Beer Background
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Added: Thursday, December 1st 2011

A new brewery in Derbyshire, which officially opened on 1 September, has some powerful history behind it. The plant for the Thornbridge brewery at Crompton Mill near Bakewell is on the site of Richard Arkwright's factory where he harnessed water power to create the modern cotton industry with his spinning frame in the late 18th century.

Arkwright is hailed as one of the founders of the industrial revolution. Thornbridge Brewery, picking up the torch he lit, is one of the major driving forces of the modern craft brewing movement. It was launched in 2005 on a tiny 10-barrel plant at Thornbridge Hall at Ashford-in-the-Water. Just four years later, the demand for its beers has led to the new site at Crompton Mill where 30,000 barrels a year can be produced, with plenty of space to add on additional brewing vessels.

The man behind the brewery is Jim Harrison, owner of Thornbridge Hall.

Jim and his wife Emma both made fortunes from industry and commerce respectively and bought the dilapidated country estate, which they restored to its former grandeur. Jim loves good beer and created a small brewery in out buildings in the grounds. Right: Brewers Kelly Ryan (left) and Stefano Cossi (right) with Jim Harrison.

He was given help and advice by Dave Wickett of the Kelham Island Brewery in Sheffield and gradually full-time staff was hired to run the plant on a commercial basis.

The two head brewers today, Stefano Cossi and Kelly Ryan, are from Italy and New Zealand, countries with a limited experience of ale brewing. But they have fashioned a dynamic portfolio of beers in just a few years that has won a fistful of awards and led to the need to build the new plant with vastly increased volumes.

Crompton Mill stands alongside the River Derwent in breathtakingly beautiful countryside in the Derbyshire Peaks. Dodging torrential showers, men were laying gas pipes to provide energy for the brewery at the time of my visit, whilst inside the large, spacious building, impressive steel vessels are in place.

The brewing kit has been built by a company called Velo in north-east Italy near Venice. Stefano, whose background is in the food industry, had good contacts in his home country. Jim Harrison says he would have loved to have used British equipment but costs were too high. He discovered an Italian plant at a medium-sized brewery in Belgium built by Velo and took the company on.

The brewery is fashioned along the modern Continental system of mash mixer, lauter tun - where the sugary extract is filtered - and brew kettle where the extract is boiled with hops. Raw materials will remain decidedly English, with the finest Maris Otter malting barley and Fuggles and East Kent Goldings hops. Some American, European and New Zealand hops will be used for aroma and flavour in particular brews.

Thornbridge has 10 regular beers and several seasonal, but its success has been driven by Jaipur IPA, a 5.9% beer that has won 48 awards in a few years. Other main brews include Lord Marples, a 4% copper-coloured bitter named after a former owner of Thornbridge Hall, and St Petersburg Imperial Russian Stout (7.7%), a brilliant interpretation of the strong 19th century London beers exported to Russia and the Baltic States.

St Petersburg has been used as the basis for a series of experimental brews on the original Thornbridge plant. The dark beer has been stored in whisky casks from both the American Bourbon industry and from Scotch distillers to produce beers infused with the powerful character of whisky (see beer-pages archive for article on oak-aged beers.)

This work will continue - Kelly Ryan showed me some beer quietly maturing in casks in a small building at the hall. He has bought some barriques or oak casks from the Bordeaux and Burgundy wine industry and is maturing for a eyar a strong barley wine, as yet unnamed. The original brewery will continue to work on what Jim Harrison calls "extreme beers".

Back at the site, Jim says that while current production is split 80-20 in favour of draught beer, he recognises the growing demand for bottled beers. His bottling line will be capable of producing between 1,800 and 2,000 packages an hour and there will be both warm and cold conditioning rooms to bring bottle-conditioned beers to fruition. The brewing kit is highly flexible and can knock out small batches of just 50 litres for small-run beers alongside the main brews.

Jim Harrison is aware of the vagaries of the modern pub trade, with the domination of giant pubcos demanding huge discounts. As well as supplying the free trade, he is building small tied estate of his own. Thornbridge pubs include the Cricket Inn at Totley near Sheffield and, changing sports, the Coach & Horses at Dronfield alongside the ground owned by Sheffield FC, the world's oldest football club.

There's a third Thornbridge pub, the Inn at Troway in Derbyshire, while Jim has bought his own pub, the Packhorse at Little Longston, which is his local.. Like the man who enjoyed Remington razors so much he bought the company, Jim Harrison loved the Pack Horse and bought it. It's one the advantages of having a million or two in the bank.

But he's not a romantic. The new brewery cost 1.6 million and will create beers that Jim will get to market. He's from Sheffield and has that city's steely determination.

The new brewery was running two weeks behind schedule when I visited, but Jim said, with a glint in his eye, that it would be finished on time as he has large orders for beer waiting. He's a man who makes things happen and the new Thornbridge duly opened on schedule.