Mashtun and Meow: Sheffield Beer Blog: February 2015

Friday, 27 February 2015

Thornbridge Brewery Tour

Just outside the lovely Derbyshire village of Bakewell, hidden in a small industrial estate lying behind a timber mill, is the forward thinking and ever-growing 'craft' brewery Thornbridge. Since humble beginnings ten years ago, the brewery has become continually more prolific and their reputation for great quality beers has spread worldwide.

We're pretty spoiled by living in Sheffield, in that no matter which part of town you're in you can almost always find a Thornbridge beer. Their range of pubs really does have something for everyone - summed up nicely by twobeergeeks - and their brews are consistently top notch. Despite the brewery being a mere 15 miles from our doorstep, we'd never been to have a look around, so decided to put this to rights and headed off on a Wednesday afternoon.

First impressions... Huge. Slick. Contemporary. We were taken aback a little at just how much of an industrial operation this is, having only been to classic, traditional breweries before. We were greeted by our tour guide and technical whizz Richard and half a pint of Bohemia (4.8%), a refreshing dry-hopped Czech style pilsner.

After a quick Thornbridge history lesson, and a freshly bottled Kipling (where the newness of the beer allowed the Nelson Sauvin hops to shine to their full potential) it was on to the tour, now sporting some rather fetching hi-viz vests.

The continuing transformation of the brewery due to the demand that outstrips their current production means that the brewery building itself is almost overflowing with gleaming steel. We began in the malt room toward the back of the building, where some of the speciality malts are stored (the majority of their most commonly used Maris Otter malt is now stored in silos due to the sheer volume required). The malt room smelt delicious, but we were all ready to head up to have a closer look at the super shiny brewing equipment itself.

Heavyweight dark ale Bracia was being brewed as we were shown round, a little unusually as this is one of the brews that until recently has only been produced at the Thornbridge Hall site. After a little peep in the hopback we were shown into arguably the heart of the brewery - the control room! Every process is overseen by computer controls, ensuring consistency. There's also a lab which is full of high-tech gadgetry and enables a tight watch to be kept on quality control. The air was literally buzzing and we felt a bit like we'd fallen into Willy Wonka's factory.

We followed the brewing process through, wandering by the 18 100hl fermenters and conditioners to the bottling line. More technological wizardry here too, with a centrifuge to clarify the beer and a nifty bottling machine.

Finally, we headed back outside and into a separate warehouse - the Ageing Room. Floor to ceiling barrels contained an array of exciting projects, some to be revealed during their tenth anniversary year throughout 2015.

Thirsty work, this tour lark. Back in the shop we polished off some of the delicious Cocoa Wonderland, a 6.8% chocolate porter made in collaboration with the fantastic Sheffield chocolate shop of the same name. It's rich, full-flavoured, and delivers just the right amount of cocoa naughtiness - a deserving winner of last year's Steel City Beer Festival.

We left with arms full of the hotly-anticipated Jaipur X, firmly believing the Thornbridge motto - Innovation, Passion, Knowledge. It's clear that despite their growing stature, this is a brewery which is still prepared to take risks, implement new ideas, and bloody enjoy what they produce.



Sunday, 22 February 2015

Whisky Review: Mackmyra First Edition

Our first experience of the Swedish distillery Mackmyra was yet another Drinks by the Dram whisky advent calendar find, and their Brukswhisky release is one of our go-to favourites.

Bottled at 46.1% ABV, as their flagship core release the First Edition is a statement of intent, showcasing the Swedish oak casks used in maturation with pride.

Colour: Light straw.

Nose: Oaky character, with a basil herb freshness, hints of caramelised pears and lavender honey.

Palate: Gentle, smooth, and well balanced. The key characteristic is of sweet oak, but not the bourbon oak we are more used to - this has a spicier tickle that is still reminiscent of the initial honey present on the nose. The flavours are closer to an actual bourbon than a whisky aged in bourbon, as the lovely new oak brings a wonderful fruity freshness to the dram. When imbibed with a savoury snack (we picked a mild Bombay mix), a beautiful sweet apple note punches through with more prominence.

Finish: The prickles of pepper spice remain on the tongue, but are rounded out with a little apple freshness and a robust dark chocolate creaminess right at the end.

Overall, a unique and interesting whisky that places Sweden firmly on the distiller's map.



Sunday, 15 February 2015

Nottingham Pub Crawl

In our most recent venture in search of good beer, we ended up in Nottingham. An hour's train ride away from our hometown, and with some great bottle shops and whisky retailers to boot, it's one of our favourite places for a day trip. Here's a selection of reasons why...

Hand & Heart

Located a ten minute's walk out of the city centre, this is a truly unique pub, with an ornate back bar consisting of a glorious Victorian cabinet that sits behind the eight hand pumps and six brass keg lines.

The beer available covers a good mix of local and not so local breweries - on our recent visit we sampled the house brew from Dancing Duck, Round Heart, a 4% copper ale, Horncastle's Sacrificed Soul (4.3%), and Scribblers Masher in the Rye, a well balanced 4.8% pale ale with a spicy edge.

Behind the bar, hidden in the rear of the pub, is a restaurant built in one of the old cellars - this original feature is a great atmospheric place to sit. Between the two set just inside the sandstone cave is a snug area featuring leather sofas that seem to absorb humans, and arm chairs set around small tables.

An extensive food menu of well sourced meals caters for all palates and dietary requirements - the oxtail served with parsnip chips and stilton mash sounded particularly appealing.

The Organ Grinder

This pub is the kind of place where you instantly feel at home, being welcomed by the smell of a proper log fire and cheery staff. The first thing to note when examining the bar is that it is riddled with wittily-named Blue Monkey beers... This is because this free house is one of three brewery taps of the Giltbrook based brewhouse (with other Organ Grinder pubs located in Newark and Loughborough). On this trip we went for Sanctuary - a 4.1% copper ale which was slightly reminiscent of Twiglets (in a good way), and the fresh and hoppy Right Turn Clyde, a 4.3% pale ale. Both were perfect for an afternoon pint. The pork pie selection looked great, too.

Keans Head

Set in a beautiful location, the front windows look out on St. Mary's church from a comfy open bar. There's a modern, somewhat continental feel to this place, with exposed brick walls and wooden floors providing a simple basis for the decor, which is largely breweriana from around the globe.

Six cask ales adorn the bar, backed up by a great selection of world whiskies and a gin selection unrivalled in the three pubs we saw on this visit to the city that adopted Robin Hood as their own.

This was the last pub we visited before it was time to get the train home, and there were some big drinks to finish off on. We tried Castle Rock's seasonal beer, Mistletoe, which was the perfect winter ale, dark and sweet at 5.2%. Hop Studio's Fire and Ice was an interesting drink, a 5% pale ale which tasted a bit like Kinder Bueno bars. Finally, the Heartless from Red Willow (one of our top breweries at the moment) was a complete chocolatey treat.



Saturday, 14 February 2015

Whisky Broker

There are plenty of independent bottlers out there, but Whisky Broker as one of the smaller companies on the market provide a level of personal service that for me is beyond expectation. Stocking a range of products from 5cl samples to almost 500l butts, from a range of distilleries from across Scotland and at the moment from the North British distillery as well, there's a huge amount of variety available but with the emphasis remaining on quality products.

The passion of Martin Armstrong, the frontman of Whisky Broker, is evident through all aspects of their business. The cost of each of their bottlings is always great value for money, for single cask releases that all have a decent age on the bottle.

My first purchase from Whisky Broker was initially hampered by a sub-par level of service from a courier company who refused to finish delivery, due to a smashed bottle. Despite this most likely to be the fault of the delivery company, Whisky Broker went ahead and sent me two new bottles, through a different courier, free of charge, providing speedy responses to all my communication despite being in America at the time. This push for excellent customer service certainly draws me back to returning for more.

If what you are looking for in a whisky is a fancy bottle and elegant label, then you'll be disappointed, but if you can look past the word art labels and into the liquid deliciousness inside you are sure to be in for a treat. So without further ado:

Linkwood 18 - 51.4%

The Speyside distillery Linkwood, nestled on the out-skirts of Elgin, has a capacity of 2.5 million litres of spirit per year. While most of this output goes to use in blends (including Johnnie Walker and White Horse) the whisky comes to the market from independent bottlers at a very high standard and this is one such bottle.

Colour: Pale, light sand.
Nose: Mellow tones of nectarines coupled with a fresh citrus nose, seasoned with cinnamon and smothered with vanilla custard. A twist of cracked black pepper comes in near the end.
Palate: Clean and soft... butterscotch sauce bordering on creme brûlée, with just a slight essence of burnt sugar. A great bold roundness of sweet crunchy apples provides balance. The mouth feel is warming yet gentle and smooth considering the 51% ABV.
Finish: Red pepper, and a little Szechuan peppercorn heat initially, giving way to a malty chewiness that lingers lightly on the palate.

Aultmore 20, 54.4%

Opened initially in 1895 by Alexander Edward (owner of Benrinnes), this Highland distillery was powered by water wheel, until a fire spurred a change in power source to electricity in 1896. More recently, Aultmore has been rebuilt and expanded under the ownership of Dewars. Again, most of the spirit is sold to blenders, notably Dewars White Label, with a few bottles of single malt released by the owners, but predominantly available through independent sectors.

Colour: Sanded wood
Nose: Lightly vanilla'd touches of oaky dryness. Cinnamon with coffee and cream.
Palate: A creamy texture and vanilla roundness waves across the palate. A crush of baked apples, with powdered cinnamon and ginger, and a little icing sugar. While I prefer the dram neat, a little bit of water springs a citrus freshness into the mix.
Finish: The oily nature of cask strength coats the mouth with light ground spice, ending in dark chocolate and coffee.