Our AGM was held at the Sheffield Tap. We had a private room in the part where the in house brewery is and beer, kindly provided for us by owners Pivovar, was on tap on a help yourself basis. So we helped ourselves. The room itself is magnificent and we were told it had been closed for over 30 years when taken over and was in a filthy state. It isn't now as you can see from the picture and provided a great backdrop to a very lively discussion. A wheat beer produced in the brewery was very highly thought of, as was a Vienna style lager. I can vouch that the cask beer was top stuff too.
Once this aspect was over, it was an enthusiastic and slightly oiled bunch that set off on a coach to Thornbridge Brewery, deep in the Derbyshire countryside. The Riverside Brewery is a neat set of modern buildings which we reached after the driver and some of our chaps worked out how to get over the river which separated the road we were on from the one the brewery was on. That sorted - not without false starts - we arrived and got stuck in to a the beers provided, both in cask and on keg.
The brewery itself is a multi million pound cathedral of stainless steel. "Italian designed therefore twice as costly" as our guide joked. Well not joked, more ruefully explained. It has been extended from its first incarnation a number of times and will be extended more. The brewing kit is a mixture of types including multi purpose vessels and gives a great deal of flexibility to the brewers. We also had a tour of the lab which has every kind of device imaginable to test, calibrate and control beer, including a sort of "mini brewery" in a test tube kind of affair that can mimic fermentation outcomes in a very short time. Nothing is left to chance here and it is the minute attention to detail, that to me, sets Thornbridge above many of its rivals. That isn't to say that every beer will be to your taste, but it won't be muddy, murky and imprecise. It will be clean and there is a very, very high degree of probability that it came out exactly as intended both process and outcome wise.
For those that like aged beer, we also visited a separate building housing beer maturing in various wooden casks. All done on a very carefully controlled basis and all very neat, functional and well laid out. Back in the bar, I was particularly pleased to see one of the brewers Dominic Driscoll, an old mate from his Marble Brewery days and all round good egg and enjoyed the beery discussion with him and fellow BSF members. Probably a little more than Dom who had not of course been drinking.
Thornbridge does so many things right. They are beers to seek out for the quality of the ingredients, but also for the care and attention to detail that goes into their making. I recommend them highly.
Sadly there was no Cocoa Wonderland around at this visit, but you can't have everything.
The photo of some of the vessels at the brewery is a fraction of them and doesn't really do it justice.
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.
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