Thornbridge Brewery will no doubt need no introduction to my thousands of readers, but here’s a quick recap anyway. It started life in 2005 as a modest 10 barrel plant in the grounds of Thornbridge Hall in the heart of the Peak District. And like many new breweries it promised to blend traditional brewing with a modern twist. But, unlike many breweries, it actually succeeded in doing so and quickly gained a following for the quality of its beers. Indeed there is a case (endorsed naturally by the brewery) that they were the first UK craft brewery. They certainly made a big impact with Jaipur, their flagship ale, and rapidly made their presence felt.
Fast forward to 2009 and the opening of a new 30 barrel plant at the Riverside Business Park in Bakewell. The old brewery is still in operation but is used to develop smaller batches of new or seasonal beers. Now having had a butchers’s at the old setup, when offered the opportunity to have a gander at the fancy new one, who was I to refuse? I mean asking a CAMRA member if they want to visit a brewery is like asking Donald Trump if Mexicans are rapists.
The brewery bar is a one room affair flanked by large windows on two sides and kitted out in contemporary style. The ten beers on offer were divided between two bars. Somewhat disappointingly, given that a coachload of thirsty CAMRA types were descending on it, only two out of the ten were cask beers. Naturally they soon got shifted. The beer selection did seem ‘craft’ heavy and along with some others I was disappointed that the great session beer Wild Swan wasn’t available. However, the beer I did have was good.
Now I’ve been on many a brewery tour but this one was a first. We didn’t actually go round the brewery. Apparently ‘elf and safety deem it too dangerous; even though we had signed a safety waiver. Instead we sat in a room and watched a slideshow about it. Not a problem really as our guide was very friendly and knowledgeable and we got a drink to keep us company. We did get to see the impressive barrel ageing room and the shiny new bottling plant which will increase production from 1000 bottles an hour to 9000.
Thornbridge, although proud of their bestselling Jaipur, naturally don’t want to be seen as a one trick pony. So although they could easily sell more of it, they’d rather grow other brands. Still it accounts for some 30% of production with increasing amounts sold in keg and bottle now. Talking of which, they still see bottles, not cans, as the future and have put their money where their mouth is with the new £2 million bottling line. The barrel ageing store is another nod to the future and has already produced Serpentine; the collaboration with Brooklyn where they took a Belgian golden ale, seeded it with wild cider yeast and aged it for a year.
All in all, very interesting. But as any veteran will tell you, brewery visits can be thirsty work. So obviously we had to seek liquid sustenance on the journey home. First stop was the Red Lion at Litton. This is a proper CAMRA pub. Located on the village green and dating from 1787, its small rooms with exposed stone and wood panelling encapsulates the word ’cosy’. The second and final stop was the Old Hall Inn at Whitehough. Another charming pub that I’ve visited many times and usually has something decent to offer beer wise. And it didn’t disappoint with a rather tasty 4Ts. Then it was end of drinking part one, back on the stagecoach home and hello drinking part two: post brewery evening drinking.