Set in a very cramped town centre location where it has been since 1807, Daniel Thwaites is one of the biggest, if not the biggest of the surviving family brewers, owning around 350 pubs. You won't find a Thwaites on the board though, the family name having been Yerburgh since the female line inherited and married one. It is still firmly family controlled however.
The brewery itself is rather large, with a lot being crammed into the site. When I visited it last night though, it wasn't to see the large automated modern brewery it has become, but the fairly recently installed "Craft Brewery" where, shall we say, the more interesting beers are brewed. Set in a spacious part of the brewery, this self contained 20 barrel plant is in no small measure where Thwaites sees a major part of its future. Our guide was at pains to point out that when he first started doing the tours, the brewery only used five different hop varieties and now uses at least 25 to produce a range of 12 "Signature" seasonal beers plus quarterly beers and "one offs". In addition experimental, development beers and beers commissioned by individual customers are produced. The plant itself is a full part of the production of the brewery, as its beers mostly go out to trade, but this is very much a hands on operation. We did visit Fermentation Room 1 in the main brewery, where a large number of traditional open squares produce the brewery's main output of Original, Nutty Black, Lancaster Bomber and of course Wainwright's which is now their biggest selling beer. The brewery is very self contained, with all racking, bottling and kegging done on site.
In the bar, we (National Winter Ales Fest workers) enjoyed the hospitality of the brewery, with Original, Bomber, Wainwrights, TBC and BB1 on offer. BB1 and TBC (Thwaites Best Cask) are produced in the micro brewery with the others coming from the larger main brewery. All were in the tip top form you'd expect and I particularly enjoyed the dark BB1 (it's their postcode) which has added cherries and a touch of sourness, at a very drinkable 3.7%. Think Belgian Dark Mild and you won't be far out. It was enjoyable too to talk to the very enthusiatic team that looked after us and to glean snippets of interest. Thwaites, like many others including Lees have more or less got out of the contract brewing game, as margins are so low. (Most supermarket beers are brewed by the likes of Burtonwood and Robert Cain) but they did brew (off and on) Punk IPA for you know who and still contract bottle and can as required.
I first visited this site over 20 years ago and last night may have been my last chance to visit the brewery again, as it will move in the next couple of years to a new, less cramped green field site near the motorway, as soon as planning permission has been gained for Sainsbury to buy the site, knock it down and build a supermarket. Oh and of course for Thwaites in the meantime to build a new brewery. A shame, but one thing is for sure. While the "old" brewery will be scrapped, the craft brewery will be dismantled and taken to the new site.
Thwaites see producing a wide variety of interesting craft cask beers as very much a part of their future. Craft Cask? Of course and why not?
We were all given a lovely 3 pack of a new beer too. Name? Crafty Dan. It is made with UK and Munich malts, Amarillo, Pacific Gem and Fuggles hops.
A bit of a CV. Tandleman is a veteran beer lover, local CAMRA Chairman and activist, beer writer, beer reviewer and pursuer of all things good in beer. He lives in the North West of England and London. Despite his CAMRA membership, he does not limit himself to cask conditioned beer, though he believes that cask conditioning, when done correctly and appropriately, brings a quality to beer that is hard to equal by any other kind of presentation. He is a strong supporter of Northern methods of beer dispense and avidly detests poorly presented beer and dislikes pasteurisation. He regularly visits Germany, has conducted corporate British and German beer tastings for CAMRA at the Great British Beer Festival where he has worked for years on Biere Sans Frontieres and was Deputy Organiser at CAMRA's very successful National Winter Ales Festival in 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012 and at the Manchester Beer and Cider Festival from 2013 to date. He admires good brewers wherever they are and has travelled extensively in pursuit of good beer to drink. He also judges beer at both the International Beer Challenge and the World Beer Awards.
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