Beer Background

Thornbridge expands beer range and pub estate

Added: Sunday, January 15th 2012

The high-flying Thornbridge Brewery has unveiled a new range of beers that is increasingly available throughout Britain, the United States and in the company’s eight pubs in Sheffield and Derbyshire.

Three of the pubs opened in 2011. The portfolio includes interpretations of German Kölsch and Vienna lager along with an imperial IPA and – continuing the imperial theme – a strong Russian stout.

Coach & Horses

The 10% Russian Imperial Stout recalls the exports porters and stouts of the 18th and 19th centuries that were given the royal seal of approval by the Czar’s court. The Thornbridge version is based on a Courage recipe and it will be interesting to compare it with Wells & Young’s interpretation that was launched in the U.S. last autumn and is due to be unveiled in Britain in March. W&Y now owns all the Courage brands.

The Thornbridge brewers – Caolan Vaughan from Melbourne, Australia, and Bob Lovatt, who previously worked for Meantime and Camden breweries in London – use a champagne yeast to finish fermentation and reach 10% alcohol. The beer has a complex recipe that comprises pale, amber and black malts, with German Hallertau and Northern Brewer hops. In Victorian style, Demerara sugar is also added for flavour and to help reach the level of alcohol required. During fermentation, the beer is “dressed” with sea salt to enhance the flavours of malts and hops.

A briny, salty note is evident on the nose of the bottle-conditioned beer but the main characteristics are roasted grain, chocolate, coffee, liquorice and molasses. Bitter hops break through in the mouth, balancing dark grain, burnt fruits, coffee and chocolate. The finish has a big bitter hops note, with more contributions from dark grain, fruit, chocolate and coffee.

The brewery opened in 2005 in buildings in the gardens at Thornbridge Hall in Derbyshire. The success of such beers as Jaipur IPA and Saint Petersburg Stout led to a move to a custom-built new brewhouse outside Bakewell. The 18,000-barrel plant has a bottling line and can produce both ale and lager. The flexibility of the brewery can be seen in such beers as Kölsch, Vienna lager and a German-style wheat beer.

Kölsch is a style from Cologne and is ale, though it’s served cold and has the appearance of lager. The Thornbridge version is called Tzara and is 4.8%. In the German fashion, it has low bitterness (18 IBUs) created by Hallertau and Tettnang hop varieties. A genuine yeast culture from Cologne is used and the grains are pale and carapils malts, with some wheat malt. A high fermentation temperature creates a delightful “sherbet lemons” aroma balanced by delicate floral hops note. The palate is dominated by lemon fruit with juicy malt and light hop resins. The finish is dry, with tart fruit, creamy malt and light hops. It’s a wonderfully refreshing beer.

The Vienna-style lager is 5% and has the daunting name of Kill Your Darlings: it comes from the title of an exhibition in a Sheffield art gallery. The style was developed in the 19th century by the Austrian brewer Anton Dreher as his response to the first golden lager produced in Pilsen in Bohemia. Dreher’s lager was dubbed “Vienna Red” as a result of its bright copper colour. The Thornbridge version uses pale, Munich and pale crystal malts, with a small amount of black malt added before the sugary extract – the wort – is filtered in a lauter tun. The hops are Amarillo and Super Alpha, which create 20 bitterness units.

The copper-coloured beer has a big toasted malt aroma with floral and herbal hops. A sweet “malt loaf” palate is balanced by floral hops that deliver a gentle but persistent level of bitterness. The finish has dry, biscuit malt balanced by light hop resins and a touch of sultana fruit.

Versa (5%) is based on the Bavarian style of weisse or wheat beer. Vaughan and Lovatt use a yeast culture and hops from Bavaria. Pale and crystal malts are blended with wheat malt: wheat accounts for 40% of the grain used. The beer has the classic Bavarian characteristics of cloves, bubblegum and banana that derive from the yeast. There are gentle hop notes (14 IBUs), with spices and bubblegum dominating the palate, followed by a dry, fruity and quenching finish.

In sharp contrast, Halcyon is an imperial IPA (7.4%) with a massive punch of hops that create a resounding 70 units of bitterness. The only grain used is low colour Maris Otter pale malt -- “for its clean flavour” Vaughan says -- with a tiny amount of dextrose that works well with hops. At the end of fermentation, the beer is kept for 10 days at 10 degrees C to develop flavour. The temperature is then lowered for a further 10 days of cold conditioning.

The hops are Bramling Cross (England), Galaxy and Stella (Australia), New Zealand Cascade and American Chinook. The beer has an initial “tom cat” aroma followed by grapefruit, mango and peach. There are rich, bittersweet passion fruit flavours in the mouth, balanced by deep hop bitterness and juicy malt. The finish is long and complex, with ripe fruit, bitter hops and a delicious oatcake note from the Maris Otter.

Black Harry is cask ale aimed primarily at the domestic market – the Thornbridge interpretation of dark mild, which the brewery dubs “a rich dark ale”. It’s 3.9% with 25-30 bitterness units. Along with pale malt, crystal and rye malts are used, with oat malt and carafa, a de-husked malt that avoids astringency in the finished beer. The only hops used are Northern Brewer, which are added at the start of the copper boil. The beer has an aroma strongly reminiscent of old-fashioned coffee extracts such as Camp and Bev, with burnt fruit, dark grain and light hops. There are sweet coffee and chocolate flavours in the mouth, with dark roasted grain, rye bread and light hop notes. The finish continues the balance of dark and creamy malt, bread notes, coffee, chocolate and light but persistent hop bitterness.

Hopton Pale Ale (4.3%) is a fine example of the type of English pale ales developed in the late 19th century when exports of IPA went into freefall and brewers had to concentrate on the domestic market. The beer has 35 units of bitterness from Bramling Cross; the grains are pale, crystal and pale crystal malts. The hops deliver a typical Bramling Cross blackurrant and rhubarb note on the nose, with earthy resins and biscuit malt. Bitter hops develop in the mouth, balanced by tart fruit and nutty malt. The finish is dry, bitter and fruity, with rich hope notes lingering at the back of the tongue.


*The Thornbridge pub estate is made up of:

Champs Sports Bar, Eccleshall Road, Sheffield S11 8NX.
Coach & Horses, Sheffield Road, Dronfield, Derbyshire S18 2GD.
Cricket Inn, Penny Lane, Totley, Sheffield S17 3AX.
DADA, Trippet Lane, Sheffield S1 4EL (pictured, top).
Greystones, Greystones Road, Sheffield S11 7BS (pictured, left).
Hallamshire, Commonside, Sheffield S10 1GF.
Inn at Troway, Penny Lane, Totley, Sheffield S17 3AZ.
Relish, Eccleshall Road, Sheffield S11 8PF.