Smokefest @ Torrside Brewery | Mashtun and Meow: Sheffield Beer Blog

Wednesday, 21 November 2018

Smokefest @ Torrside Brewery

There is a growing trend of themed festivals popping up all over the country, with Hop City and Dark City hosted by Northern Monk (Leeds) celebrating hoppy and dark beers (respectively, obvs) and Sesh Fest at Magic Rock (Hudds). These festivals are a showcase of what the majority of modern beer drinkers like to hype over and while these are more obvious in terms of their appeal, more niche fests still run and function incredibly well albeit a little more under the radar. Like the one we help to organise through our day jobs, Funk Fest at Abbeydale Brewery (Sheffield) celebrating mixed fermentation, and the excellent Cask Fest at Affinity Brew Co (London) celebrating secondary fermented ales served without extraneous gas added. Then along come Torrside to showcase arguably the most controversial flavour in beer... Smoke.

You have probably been living under a rock if you don't already know that we are BIG TORRSIDE FANS. Having loved them from their humble beginnings (a little more on how we got to know them here) to having the opportunity to brew with them earlier this year, they are a fantastic bunch who make a complete roster of outstanding beers.


As we see it, their success has largely come from two ends of the beer world - well hopped light pale ales, that pack flavour and have great condition on a bar. And on the other end of the beer spectrum is what really sets them apart as one our favourite breweries and a cut above many other smaller breweries - the "Monsters". These big parti-gyled* beers pack the kind of welly that you wouldn't expect a brewery of Torrside's size to churn out other than for the occasional anniversary beer, but with a total of 37 listed on Untappd, they aren't mucking around.

Torrside's propensity for smoke and ability in using smoked malts in their beers is absolutely second to none in England at the moment, using beechwood, oak smoke and peated malts, they push all aspects of what smoke can do. Beechwood smoke being generally synonymous with the Rauchbier of Bamberg, featuring a sweet smooth smoke that works incredibly well with toasted malts. Oak smoking, which is traditionally used to dry wheat (rather than barley) showcases loads of vanilins, and is less subtle. Then peat, which the household consensus is our favorite wood for smoked liquids, but not quite so for food**. We were honoured enough to make our very own peaty Monster earlier this year, Power Stance, a parti-gyled peated ginger barley wine coming in at 12.5%, a surprisingly subtle balance of fresh, aromatic spice and sweet, almost saltiness, all dug from the earth.

Anyway. Onto the festival! The grey November day came, as did a pair of trains that journeyed us safely to our destination of New Mills (New Town rather than our usual Central***), and the unit that Torrside share with a private Marina, it's basically Monte Carlo for central Derbyshire. In the brewery we found a huuuuge selection of beers all featuring one or more of the aforementioned smokes, plus a sea of friendly faces. Smoke might be a divisive flavour in beer but it sure brought all of us together.


We opened with two Torrside beers - Hopfenrauch (Jim), a well balanced smoked bitter with a hop zest cutting through, and Sto Lat (Laura) a Grodziskie - a Polish style of light low ABV lager, featuring oak smoke that adds a layer of complexity to this eminently sessionable beer. These first beers, along with our seconds, were included in the entrance price, as was the glass to take away. The £12 even stretched to a portion of Pie***.14, with additional food (including smoked ham and a wide variety of smoked cheeses including a blue version which Laura hasn't stopped thinking about since) all being reasonably priced. Overall the festival certainly more than covered our expectation of what our ticket price offered. We even got a little goodie bag to take home, the My Little Pony chocolate coins were excellent Train Strike Return Journey sustenance.

Amongst the guest beers on offer were featured Ashover (another local favourite of ours), De Molen and Kees, but as soon as Jim saw the beer list a couple of weeks before, there were two at the top of his hit list from Yeastie Boys and Schlenkerla which feature as regularly in his drinking habits as possible but never before on draught. Rex Attitude and Helles couldn't be any further from each other, one 100% peated malt, the other no smoked malt whatsover (but made in a sufficiently smoky atmosphere to still impart oodles of flavour). We've said in the past that Rex Attitude is one of the most deliciously obnoxious beers we've had, tasting like lightly hopped Laphroaig wash wrapped up in a TCP shot, it's everything that isn't subtle, like drinking a Viking burial. Bury Jim in Rex. Schlenkerla Helles by contrast is made of 100% unsmoked pilsner malt, but with a soft vanilla cigar sweetness, that comes from the lingering smoked malt. If like Schlenkerla you make a lot of rauch it seems you only make rauch... it clings to the mill, the auger, the mashtun and beyond.

From this we obviously moved on to drink some Monsters. One of our number came across with half a pint of cask and a glint in their eye, clutching a dark brown, bordering on black cask beer. With a pale krausen and a warming waft of smoke the Rauchwine became introduced to our table far too soon (or not soon enough?!), the rest of us sat in envy after a nose and a wet and the next drinks were decided instantly. We think we've found our cask beer of the year a couple of months early. The Dogs of War series were also tasting absolutely incredible and of course we had to sample our Power Stance collab, which was delicious if we do say so ourselves.


Sat in the centre of the brewery surrounded by good friends, with a phenomenal beer range, some delicious food to accompany, relaxed and surrounded by dogs, this was really what festivals should be about. Smokefest had all of this in absolute spades and we left feeling all warm and fuzzy and not just because of all the imperial strength smoked beers we'd consumed. We definitely hope that Smokefest will become an annual fixture, but in the meantime the pub beckons... tis the season, an all that.

Cheers!

Jim & Laura

* splitting strong, first runnings from the mash to create stronger fermentable wort
** it's cherry, in case you were wondering
*** Train Strikes
***.14 Rauchwine and steak flavour! (It's a Pi joke).

Because it wouldn't be a proper post about how much we love Torrside without some Kami love...