At this point I feel the need to provide a little more background information about the brewery. A lot of you reading may already know all there is to know about Thornbridge but there are likely to be just as many who come to Port Street and Common who know little about them, so here goes.
In 2004 after a conversation with friends, Simon Webster and business partner Jim Harrison touched on the idea of brewing beer for the Thornbridge Hall branded food range. This went ahead in 2005 with two young brewers who were given free reign of a small plant in the old stone masons workshop. The two young brewers were Italian food scientist Stefano Cossi and brewing graduate Martin Dickie. The first brew was Lord Marples, this still features in the core range today. Jaipur closely followed and took top prize at the Sheffield beer festival that year. A good start?
Fast forward 7 years, 100 awards grace the brewery and 18 different malts and 60 varieties of hop are put through there paces on the new plant with a shining 2 million pound state of the art brewery, just down the road from the Thornbridge Hall. A huge passion for innovation and in-house scientific development teamed with the craft of the simple base ingredients allows them to make a huge array of great beer and still experiment with the smaller brewery at the Hall.
With the team now holding all this info it was time to have a look at the brewery we were dying to see. As we walked in Smashing Pumpkins played loudly and the smell of malt was in the air. We visited the malt store and saw it being dosed by hand and not through an automated machine. This malt is milled and stored as grist until it goes through a malt hydrator known as a ‘steel’s masher’. The malt and hot water is combined in this to make a porridge like slurry. This mash is transferred to a ‘lauter tun’ which separates the husk from the wort (the sugary filled liquid used as the fermentable). We gazed in awe at these impressive metallic vessel’s and a couple of us nearly passed out from the heat.
When the wort is separate from the husk of the malt it is transferred to the whirlpool kettle to be boiled, sterilised and to precipitate proteins. The heating also develops character and flavour in the beer with longer boiling times producing more caramel, roasted nut flavours. Hops are also added in the kettle but in the form of pellets, these are used for bitterness. The level depends on the time of addition.
Now the exciting part, Thornbridge’s beers are known for the great hop flavours they have and many people/brewers have asked why. In the boil some of the hop aroma can vanish up the chimney. Thornbridge has a fourth vessel called the ‘Hopnik’, where the final flavour is added with the use of hop flowers. This is a sealed container that allows for full flavour saturation from the flower and gives the fantastic aromas and tastes that the range has become renowned for. It was all very impressive. This is now on it’s way to the fermenting vessel to be turned into alcoholic beer by the power of yeast turning the sugars into carbon dioxide and alcohol. This is the magic part.
We left the brewery, sweating and descended back into the reception and enjoyed another drink whilst chatting about what we had seen. We were then treated to an impromptu tour of the original site situated at Thornbridge Hall. This is now the experimental brewery where new ingredients and techniques are put through their paces. We peered eagerly into the barrel ageing store and squashed into the original brewery. It was such a contrast to its big brother but had the same opinions on what beer should be; exciting, flavoursome, crafted and unique.
We ‘hopped’ happily back on the coach and after a pee break we headed back to Manchester for our BBQ and frivolities, safe in knowledge that when we hand over a pint of Thornbridge we know the effort and sheer brilliance that go into making every last drop.
Thank you Thornbridge.