The beer is 4.8% pale ale with dried marigold flowers and fresh lemon verbena.Read More
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Now in its fourth year of existence, the annual launch of The Rainbow Project is one of the most anticipated events in every beer geek's calendar. The Project, which started life at Siren Craft Brewery in Berkshire in 2013, has in recent years produced some of the most highly sought after beers in the UK beer industry, including Buxton & Omnipollo's (in)famous Yellow Belly in 2014 and Hawkshead & Crooked Stave's Key Lime Tau last year.
For the 2016 Project, seven UK breweries teamed up with counterparts from New Zealand to each brew a beer, as ever, based on a colour of the rainbow. The beers were launched at parties across the country on Saturday 17 September, and I, along with many others, headed to where it all began at Siren, eager to sample this year's offerings.
Arriving into Wokingham train station around half one, I am greeted by the sight of a huge white double decker bus crammed full of adults more excitable than a group of children on Christmas. We pile on, and make the short bus ride to the industrial estate in Finchampsted, where Siren call home. There is already a sizeable queue on arrival, and we pass the time slugging back cans of Gamma Ray being sold by one the volunteers at the event. Soon, we are the proud owners of a pristine Rainbow Project glass and ready to get stuck in.
As well as the seven Rainbow beers, there are offerings from each of the breweries involved in the project, as well as a small number from those involved in the collaborations in previous years, such as Cigar City, and three from local microbrewery Elusive Brewing Co., who brew out of a small 5 Barrel kit in a storage unit just round the corner from Siren. Food is provided courtesy of street food vendors Original Patty Men & Louisiana Chilli Shack and snack specialists Serious Pig and Karkli. Siren are also selling some of their own bottled beers, as well as some pretty swanky looking merch. Beers are purchased using tokens, which cost £2 and can be exchanged for either a third or a half a pint, depending on the beer in question. Despite ominous clouds suggesting the contrary, it remains dry throughout the day, making for a vibrant but not too overcrowded atmosphere inside the brewery.
I decide to begin proceedings with Sourbet, a 3.7% Raspberry and Lemon Berliner Weisse from Wellington-based Fork Brewing. A delicately tart and refreshing session strength beer, it provides me with a little time to weigh up my options and plot my route to eventual and inevitable oblivion. I am stuck by the demographic of the punters visiting the brewery, with the average clientele somewhat older than I'd anticipated, showing that it isn't just trendy youngsters who have bought into the hype surrounding the Rainbow Project and ever-growing UK craft movement. There are also a pleasing amount of women at the brewery, further debunking the myth that drinking beer is a male-dominated pastime.
Fearful that the combined thirst of the attendees would exhaust Siren's limited supply of the seven beers I'd made the visit to try, I head over to bar five and grab a third of Magic Rock & Fork Brewing's collaboration - The Upside Down. Inspired by the colour yellow, the beer is a 6% Kettle-Soured, Tropical Fruit Wit Beer, fermented entirely using Brett Trois, a yeast strain formerly thought to be Brettanomyces. Upon initially tasting The Upside Down, it isn't hard to see why the yeast strain was mistakenly identified, with a strong tart and funky-like mouthfeel that is remarkably Brett-esque being produced. A healthy dry-hop dosage of Citra, Equinox, Simcoe and Mosaic give the beer huge tropical aromas, only aided by the addition of passionfruit and mango juice. The kettle-souring of the beer to a P.H. of 3.6 prior to boiling locks in a base-level of tartness which compliments the juicy fruit flavours excellently. I'm (half) tempted to go back for another.
Next up its a quick hop over to bar four and the turn of Project debutants Burning Sky. Replacing Buxton in this year's Project is a tough ask, and Burning Sky were paired with Auckland's Liberty Brewing Co to brew a beer based on the colour Orange. Branded as an "eclectic, borderless beer", Descent into the Maelstrom is a 6.6% pale fermented with an Ardennes yeast strain and aged in White Burgendy Barrels. Post ageing, Descent into the Maelstrom was injected with a hefty dose of orange and grapefruit zest, before being dry hopped with Nelson Sauvin and Motueka hops. However, after Magic Rock/Fork's tropical fruit explosion, unfortunately I find Descent into the Maelstrom a little disappointing. The barrel ageing process, combined with the Nelson Sauvin, produces a long, dry, almost vinegary finish that dominates the palette and gives a powerful alcohol hit that I didn't need or expect before 3pm.
Luckily, Rainbow beer number three is quite possibly the best of the lot. Never one to do things by halves, Wild Beer Co took their colour of blue more metaphorically than literally, teaming up with 8 Wired to produce Black and Blue, a raw, unhopped, unboiled bourbon cask barrel aged sour inspired by the concept of a French black & blue steak. The result is nothing short of spectacular; an intensely acidic, almost lambic-esque beer that is perfectly balanced and incredibly tangy. Probably as close as any UK brewery has gotten to Belgium in terms of sour beer.
My favourite of last year's Rainbow beers was Cumbria based Hawkshead's Key Lime Tau, a kettle soured lactose infused Golden Ale that was so good, they brewed it again earlier in the year. Consequently, I can't wait to get my paws on their 2016 offering, a 6% seafood gose with New Zealand hops and green gooseberries, made in collaboration with Yeastie Boys. Brewed with Loch Fyne Oysters and green lipped mussels from New Zealand, Kai Moana Gose is lightly tart and has a slight salty edge, although neither of the two flavours is overpowering. In fact, there is very little overpowering about the beer at all; an excellent palette cleanser that would be perfect paired alongside a seafood dish, but that doesn't enthuse me in quite the same way as Wild Beer Co or Magic Rock's efforts.
Starting to feel the effects of a long afternoon of drinking, we tactically decide to purchase some posh-pepperami beer sticks from Serious Pig to soak up some of the alcohol. After numerous complex and sour beers, I'm really starting to crave a no-nonsense IPA. Luckily, Parrotdog and Garage Project are only too happy to oblige, and after a brief respite we indulge ourselves with the former's delicately floral Forget me Not and the latter's dank and resinous Pernicious Weed. Clearly its not just us and the US who can brew great hoppy beers...
With time of the essence and alcohol tolerance limited, however, I quickly decide to return once again to the Rainbow Project beers. Up next is Beavertown and Parrotdog's Universal Mind, a historic Dortmund style Adambier coming in at a whopping 10.5%. Traditionally dark in colour and aged in wood for over a year, Adambiers are no longer brewed commercially, but the style has been revived with a unique twist for this year's Rainbow Project. Universal Mind is a heavy, peaty, boozy and almost barley wine-esque red ale, given an almost Port-like quality by the two years it spent in Marsala wine barrels. It couldn't be further from the other Rainbow beers I have tried up until this point in proceedings, and it makes for a nice change of direction in what has been a day dominated by pales and sours.
Of course, a trip to Finchampsted wouldn't be complete without a trip round the corner to visit Elusive Brewing, a 5BBL microbrewery on the same industrial estate run by former homebrewer-turned-pro Andy Parker. Brewing just once a week since opening in April, Elusive Brewing are still at the very early stages of development and expansion, but are already producing a diverse range of fantastic beers on a kit partially paid for by Andy's homebrewing exploits (Winning a Craft Beer Co. competition provided him with £5,000 & gave him the chance to brew commercially with Dark Star). Andy already has plans to take over the storage unit next door for extra fermentation space, and having tasted all three of Elusive's beers for sale on the day, I can confirm that this is very good news indeed.
Returning to Siren, I decide it is time to hit up Original Pattymen for my dirty burger fix. After some deliberation, I go all out for the Bourbon Butt plug; a monster of a beerburger with bourbon spiked peanut butter, bacon jam and cheddar cheese. The end-product has me quite literally salivating at the mouth and is demolished within seconds, leaving me craving another. I wash it down with a third of Bloody Notorious, an 8% Blood Orange Double IPA brewed by Beavertown in collaboration with Boneyard, a match made in heaven. Now firmly the wrong side of tipsy, I head for the penultimate Rainbow Project beer, Royal Ale, an 8.5% English Barley Wine with riesling grape juice. Originally set to be brewed by Partizan and Panhead, the beer ended up being made solely by the London based brewery in acrimonious circumstances after Panhead were bought out by Lion group, who are in turn owned by Japanese beverage giant Kirin. As it turns out, Royal Ale is possibly my least favourite of the Rainbow beers, a little bit on the thin side and lacking in any standout qualities or characteristics.
Finally, I head on over to bar one to sample Siren's own Rainbow beer, Blacklight banana, brewed in collaboration with Wellington brewery Garage Project. Based on the colour indigo, the beer is a 9.2% Imperial Stout with bananas, molasses and bourbon barrel aged coffee. The indigo connection comes from the bananas, which apparently glow indigo under UV light when ripe. Blacklight Banana is an intensely sweet and silky smooth stout, with a huge banana hit and a deceptive drinkability for its strength. It is a worthy beer to round off the Rainbow Project and indeed the evening, and the train ride back to London flies past in a booze-induced daze, penetrated only by the slight regret of not having been able to try all of the other beers on offer throughout the day.
On the whole the 2016 Rainbow Project launch party has to go down as an unqualified success. Thanks must go to all the breweries involved and to the volunteers who helped out on the day, but particularly to Siren, who hosted a brilliant event that was welcoming and friendly, yet also incredibly well organised and great value for money.
It's about 12:20pm on the Friday of a bank holiday weekend and my brother Josh and I have just stepped off the train from Cardiff, slightly hungover after one beer too many in the Urban Tap House the night before. We make our way to the arrivals boards and locate the platform on which the train carrying the rest of The University of Exeter's Real Ale Society will soon arrive. The train pulls in and a group of burly men dressed in sailors uniforms stumble off, chanting boisterously and already looking somewhat worse for wear.
Luckily this isn't my friends, but a group on a stag-do. "I hope they're not headed where we're heading," I remark to Josh, who laughs nervously in agreement. Thankfully, that was the last we saw of the band of merry men, who unlike us, obviously weren't as fussed about sussing out the best beer Bristol has to offer. A few minutes later, the remaining twelve members of our group appear and we set off in search of liquid refreshment to soothe our aching heads.
On our way to our first stop, I chat to Ed, a close friend who I helped to set up the society with in our first year of university. Having started out as just a small group of friends who enjoyed drinking and needed an excuse for more frequent visits to the pub, the society has grown exponentially and now has over 120 paying members. We reminisce about some of our memories from the last three years, including a similar trip taken a year ago. “The weather isn’t quite as nice as last year,” I say nervously; having prepared for the worst after seeing storms had been forecast. “Yeah, but we’ve got a lot more society money to spend!” Ed retorts jovially, before showing me a considerable sum of money in a plastic wallet. “That’s all for today?” I exclaim, “It’s going to be a long day….”
Our first port of call is The Moor Brewery Tap, located about a ten minute walk from the station. As we approach, I wonder aloud just exactly how much of my short adult life has been spent seeking out obscure watering holes on industrial estates, much to the amusement of the rest of the group. Since opening in 2014 after the brewery moved into the city from Pitney, The Moor Tap has become one of my favourite spots to drink at, and is a staple of any visit to Bristol. The Tap is a single rectangular room bolted onto the front of the brewery, decorated with a mixture of Moor merchandise and Star Wars paraphernalia. Featuring ten keg lines of Moor’s beers on rotation, as well as cans, bottles, growlers and T shirts to take away, it’s the ideal place for us to start our crawl.
We pile into the small room and order thirteen halves straight away. The majority of the group plump for So’Hop, a 4.1% Pale hopped entirely with Southern Hemisphere hops that slides down our thirsty gullets all too quickly. On the day of our visit, the Tap are hosting a three day party with live music, street food and two new beers. Unfortunately for us, Friday’s food offering – MEATliquour burgers – don’t arrive until 5pm. Fortunately for us, however, the first of their new beers - Pale Modern Ale – is already on the bar ready for us to sample. A real juicy banger of a Pale Ale, with a little more of a malty backbone than the So’Hop, PMA is the ideal second half pint of the day. We stay at Moor until around half two, and even then are reluctant to leave, so good is the beer, company and hospitality. We even get to meet Baz, the resident brewery dog, although he seemed more interested in eating our packed lunches than saying hello to us.
Thoroughly refreshed and feeling very content, we leave Moor behind and head further into the industrial estate to visit Left Handed Giant Brewing Company, who very kindly agreed to open their brewery tap early to accommodate for our visit. With only five beers on tap, the selection isn’t quite as extensive as Moor, but the US Pale ale is as good as anything I’d had up to that point in the day. Jack, Bruce and Eddie are hard at work when we arrive, but are only to happy to show us around the site whilst we enjoy their beers. Jack takes us into the back and shows us their 200 litre brew-kit which they use to test their recipes and make some of their more experimental brews. Having opened early in 2015, they use commercial brewing equipment from other breweries to make the majority of their beer and supply Small Bar on King Street as well as numerous other pubs in the South-West. With the weather holding up for the time being, we head outside to enjoy some more beers and play basketball with an improvised hoop attached to a fork-lift that had been set up by Jack and Eddie that very afternoon.
All too quickly we had to move on. With time of the essence and lots of pubs still to visit, we bid farewell to Left Handed Giant and head for town. Next up was a quick visit to Brewdog Bristol on the bank of the river. We arrive somewhat flustered and just in time, with the heavens promptly opening and drenching the masses that had just finished work for the weekend. Initially we decide to just stay for the one drink before heading to King Street, but Joshua has other ideas, using his Brewdog bucks to purchase four beers including a half of Stone’s latest Russian Imperial Stout. With the weather trapping us for the time being, we all take it in turns to steal sips of Joshua’s beer and make light work of our own drinks. The bar was soon heaving with thirsty punters and we make our escape during a brief break in the downpour and make the short walk to King Street.
I never fully understood the expression “Like a kid in a candy shop” until I first visited King Street back in 2014. The sheer number of superb pubs to chose from, all located within a two minute or so walk from each other, is a beer geek’s paradise, and we waste no time in heading for The Beer Emporium to continue boozing. The bar is located entirely underground and has an almost Belgian feel to it, which is definitely not a bad thing to try and imitate. After drinking almost exclusively keg beers until this point, I opt for New Bristol brewery’s Japan, a 4.8% Pale with Japanese Green Tea, which is in excellent condition on cask and has a very floral and slightly sweet taste. We only stay for the one half in the Emporium, mainly due to the effects of a solid five hours of drinking with only packed lunches to sustain us.
Before we could get dinner and settle for the evening, we had one more stop to make. The Famous Royal Navy Volunteer is an old fashioned-looking pub located just up the road from The Beer Emporium, and the previous night had hosted a Siren tap takeover, with 29 beers from the Berkshire based brewery on tap. At this point in proceedings, I make the very sensible decision to go for The Chardonnay barrel aged version of Life’s a Peach, coming in at a whopping 8% proof. Needless to say, this knocks me out of action for a while, so I retreat outside to enjoy a spot of people watching on the bustling King Street whilst the rest of the group seeks out dinner.
Our final pub of the day is just across the road and is probably my favourite out of the plethora on offer on King Street. Small Bar is everything a proper pub should be, with superb beer choice, excellent spirits, and most importantly at this point, good grub. I grab a token from Ed to exchange for a third of Omega, a 6% Belgian sour from Brouwerij Alvinne and order a Butternut squash with cheese, hand-cut fries and salsa. I am soon cursing my vegetarian diet, however, when a disappointingly undercooked squash arrives twenty five minutes or so later. Nonetheless, this small blip on my day is soon remedied by the purchase of half a Cloudwater Imperial Stout; we're firmly into the silly beer part of the evening by this point. I'm the only one feeling a little worse for wear, with Joshua having bitten off more than he could chew in Brewdog and drunkenly announcing he had to go home, before promptly returning twenty minutes later and continuing to drink. We round off the evening with a swift half of Siren Caribbean Chocolate Cake in The Volunteer before running through the rain back to the station in time to catch the train back to Exeter.
All in all, it is a fantastically boozy day out and a fitting send off to cap three brilliant years of involvement with the Real Ale Society. A special thanks must go to Ed for steering the ship so admirably throughout his time as President, and to the bar staff, owners and brewers at all the brilliant pubs, breweries and tap-rooms we visited over the course of the day, and those we didn't have the time to make it to. Bristol truly is an incredible city for beer, and my only regret would be not making the trip more often throughout my three years of university in Exeter.
On Sunday 13th March I was invited by the University of Exeter Real Ale Society to host a tutored Thornbridge beer tasting. Below is the speech which I gave at the event. ***
Hello, good evening and welcome to The University of Exeter Real Ale Society Thornbridge beer tasting. We’ve got a fantastic evening lined up for you all, with six excellent and very different beers from one of the best British breweries in the country for you to try. I’m going to try and keep things as brief as possible to give you time to chat amongst yourselves about the beers, but I’ll be giving a brief introduction to each of the beer styles we’ll be trying, as well as a bit about Thornbridge Brewery.
Firstly, a little about me. Obviously a lot of you probably know who I am, but for those of you who don’t, I’m James Beeson and I’m probably about the closest thing there is to a bone fide beer geek. I was social secretary for the society last year, and I currently work for a beer café in Tunbridge Wells during the university holidays. I’ve also written articles on beer for both the Huffington Post and The Independent in the past, and founded my own beer blog ‘Beeson on Beer’ in December 2015. I love homebrewing, and Andrei, Ed and I are currently the society’s homebrew champions, having won the last competition back in November.
Right, lets talk about Thornbridge. For those of you who aren’t aware, Thornbridge Brewery is an English brewery based in Bakewell, Derbyshire. It was founded in 2005 by two local businessmen, Simon Webster and Jim Harrison. Harrison bought Thornbridge Hall, a country house near Bakewell, in 2002, and on the advice of Kelham Island brewery owner Dave Wickett, decided to start brewing out of a second hand ten barrel brewery in the gardens on-site. In January 2005, Webster and Harrison appointed Stefano Cossi, a young Italian food scientist who had some experience in brewing in Italty, and Martin Dickie, a twenty three year old brewing and distilling graduate from Heriot Watt University as their head brewers. You may recognise the name of Dickie, who left the brewery in late 2006 to set up up Brewdog alongside James Watt. Inspired by Goose Island, an American IPA brewed in Chicago, Dickie and Cossi brewed their first batch of the beer that was to go on to become Jaipur in July 2005. Initially called Mystery Blonde, the 5.9% IPA went on to win numerous local CAMRA awards, despite what some deemed to be an excessive strength at the time.
Thornbridge quickly grew despite the departure of Dickie to found Brewdog, and in September 2009 opened a new state of the art 30 barrel brewery in Bakewell capable of producing 30,000 hectolitres of beer a year. The brewery have won over 350 awards since opening including the Gold Medal for Best Black IPA in the world at the World Beer awards 2012 and 2013 for Wild Raven and Silver Medal at The Great British Beer Festival 2006 for Jaipur. Thornbridge was also named the Best Drinks Producer in the 2014 BBC Radio 4 Food and Farming Awards. The brewery now distributes its beers worldwide in 30 different countries and celebrated 10 years of brewing in July 2015 with the launch of Jaipur X – a 10% version of Jaipur – that we will taste later on this evening.
Anyway, enough waffling, it’s time to talk about the beer.
First on our list of beers for this evening is Thornbridge’s 5.2% South Pacific Pale Ale Kipling. I’m sure most of you are fairly familiar with the concept of a pale ale, but I’ll quickly give a historical overview of how the style came into being, before going on to talk about Kipling a little. The term ‘pale ale’ is a generic name for a group of copper coloured, hop-forward, bitter beers including but not limited to: English Pale Ales, American Pale Ales, India Pale ales, English Bitters and Belgian Pale Ales. Historically, pale ale was the name given to any beer that was top fermented and not dark. Until the 18th Century, most beers produced in England were dark brown and produced with amber and brown malts, and hence those which used paler malts were called such to distinguish them. Today, most pale ale malts are malted and kilned to make them slightly darker than lager malts.
Pale ales began to develop as a distinct style of beer in the 1820s, when George Hodgson began to ship beer to India. Burton IPA was shipped to India in 1823 and soon became popular in England. However, IPA was quite a strong beer style, with most brews coming in at around 7%. Soon, lower strength versions were produced and gradually became referred to as pale ales. The popularity of these beers was somewhat stunted by the advent of the two World Wars, when bitter – the weaker version of a pale ale – dominated until it was eventually usurped by lager in the last quarter of the 20th Century.
Of course, Pale ale production was not limited to the UK, with Belgian and American brewers also developing their own take on the style. With the rise of the craft beer revolution, particularly in the US, pale ales began to regain popularity due to their simpler recipe and the fact they required less capital investment than lager. Today, pale ales are produced across the planet and in many different forms, with the most popular styles being the US and English varieties.
This brings us to Kipling. Kipling for me is something of a hybrid pale ale. Brewed using Marris Otter, Wheat & Munich malts, and single hopped with New Zealand Nelson Sauvin hops, it’s official style would probably be that of a New Zealand Pale Ale. However, for me, with its initially incredibly sweet flavour and long bitter grapefruit-like finish, it feels like it has a lot more in common with some of the American Pale Ales being produced by UK and US breweries at the moment. It pours a golden blonde colour, and has an incredibly fruity aroma – think passionfruit and mangoes. At 5.2% it’s fairly typical for a pale ale in terms of strength. For me, the beauty of Kipling, and I do believe it is one of the best pale ales produced in the country at present, is in it’s consistency, sessionability and flavour-to-alcohol ratio. It’s a perfect beer for a summer afternoon, and as good a place as any for us to start this evening. Enjoy!
Next up this evening is Sequoia, a 4.2% American Amber ale. The term Amber Ale initially began life in American in the 1980s, used by microbrewers as a simple beer description, but soon came into wider usage as a distinct style of beer. American Amber Ales tend to be somewhere in between American Pale Ales and American Brown Ales, but can also include American made red ales. A proper American Amber Ale uses American hop varieties to impart citrusy and piney aromas, whilst at least 10% of the malt bill is made up by medium to dark coloured caramel or crystal malts that give the beer a distinctly caramel/toffee flavour. The finished beer should carry a medium to full mouthfeel, with an assertive malty flavour and hop bitterness.
Sequoia is a little bit weaker than most American Amber Ales, which tend to range from around 4.5-6.5%. Amarillo and Columbus hops hail from the United States, but it also contains Australian Galaxy hops. It is dark amber in colour and has a light tan coloured head. I find it has quite a grassy aroma, with a little bit of citrus and pine in there as well. It’s definitely more malty than the Kipling, with a nutty/toffee flavour. For me it doesn’t quite have enough hoppiness to put it up there with the very best Amber and Red Ales, but it’s certainly more than drinkable nonetheless.
Our third beer of the evening is an interesting one indeed. Rhubarbe de Saison is a 5% farmhouse saison and the winner of Thornbridge’s 2015 Homebrew Challenge. Firstly, a little about Saison as a style of beer. Saison ales can be traced back to the farmhouse breweries located in the French-speaking area of Belgium. These brews were thought to be the drink of the “saisonniers” – migrant workers who travelled to the area to help with the harvest. During the cooler months of spring, the farm brewers would produce refreshing saison-style beers for the workers to drink during the summer. This also had the added bonus of producing spent grain, which could be eaten by the livestock during winter. It is hard to know what typical saisons tasted like several centuries ago, but given that they were produced by farmers and not sold commercially, it is likely that they were probably fairly inconsistent and produced with whatever crops, hops and spices were available at the time of brewing. Modern Belgian Saisons are difficult to categorize, but most are light in colour. Some are full bodied and sweet, whilst others are exceptionally dry and fruity. They tend to range from around 5-8% in alcohol volume and are nearly always re-fermented in the bottle, with many displaying copious amounts of sediment. Although traditionally a Belgian style of beer, in recent years many US and UK breweries have tried to copy, expand and redefine saison as a style with the use of different hops, fruits and spices.
Returning to Rhubarbe de Saison at this point seems appropriate. Brewed by Will Alston, an astrophysicist at Cambridge University's Institute Of Astronomy, Rhubarbe de Saison is a golden farmhouse style saison brewed with… yup, you guessed it, Rhubarb. I contacted Will personally to ask him about the beer. Initially, he told me, the beer was brewed with 50 per cent Pilsner malt and a mixture of Munich, Wheat and Oat malts, but the Pilsner was later substituted with pale malt as the brewery wanted to use their own supplies. It also contains the subtle use of orange peel, juniper and ginger, as well as 800 grammes of Rhubarb per 20 litre batch. The taste is dry and slightly tart, with aromas of rhubarb and a slight hint of orange. It is very crisp and light in terms of body, with an almost funky barnyard quality. It’s not really about the hops when it comes to saison as a style, with only small quantities of Northern Brewer, Saaz & Kent Golding hops being used in this particular take. It won’t be to everyone’s tastes I suspect, but I’m personally a very big fan.
Our fourth beer of the evening is something a little different. Tart is a 6% sour beer brewed by Thornbridge in collaboration with Wild Beer Co in Somerset. Although sourness is sometimes considered desirable in wine, acidity in beer is usually thought of as a flavour fault resulting from bacterial infections or wild yeast entering the beer during brewing or fermentation. However, there are a whole range of traditional Germanic and Belgian styles of beer that are naturally acidic including Berliner Weisses and Flanders Red Ales. These beers tended to be sour due to bacteria and wild yeast that were present during ageing in oak barrels. In Belgium, the famous lambic brewers were quite happy to allow ambient microflora everywhere throughout the brewery to encourage sourness in the flavour of their beers, but most modern sours are brewed in a more contained environment. This is due to the fact that the bacteria can easily get into and ‘spoil’ standard yeast brewed beers, and the risk of cross contamination is usually minimized by using different brewing equipment when using wild yeasts.
The wild yeast strain that is typically used in sour beers is called Brettanomyces. When used in beer, Brettanomyces produces earthy, barnyard and funky flavours into the beer. Brettanomyces can be used with or without bacteria such as Lactobacillus and Pediococcus to add acidity or sourness to a beer. Lactobacillus works by producing lactic acid and carbon dioxide, yielding a mild and soft tangy flavour. Pediococcus, however, ferments glucose into lactic acid but does not produce carbon dioxide. Many skilled Belgian brewers, and increasingly UK-based sour beer specialists (think Wild Beer Co and Chorlton) blend these bacterial strains to create a desired level of acidity in a beer. The resurgence of sour beer in popularity, and the increasingly complex ways in which brewers are using different yeasts and bacteria, has led to a distinction being made between ‘Wild beer’ – any Brettanomyces fermented beer, and ‘Sour beer’ – when acidifying bacteria are added. If both are present, the beer is usually deemed to fit into both categories.
Thornbridge’s offering, Tart, is a kettle-soured ale. This is slightly different to a traditional Belgian sour in that it means that Lactobacillus is cultivated and then added to the beer after the mashing process but before the boil. Tart was created by adding a starter of Lactobacillus brevis to the wort and then leaving the beer for 14 hours until the PH reached around 3.6. The wort was then boiled to kill off any remaining bacteria and then dry-hopped with Amarillo hops. The beer then undergoes a regular fermentation with a standard yeast strain, making Tart is a sour beer, but not a wild one under the new style guidelines. It pours a golden yellow colour, and is refreshingly crisp and tangy. I get a little bit of graprefruit and orange, particularly in the aroma, with a long dry aftertaste. It is sour, but not overwhelmingly so in the way that some Belgian lambics such as Cantillon are. I think it’s awesome and I hope you do too!
Our penultimate beer of the evening is the aforementioned Jaipur X, a 10% Imperial IPA brewed to celebrate ten years of Thornbridge as a brewery. I’ve already spoken briefly about India Pale Ales and the history behind their development, but just to clarify, an India Pale Ale is a style of beer characterised by high alcohol content and large quantities of hops, which grew exponentially in popularity after being exported to India during the late 18th and early 19th Century. IPA became the drink of choice of the British Empire due to the fact that it could survive the rigorous and long sea journey and was refreshing and light in the 30 degree heat of India. IPA was eventually replaced in India and other colonies by gin, tonics and whisky, and demand for the style fell as beer duty began to rise. The style was revived in America throughout the 80s when Yakima hops such as Chinook and Cascade were discovered. These hops gave American IPAs a striking array of citrusy and resinous flavours, and the recipe has been copied by many UK breweries at the forefront of the craft beer revolution in the last 20 years or so.
The apetite for seriously hoppy and strong beers led to the invention of ‘double’ or ‘imperial’ IPAs. These beers were pioneered by US brewers who sought to push the boundaries in terms of alcoholic strength and hop intensity. Most Imperial IPAs are extremely bitter and range from around 8-10% ABV. Almost all of them are excessively dry hopped, and some even have hops throughout the brewing process, starting in the mash.
Jaipur X is no exception in this regard, weighing in at 10% and extremely well hopped with Warrior, Chinook and Centennial all featuring in the boil. Aroma-wise, it smells similar to the regular Jaipur, with lots of fruity and piney aromas. Taste is of peach and of tropical fruits, with an extremely long and bitter finish. It’s dangerously drinkable for it’s ABV so take your time with this one!
The final beer of the evening is Thornbridge’s Eldon, an 8% bourbon oak Imperial Stout. Originally brewed by the major porter brewers of London as an ‘extra stout’ porter for export to the Baltic countries and Russia in the 18th Century, Imperial Stouts are rich and black in colour, with a sharp bitterness balanced out by residual sugar, dark fruit and chocolate, coffee like roast. Imperial Stouts are typically a winter beer, best enjoyed with cheeses and desserts. Many US brewers age Imperial Stouts in bourbon barrels to introduce vanilla and coconut flavours, and good examples can last up to a decade and improve with time if aged correctly.
Eldon is a great example of an Imperial Stout aged in Bourbon soaked oak. I don’t have an exact malt and hop bill, but one would assume that it is made up of a mixture of pale, roasted and chocolate malts and hopped with a traditional English hop such as Fuggles or Challenger. It pours a jet black colour, with medium to high carbonation and a light beige head. The aroma is of ripe fruit, coffee and Brazil nuts. It’s very boozy, with hints of vanilla and a strong roasted malt character. I definitely taste a slight burnt/woody flavour, with more of the Bourbon coming through as it cools down in the glass. I was, however, surprised at how thin the body was for a beer of its strength. One to savour and not neck for sure.
That concludes tonight’s talk. Thank you all for your attentiveness and I hope you enjoyed the beers and that I have managed to teach you a few things. If you’d like more information about any of the styles, I used Garrett Oliver’s ‘Oxford Companion to Beer’ as the basis of my research for the talk, which costs around £30 and gives a comprehensive rundown of just about everything there is to know about beer. Enjoy the rest of your evening and feel free to ask me if you have any questions.