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The rough with the smooth

There are some breweries whose rise to prominence are a source of irritation (Innis and Gunn, anyone?) but we really wouldn’t mind if every pub in the country was selling Thornbridge. That’s just as well, because it seems to be getting that way.

In recent weeks, we’ve had the opportunity to try a whole lot of Thornbridge’s beers. In this post, though, we’re going to highlight one that works briliantly and one that really doesn’t.

First up, the success story. Exposed is a stout brewed with pink peppercorns and strawberry. It sounds gorgeous even just from the description on the bright red and pink pump clip. For starters, it’s a good solid stout. With nothing else done to it, it would be a winner. The subtle addition of exotic flavours, however, makes it something really special. If we hadn’t known, we wouldn’t have been able to name those additives, but they were certainly there providing beguiling, tantalising hints of their presence in a tingle on the tongue here and a raspberry/cider sourness there. This reminded us of a Belgian beer, only Thornbridge have got the recipe bang on, first try, rather than needing 200 years of experimentation to get the spicing sorted.

Then, sadly, on to a beer which didn’t work as well. Halcyon is a 7.7% strong IPA made with green hops. Sounds exciting, right? It certainly smelled incredible — exactly like sticking your nose into a foil packet of hops when home brewing. Sadly, it tasted like sugar syrup laced with hop tea, astringent and overbearing.

We guess the latter is the price you pay for successful experiments like the former.

23 replies on “The rough with the smooth”

Innis & Gunn isn’t a brewery, so no problem there 🙂

Exposed sounds fantastic. I’ve had a bad run of (two) Thornbridge beers so far — my Jaipur experience sounds exactly like yours with Halcyon. I wish they were easier to get hold of.

In my limited experience (one CAMRA beer festival, one pub festival), Jaipur is an exceptional beer, very well balanced and a deserved claimant for the title ‘modern classic’. Even bottled (not BC) it’s a joy. But a few people whose opinion I really rate have had the same experience as Beer Nut, so I put it down to production issues. I had understood these were being ironed out at the new plant though – I hope you get to try it again soon, BN as it is super.

As for the Halcyon, my wife and I shared a BC bottle of this and were of the same opinion as yourselves. This is in stark contrast to the intense and highly successful BrewDog Harcore IPA (currently on cask at the Rake) which is mind-bogglingly hoppy but somehow well balanced but only just. Bit of a roller-coaster.

The only Thornbridge beer I can’t decide whether I like or not is Raven, the much talked-of black IPA. It’s got the roastiness of a stout and the pungent hops of a killer IPA but tastes more like two beers in one than a swirling blend of styles. Intriguing, but not sure I’d want a second.

(This makes me sound like such a bastard – for the record, I *love* Thornbridge beers!)

That’s exactly it, JJ. I don’t for a second trust my own opinion on Jaipur (it was from the cask at Copenhagen in 2008), which is why I want to try it again. I never see it, though.

I loved Halcyon but unfortunately just one bottle sat on my couch last year. It was fresh and it was an explosion of hops and spice and it beats the socks of everything I was drinking at the time. Interesting how I hold that in some esteem from one bottle whilst if I ever have a bad bottle (or pint) or something I’ll give it a second chance…I digress…

Exposed sounds lovely, I hope I can try it. Equinox is also fantastic although I’m completely biased with that one!

Beer Nut, dm me your address on twitter or something and I’ll send you a Jaipur.

Good call, Tandleman. I’ll also put in a shout for Seaforth – that really is a belter, the White Shield of Thornbridge’s output – and the Equinox Vienna IPA. Absolutely terrific.

Very jealous that you got to try Exposed. Had hoped it would be on at the Sheffield Tap* when we visited there the other week, but no joy.

They did have Halcyon, and I really enjoyed the half I had. As you say, the nose is pure “bag of hops”, but I didn’t find it as sickly at all. Could it have been “on the turn”, or something?

I applaud that they seem to be able to do both “normal” beer and the exotic stuff, and have cracking marketing/branding without resorting to stunts/naffness like BrewDog (whose beers I still love, however).

*speaking of BrewDog, we went three-ways on a bottle of Tokyo* on the way home. Blimey. Honestly couldn’t say if I “enjoyed” it, but it was an extraordinary experience nonetheless.

@Ant that was my reaction to TNP, I’m still ruminating over it!

I’m off to a ‘bring your own’ curry house on Thursday and I’m considering the remainder of my Jaipur and Kipling – not sure it’ll be a good ‘pairing’ but it seems like the right thing to do for a special occasion!

Yes, I agree with the general theme of the thread. The last couple of times I’ve tried Jaipur, it’s been noticeably different, and felt a bit dialled down to the beer I first sampled in 2006.

Cask had Exposed on 3 weeks ago – very nice, and the Equinox was on at the same time. OK, but not quite to my taste…

Loved the biscuity, cereal side to Equinox, reminded me of hop-fuelled Hooky Haymaker with hints of citrus peel and honey. But the connection might be in the seasonal imagery in my head of the two as opposed to the ingredients.

Exposed DOES sound wonderful. I think that when you do as many brews as Thornbridge, you’re bound to find one that doesn’t sit well. I used to rave on Jaipur – but I know much prefer Kipling. Oh well.

My experience of the Halcyon has certainly not matched yours – fantastic beer with loads of hops and certainly no “sugar syrup” character. Sounds like you got a duff pint there. Jaipur is reliably good always but like some others I find myself seduced by Kipling.

The one that’s never worked for me is Ashford, the “new world brown ale”

Everyone — thanks for sharing your experiences of Thornbridge beers and especially Halcyon. It does indeed sound as if they might have a consistency problem. I’ll certainly try another Halcyon if I get the chance.

Mark — don’t get us started on curry and IPA! They don’t go! Have a nice wheat beer instead.

John — and Ashford is quite a crap name. I look forward to their follow-up, Ebbsfleet Tropical Wheat Lager.

* The Beer Nut
> I don’t for a second trust my own opinion on Jaipur (it was from the cask at
> Copenhagen in 2008),

My only experience with it was also there, and I didn’t feel it lived up to the hype, either.

> which is why I want to try it again. I never see it, though.

Same here. 🙁

I kinda agree on the curry/IPA thing. I have tried a few different IPAs with curry and for me hops and spice don’t work too well on many occasions (depends on the curry). I’ve taken to stout with thai green curry and good ol’ lager with ‘Indian’ curry. Any particular wheat beer you recommend?

Anyway, I won’t be taking notes, just want something refreshing to wash it down with and I feel compelled to try Jaipur, and even more so Kipling. I certainly agree Ashford isn’t their best name and I’m sure you’ll be able to work out my favourite Thornbridge name so far!

Thornbridge world domination hasn’t yet reached East Anglia which is a shame as I am partial to a drop of Jaipur. Soon perhaps.

Ashford (or Ashford in the Water to be precise) is where Thornbridge Hall is located. Hence the name, I guess.

The Thornbridge beers we had at Kellys tasting were wonderfull. The Halcion we had had been fermented with a Saison yeast which had certainly given some pretty interesting character to the ale, it was anything but sweet, dry hoppy and full of funky blue cheese notes.

Raven is wonderfull. As were JK’s homebrews when I judged them at the nationals. Clever brewery clever brewers.

…came back to this thread just now – I totally agree regarding curry and wheat beers! so refreshing!! glad to hear its not just me.

Cheers for comments all, happy you enjoyed the Exposed. Will likely brew it again. We’ve only brewed one batch of Halcyon this year, so can’t say it’s a consistency thing regarding brews that are out there. We did release some as normal Halcyon and some as Green Hop Vintage 2009 Halcyon in cask. Agree that this brew has a little more residual sweetness than some in past, but wouldn’t say it was syrupy. This beer though, does tend to get quite cloying if the cask is open for more than 3 days (the joys of living above a Thornbridge pub!!), so guessing this may have been responsible.

I’m the first to admit that we don’t get our new beers right first time every time, yet we work bloody hard on quality control and consistency. Always a challenge with small batch brewing and seasonal variation on ingredients. The example of Jaipur is a good one. We use a lot more hops now, we have an amazing hopback at the new brewery that amplifies the hop character and we actually use different hops than the original brew almost 5 years ago due to our perceived changes in the hop flavours and aromas. We introduced Centennial a couple of years ago and it has improved the beer beyond doubt in my mind. We now also use Warrior, a fantastic high alpha hop that has been fun to experiment with and decide if the flavour and aroma it gives improve the beer. At this stage, we think it does.

Don’t be fooled into thinking beer should always taste exactly the same every time… I know you won’t! The challenge for us as brewers is keeping the flavour as close as we possibly can and we’d never dream of just using a certain hop or malt just because we historically have used it. For us it’s about picking the best ingredients that we can and never compromising here.

John is correct in saying Ashford-in-the-Water is right next to Thornbridge Hall. At one stage, our monthly new brews were named after bedrooms in Thornbridge Hall, hence Jaywick, Ashford, Ramberg, Moorfield, Windrush, Silverdale etc. This is why we chose Ashford as a name… love it or hate it, I can think of a lot more rubbish cask ale names…

With regards to Ashford, we wanted to hybridise the mild/bitter/brown ale style with some New World hops and good drinkability. We use 9 different malt varieties, each one chosen to give a certain character to the beer… a bit of coffee, a bit of digestive biscuit, underlying caramel, some dry bitter chocolate. It’s my favourite Thornbridge cask beer, though I am a bit partial to all of them!!!

Really appreciate all of your feedback,

Cheers and beers,


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