We set off from home to walk the mile or so to our rendezvous point for our CAMRA trip to Derbyshire under leaden Manchester skies, which soon turned to a determined drizzle. The subsequent journey down to Thornbridge Hall was undertaken in pissing rain. It set the scene for what was to be a (mostly wet) experience. We knew what kind of day we were in for when we parked next to a coach disgorging Wigan Branch members. This event had attracted a lot of CAMRA types.
Making our way to the small brewery, we deferred to our pie eating colleagues, to allow them first look at the brewery and to present a certificate of some sort, before we presented ours. In a steady downpour, we lined up at the temporary bar erected just outside the brewery entrance. Three handpumps dispensed Wild Swan, Lord Marples and, of course, Jaipur IPA, in this case, the dry hopped version. Most of us started on the 3.5% White Swan which was aromatic and spicy, but its rather good taste was let down a little by its thin, tending to watery, body.
As we sheltered from the rain in a nearby greenhouse, we got the call to arms and assembled in the brewhouse amid the clutter of casks, bags of malt and various other paraphernalia. Posters for their own beers and Moravka lager adorned the walls. Awards were presented, speeches were given and reciprocated. A couple of interesting points emerged. First it was explained that Thornbridge beers will not always be clear, as they don't filter in any way. That was greeted with a little scepticism from some of those who heard it, me amongst them. There is no reason why the beer shouldn't be clear if it is treated right and fined. The second point was that they are commissioning two conical fermenters and will be doing extensive trials to ensure they can flavour match beers brewed in open vessels. Now I am no brewer, but I think matching in this way will be damned difficult, but good luck with it.
As the rain went off we had a second pint, this time for me of Lord Marples, a malty, dark brown beer of no great distinction and then taking the opportunity for a look round, we bumped into some more CAMRA types, this time some of my colleagues from BSF and we chatted amiably as it grew darker and more threatening. We had just finished a turn round the gardens, when the heavens opened again and we were driven headlong into the main beer tent as rain beat fiercely down on it from above. Now here was a disappointment. Only two beers on sale, the aforementioned Lord Marples and Jaipur IPA. We had hoped for more of the range and to add insult to injury, there was no Moravka Lager either, the lager being 33cl bottles of, of all things, Stella! So Jaipur IPA it was. The beer was fine however, served cool and went down well. As the sun came out again, we were able to see the surrounding countryside in all its glory. The Hall is magnificent and the setting, amid rolling and lush Derbyshire hills, just sublime. It really is a superb spot. We idled over even more Jaipur for a bit longer, then an hour or so earlier than planned, hopped on the coach and thence to Ashover and the Old Poet's Corner, though some of us (my fellow blogger Tyson included) tried the other two pubs, the Crispin Inn and the Black Swan as well. All had their merits and it would be a mean spirited drinker that would not find solace in this attractive village.*
In the Old Poet's Corner, a lively debate was had by a couple of us about non sparkler use, though an old fashioned slotted type was eventually produced for Taylor's Landlord. By then the effects of a long days boozing mainly on 5.9% beer were surely kicking in and it was good to get back on the coach for the relatively short trip home, which in the time honoured way of these things was spent, by most people, fast asleep.
*I'd relate the beers we drank in Ashover in full if I could remember what they were, though I do recall (without any great clarity) Spire's Land of Hop and Glory!
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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