I don’t tend to write that much about beer as, much as I like to drink it, I don’t find it that interesting to think about. Nor do I tend to get that excited about its various forms or the many thousands of breweries there are around the world. However, if there is one brewery I’m a fan of, it’s Derbyshire’s Thornbridge. Ever since sampling their wares at the Bearded Theory festival a couple of years ago, I’ve almost become a devotee, seeking them out and happily handing over more than the cost of the average roasting joint for their generally outstanding product.
So as part of my birthday celebrations for this year, Mrs Cake planned a trip to their shop, which is located at the back of an industrial estate on the edge of the town of Bakewell – that wasn’t all we did! It wasn’t a shit birthday! I spent more than £50 on a selection of bottles and a keg, so it seems only fair that we should give them the respect they deserve with their own post.
“All day IPA”, this is called, which reminds me of a far unhappier time, when I used to work at a 24 hour call answering service called “AlldayPA”. This is much better than that. It’s got what I think of as the signature Thornbridge flavour, but it’s a bit lighter than most of their fare and makes a nice beer for chugging when you’re really thirsty. 4/5
Lord Marples, 4%
Described as a “classic British bitter”, I have to say it’s a bit more than that. Not quite delivering all I want from me Thornbridge, but outstanding if you put it up against all else the “classic British bitter” genre has to offer. 3.5/5
Chiron is a veritable taste explosion. Marketed as an American Pale Ale, this one literally blossoms in your mouth after about half a second. One to really savour. 4.5/5
I appreciate the extra strength and the idea of a South Pacific Pale Ale, but sadly it doesn’t quite reach the heights I think it should. 3/5
Tzara is billed as a Koln style beer, which I hadn’t realised was a thing before. That, I suppose, is why these special breweries exist. So anyway, all that means is that it has been fermented like ale and then aged (or conditioned) like lager. What you get here are fruity and bready notes, according to the bottle. I agree. It is light and dangerously drinkable, proving just right for my thirsty self’s return from an energetic band rehearsal. Very nice. 4/5
A biere de garde or keeping beer. It’s nice and strong and I enjoyed it, but can’t remember any further impressions. 4/5
I gave this 5/5 the last time I tried it, so that’s quite high praise. A black IPA, it is smooth and dark and has a long, but not overpoweringly bitter finish. I suspect my palate was more receptive last time though, as this time I’m giving it… 4.5/5
Beadeca’s Well, 5.3%
A smoked porter, made with peated malts. I like anything smoked and this is no exception. 4/5
Eroica Britannia, 4.3%
A pale ale to celebrate Bakewell’s cycling festival – which frankly sounds fabulous in its own right, and well worth creating a beer for. This is actually one of the least interesting Thonrbridge offerings that I’ve come across so far. It’s quite light and tangy, but doesn’t quite push my pedals… so to speak. 3.5/5
This one elicited particular excitement because it is already a personal favourite of mine. You’ll certainly have read about it on these pages before. And this time… it’s a keg. I’ve never bought a keg before, and at 9 pints for around £24, I think this IPA represents pretty good value. I was informed that it needed to be consumed by mid February (so within about 3 weeks), and once opened, within 3 days. We made arrangements for Pablo and Veronica to come round so that Pablo could help out.
Now, I don’t know what the cause might be, but it just seemed like something was missing in the product here. Perhaps we waited a little bit too long, or maybe it just doesn’t taste the same out of a keg as it does from a bottle or cask – or maybe it was just my tastebuds playing up. Whatever it was, I didn’t enjoy it as much as I’d been expecting. I did get smashed though, since Pablo and I consumed the whole thing between us and chased it with rum and a hefty chunk of mezcal. 4/5, though it would normally be a 5. I’ve tried IPAs religiously since discovering this gem, and of 75 other varieties sampled, Jaipur is better than them all, and twice as good as most.
I’m quite a fan of the weisse beer style that this offering represents, but I feel this, combined with my high expectations for Thornbridge products made this one seem a little disappointing. 3.5/5
Colorado Red, 5.9%
A hopped red ale made kind of in partnership with Sierra Nevada. Another superb, full of flavour offering with a lightly bitter finish. 4/5
St. Petersburg, 7.4%
There’s a little bit of peat coming through in this Imperial Russian Stout, which is very pleasant. Another solid expression. 3.5/5
Black Harry, 3.9%
A dark, fruity ale that doesn’t quite hit the spot for me. Mellower than a lot of the other Thornbridge fare and lacking that awe-inspiring tang. 2.5/5
Bear State, 7%
A “West Coast IPA”. High in alcohol, big in flavour, and at £4.20 from Font, this was even decent value. 4.5/5
Kill Your Darlings, 5%
Described as Vienna style, this one has been lagered for er… I forget; either 5 weeks or 5 months. It was very nice though. 4/5
Charlie Brown, 6.2%
A brown ale – along the lines of Newcastle Brown, but better – that, if I remember correctly, is actually made with peanut butter. I can’t stand peanut butter, so I’d saved this one to share with Mrs Cake, who loves it. It’s very tangy, and I can confirm that I couldn’t taste peanut butter. 4/5
A smoked “bock”. It was nice to have something this light, but so complex. 4/5
A “rich, dark ale” from the Thornbridge Hall collection. Brewed only four times a year in limited quantities, you need to shell out £8.50 for one of these. Can any beer ever be worth £8.50? Not really, but I was curious and very much looked forward to opening it. It had a very long finish and the extreme strength isn’t overbearing, and while I’m convinced I didn’t allow the price to affect my score, it doesn’t rate among my favourites. 3.5/5
Cocoa Wonderland, 6.8%
A porter that incorporates real chocolate into the maturation process. 4/5
Wild Swan, 3.5%
Described as a white gold pale ale, this is intended for the summertime. It is light and, in my opinion, a little alcoholically weak, but it manages to be tasty in spite of that and certainly delivers in terms of refreshment. 4.5/5
Jaipur X, 10%
What better way to end this list with this celebratory edition of Jaipur that clocks up a massive 10 ABVs? I’d been tempted to buy one of these at £8.50 in Sheffield’s Bath Hotel, but declined, only to return home and find that Mrs Cake had bought one for me in my absence. True love, that is.
Can it live up to expectations? Well: yes. It has that superb, distinctive Jaipur flavour, but on top of that, you can taste the extra strength and that extra strength is actually manifested as extra flavour. You have to remember with this one, you’re getting 500ml, and it is stronger than Carlsberg Special Brew, so if you drink too fast you might get smashed. The pregnant Mrs Cake had the smallest sip and said she could already feel the welcoming beer hug.
Why are they so damn good?
Seems a fair question. And if that’s a fair question, it begs the further query, why are so many other breweries making beer that doesn’t even approach this quality? Well, I don’t know. I do know that Thornbridge remains my favourite brewery and one that I’ll be delighted to continue promoting on these pages for the foreseeable future. Maybe it’s that they have two breweries – the old one at Thornbridge Hall where they use a traditional infusion mash ale system and barrel-ageing, and the new one in Bakewell where the emphasis is on utilisation of technology. You can learn a bit more about this on their website, or even take a tour, but as far as we’re concerned for now, all you need to know is it means they’re serious about the quality and variety of their product and there’s always something new and interesting emerging. Long may it last.
two I forgot to write about...