By Liz Dodd
I was lucky enough to contribute tasting notes on Thornbridge’s core range for the current edition of Hop and Barley, a beautiful, coffee-table-worthy mag about beer and brewing. Check out this quarter’s edition here, and read the tasting notes – which H&B have very kindly allowed me to reproduce here – below.
From Hop and Barley Vol 5
As part of our continued celebration of their tenth anniversary, this edition of the tasting notes features a selection from the core Thornbridge range. Spanning the lifetime of the brewery, the six beers reflect both the eclecticism and quality from the past decade. From the Jaipur IPA which has become synonymous with the brewery, to the more recent and highly-admired series of classic continental styles, each demonstrates the breadth of the brewery’s talent.
American Pale Ale
From the outset this beer glows warm, amber red and generous, with a thick and lasting, creamy head. Its American hops really sing on the nose, where tumbling notes of juicy pineapple, nectarine and orange, with some piney resin, just top the underlying caramel, golden-syrup sweetness of the malt. That balance tastes like chunky thick-cut marmalade, tart but sweetly jammy. It’s remarkably full-bodied for a beer just on the dangerous side of session-strength, thanks to the toasty, creamy notes from the malt. The hops win out eventually and leave a pleasant, grapefruit-y hoppy zing, with a touch of burnt caramel. Overall, a great British take on the American classic; a rich session ale that’s complex and fresh enough not to tire of, but not so strong you’ll regret ordering it by the pint.
A goth beer by name and nature, this chunky, completely midnight-black beer pours thick and tarry with a thin, off white-head. If the colour makes you recall a stout, the nose quickly disillusions: there’s a little bit of the dark chocolate, coffee and smoky tobacco notes you’d expect, but they’re quietened by the fruity earthiness of the hops. In a similar way, there’s rich black coffee on the palate, but also a subtle fruitiness, even a sweet cream, and some tropical fruits. Overall, it’s a well balanced black IPA – the chocolate malt isn’t sacrificed for the punchy hops, and vice-versa. This carries through in its mouthfeel, which is delicate, and the aftertaste of bitterness and burnt nuts, with a metallic tint at the very end. It’s edging towards strength at 6.6%, so Thornbridge impresses here by pulling off a good balance of hop and roasty malt.
The Derbyshire brewery’s popular foray into the crowded IPA market is a gateway beer; flavourful in a way that’s approachable, but lacking the big alcohol punch and lingering hop oils that would ensnare hardened hop heads. It pours soft, yellow gold, a straw-like hay colour that hints at the grassy herbals you encounter on the nose. Once the light, creamy head has cleared, a fresh, almost coriander, aroma emerges; yes, the standard New World hops are present in sweet citrus, but there’s an underlying, enjoyable savoury note. It tastes fresh and grassy, with lemon verbena and grapefruit, but that mouth-puckering bitterness is somewhat deflated by its decidedly medium mouthfeel and a little too much caramel. There is some lingering pithy zing, but, at a lower ABV, the American Pale actually packs more punch. All in all, a great intro to IPA for someone used to rounder ales.
A lovely optical illusion of a beer, Bamberg’s glossy haze and moderate head mean that its artful smokiness catches you completely by surprise. This is an autumnal beer: its colours are the glowing reds, rubies, oranges and ambers of hearths and bonfire embers. Which is appropriate, because on the nose this reveals waves and billows of smoke – courtesy of its 100% beechwood smoked malt. At once complex, Lapsang Souchong, smoky and tea-like, the underlying boozy sweetness nods towards peaty Islay whisky and spicy rum. The smokiness largely dissipates in your mouth to leave a deliciously complex aniseed, with subtle impressions of smoky ham and cheese, and a full-bodied, burnt toffee-ish malt. The rich, harvest festival flavours linger; the legacy of the whisky notes emerge as a long warmth, while the aniseed becomes cloves and the burnt sugar, orangey caramel. It’s almost Christmas-like, a great cold weather beer to enjoy with fireworks and toffee apples.
Köln Style Beer
Crystal clear with just a hint of straw gold against strong light, this beer glows like a Chardonnay and pours exactly like a beer that emulates Cologne’s famous top-fermented, lagered beer should. The head – white, ghostly and soft – dissipates quickly. But its subtle appearance belies a powerful nose, which is fruity and grassy without being too perfumed. Those fruit aromas carry through to the palate, where an initial sweetness outlasts fairly heavy carbonation and gives way to pear drops. It’s a little too sweet for the style – Cologne’s best Kölsch is so balanced and subtle that its sweetness dissipates like a crisp, dry white wine, whereas Thornbridge’s offering lingers to a honeyed, mead-y finish, with a touch of hay. But ice cold, this is still a crisp, dry beer that would work beautifully paired with fish or white meat.
Gloriously, lazily hazy and honey-coloured, Thornbridge’s Double IPA is a dangerously well-balanced, strong beer. For hop addicts, it might just be too balanced, with the gloriously vivid hops that should shine through an IIPA somewhat watered down – perhaps by the malt. But for everyone else, the ripe, pungent, lychee aroma promises, and delivers, all the citrus kick you could want. It’s woody and fruity on the nose, with hints of wild flowers and an underlying, complicated savouriness. Those fruits overwhelm the palate, but the lushness of the mango, melon and papaya lingers well. There’s some bitter hop oil left on the palate afterwards, but with a lovely astringency that’s citrusy and palate cleansing – dangerously un-cloying and drinkable for a beer that’s lurching cheerfully towards 8%.