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Thursday, 14 June 2012

Fuggles does Thornbridge (twice)

You know it is a good day when it starts with the expectation of visiting a brewery and it ends having visited two.  So this was definitely a good day.  When it is one of your favourite breweries and one of the reasons you got into beer writing it is particularly good.

I've been a fan of Thornbridge since I first tasted Jaipur.  We're lucky enough to see a few beers from their range down in London, but it was amazing to see the extent of their range both on tap in Thornbridge pubs, and the impressive array of pump clips on display.

Thornbridge could be perceived as somewhat of an awkward teenager at the moment.  Too large and established to be a trendy micro, but firmly still in the craft brewing camp.  What do you do in this situation - aim big and expand by building on the continuing success of beers like Jaipur?  Or continue to innovate and stretch your boundaries with new and exciting beers?

Well both, actually, seems to be the answer.  Jaipur is a popular beer wherever it is stocked, and the five new tanks just installed will help Thornbridge to keep pace with that demand.  But their raison d'etre of producing great new beers lives on.

While I was there the first tastings of the new big brother to Sequoia were available.  Very big brother, as it happens, at 8.3% but General Sherman was a stunningly fruity hop-packed beer.  Mango and papaya hit you in the nose, before melting into a rich palate that is both sweet and fruity and bitter and grassy in equal measure.

The second (unexpected) brewery of my visit was Thornbridge Hall brewery.  The original site of the Thornbridge brewery, the smaller equipment here is still in use, producing shorter production runs of limited edition or trial beers, separately identified as Thornbridge Hall beers.

Here the brewing team can (and are encouraged to) try new things out and finesse their skills.  There's something quite magical about old brewing kit - these were second hand when first installed at Thornbridge Hall.  Perhaps it's wondering about their previous life and all the beers they've seen.  I don't know, but I like them.

The brewery tours completed, we visited a couple of Thornbridge pubs to sample some more beer (and some stunning food at The Cricket).  In no particular order these included Brother Rabbit - a light golden ale, Tzara - a refreshing Koln style keg beer, Versa - a Weiss beer with typical notes of banana, Beadeca's Well - a full bodied smoked porter, Galaxia - a pale ale single hopped with Galaxy, and still my favourite, Halcyon - with its punchy tropical fruit flavours.  Many other Thornbridge favourites were in evidence, but the day was just to short to fit them all in.

The lasting impression that you're left with after sampling this breadth of the Thornbridge range is that they definitely tick the new and interesting box, but above all they make balanced beers.  Surprisingly rare characteristics together.  Not just some, but all of their beers are highly drinkable, again and again.  Therein, I hope, lies the key to their continued success.

Thank you Jim for an amazing day.

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