Sheffield’s Kelham Island brewery is important. Last year, it looked as if it was going to disappear, until it was saved, and the Pale Rider is riding again.
For two weekends in a row, we’ve been able to find Pale Rider on cask at The Llandoger Trow in central Bristol. And drinking it has made us think about it.
The press release about the saving of the brewery was light on practical detail. A few months on, the story seems to be that it’s being brewed by Thornbridge, at Thornbridge, in Derbyshire.
The pump-clip doesn’t say that, though. In fact, it states very clearly MADE IN SHEFFIELD. There’s a little local consternation about this fact, if our social media replies are anything to go by.
But Thornbridge is a Sheffield brewery at heart, despite its location, and Kelham Island and Thornbridge were always tangled up with each other.
Digging through the notes of our interview with Thornbridge’s Simon Webster back in 2013, for Brew Britannia, we find this:
In August 2004, Kelham Island Pale Rider won the Champion Beer of Britain. We started brewing in October 2004 and, at first, we were helping Dave with the sudden demand for his beer. We were brewing once a week for Kelham Island, which was more often than we were brewing our own!
So this version of Pale Rider is perfectly authentic in its own way.
Here are some tasting notes on Pale Rider 2023: crisp, clean, classic 1990s citrus hop flavours; plus a certain round peachiness that comes with being 5.2% rather than 4 point something.
Everything we remember, in short, from drinking it frequently in and around Sheffield more than a decade ago, and on rare occasions since.
You can see how a beer like this won Champion Beer of Britain. You can see why Michael Jackson listed in his 500 Great Beers. You can certainly see how it played a part in spawning an entire sub-style – pale’n’hoppy, if you like, or the ‘juicy banger’.
But perhaps there’s a bit of Thornbridge there too, now? Maybe it’s even a bit better than when we last tasted it, in 2018, or at least more to our taste.
Clean and peachy. Those are two words we associate with Thornbridge beers.
But perhaps all we have to do is think of Thornbridge, or see the name in the small print, and those qualities pop into our heads.
If so, good for Thornbridge. That’s a good, powerful brand, that.
Now, let’s hope that either production moves back to Sheffield, maintaining the current high quality, or that ‘Brewed by Thornbridge in Derbyshire’ pops up on the pump-clip.
We don’t want a localised version of The Soul of Madrid, do we?