in collaboration with Sheffield's Master Chocolatiers, Cocoa Wonderland. Approached by Kate and Anne, the founders of the famous little chocolate shop, for a collaboration to celebrate the shop’s anniversary, and to coincide with the UK’s National Chocolate Week, there followed a remarkably fruitful partnership that resulted in the eponymous Cocoa Wonderland. Not only is this beer is a major success at home, it’s also proving a hit internationally, with a surprising following in Russia. Watch this space for a coconut porter coming soon to a chocolate shop near you…
“Innovation-Passion-Knowledge” - rarely have there been three words better chosen!
The final bottle on the tasting menu was Love Among the Ruins – another award-winning beer for Thornbridge, but a real departure from the usual fare. Having won the coveted title of World’s Best Wood Aged Beer at the 2016 World Beer Awards, Love Among the Ruins is a Belgian Brown Ale aged for up to 18 months in French Burgundy wine casks with fresh raspberries. The secret, James tells us, is the Brettanomyces yeast – a slow maturing wild variety that gives a superbly sharp lactic character. And if 18 months isn’t long enough, then it’s held back until it’s fully ready. This allows the brewery to blend older and younger beers, getting the balance of flavours just right. And if Barrel-Aging is your thing, James tells us they’ve just taken delivery of 100 barrels from the world-famous Jim Beam Distillery in Kentucky. The plot thickens…
So what’s next for this innovative, passionate, knowledgeable brewery? Never a company to rest on its laurels, Thornbridge has big plans for the future, they’re not saying too much right now, but watch this space…
But what is it about Thornbridge that makes this brewery such a resounding success? To put it simply, it’s always a pleasure to meet people who care about what they do, and there are surely few companies in the rarefied world of Artisan Ales who care more than Thornbridge. And what about that Motto, “Innovation-Passion-Knowledge”? In short, rarely have there been three words better chosen!