Although I started working at the Paper Duck in Harborne last October I haven’t really had a chance to explore the area much and visit any of the other bars apart from the Hop Garden, so when I got chance to go to the Thornbridge event at the Junction on Feb 15th it seemed like a good opportunity to rectify this a little. And I should point out that this was a free event but hopefully I have retained my objectivity. So anyway, at around 7.30 Deb and I joined a group of around 30 people to drink a few beers and hear a little bit about them from Megan Waites of the breweries event team.
First up was a brief history of Thornbridge which I was surprised to hear only began in 2005 because I felt like they had been around a lot longer. The two guys who started it, Jim Harrison and Simon Webster, had no experience in brewing or the hospitality industry, they just liked to drink beer and started a 10 barrel kit on the grounds of Thornbridge Hall which the former owned.. Being inexperienced they approached Herriot Watt University in Edinburgh and asked for the 2 best students to come and join them to make nice beers. Some of you may know that one of the students was Martin Dickie who later went on to found Brewdog with James Watt. The first beer they brewed was a traditional 4% bitter called Lord Marples, named after one of the old owners of the Hall,and which is still part of the portfolio.However it was beer number 3, Jaipur, that many people know them for, and which I think it’s fair to say had a profound effect on the UK beer scene, but more on that later. In 2009 they moved to a bigger location in Bakewell and increased capacity to a 30 barrel whilst still keeping the original Hall brewery, and this lead to them being able to go from brewing 3 times a week to 3 times a day. Megan told us that last year they brewed 68 different recipes…
This year Thornbridge have started a new initiative to spread the word about quality beer with the Craft Beer Residency whereby over 100 of M&B’s Castle pubs will have at least 4 of the brewery’s beers available from the end of January until the middle of March. The selection features beers on cask, keg and bottles and it is hoped it will encourage some drinkers to widen their appreciation of differing styles of beer. One of the beers was brewed especially for the occasion by a select group of managers from the pubs involved in the residency, and this was our first to try, a Vermont Session ipa called Mimosa. At only 4.8% this was an extremely easy drinking, very flavourful beer which Deb really loved. Dry hopped with Mosaic, Amarillo, and Galaxy it was juicy with lots of tropical fruit on the nose and a lovely golden orange colour.
Beer #2 was the aforementioned Jaipur, named after the place where one of the owners got married, and a drink that was the epiphany beer to a lot of brewers and drinkers that we have spoken to. And it was for me, because although I used to enjoy Landlord and Old Hooky to name a couple of beers from my past, when I tasted this at the White Horse in Parsons Green on a trip to London it really was a wtf moment. A big 5.9% American ipa using a combination of 6 different hops it had, at the time, a flavour profile I had not come across in an English beer, which I now know to be from the American hops. When it was first brewed they thought they had something really different and so entered it into Sheffield’s CAMRA festival as an ESB where it won its category and overall beer of the festival. Sales went through the roof and demand outstripped supply for a while since it was still a small brewery but it does now account for 40% of what they produce.
Next up was a nitro milk stout called Ena, a smooth creamy beer with coffee and chocolate flavours predominant, and named after a beloved character from Coronation St who used to nurse this drink in the Rovers Return. At this point the guys at the Junction bought out some plates of food to share which went down very well and were very tasty…and then it was back to the beers. Number 4 was something a little different, a bottled beer called Love Among The Ruins, a barrel aged Flanders red ale. Starting with the basic beer it was put into Burgundy wine barrels and different cultures such as Brettanomyces were added to sour the beer over a few months, and then cherries were added. I’m not a huge sour fan but I did enjoy this and got a nice balance of cherries, wine barrel and a bit of tartness.
Finally it was time to bring the big guns out, bottles of Serpent, a 9% Belgian golden ale brewed in collaboration with Brooklyn Brewery. As Megan said, when Garrett Oliver comes calling to ask to brew with you, you don’t say no. This began with the basic beer which was aged in Four Roses Bourbon casks to which was added cider “lees”, this being the yeast sediment that is left from the cider making process, which they got from Oliver’s Cider in Hereford. After a year the beer was hand bottled with an addition of champagne yeast, and with 20,000 bottles that is a big job. Someone described it as a Posh Snakebite but when I first had it in 2016 I said “What an interesting beer, a little sweet, a little tart, quite fruity, very fizzy, well done”, and I stand by that…it was a great end to a good night. Many thanks to Megan and George from Thornbridge and the staff at the Junction.