11 October 2011

Brits abroad

Stillage arrangements at Borefts meant a couple of the English breweries had especially impressive bar set-ups. None more so than Thornbridge who had seven casks on the go with Dom (right) & co. at the taps. I started with the beer I'd been looking forward to most: Coalition Burton Ale was brewed at Thornbridge with the help of London's Kernel brewery and recipe input from Ron Pattinson. Strong and sweet is what I'd been told to expect from proper Burton, so I wasn't expecting the bitterness in this. 80 IBUs, apparently, and with a powerful, almost metallic, hop bang. Behind it there's a lovely soft and quenching beer, laden with tannins. I really liked it and would love the chance to taste it a few months down the line. Sadly I doubt the small batch will last anything like that long.

Also on the Thornbridge historical roster was their Courage Russian Imperial Stout, one of the iconic strong beers of Britain and one which I understand current brand owners Wells & Young are due to bring back to the market soon. In the meantime, Thornbridge have knocked up this 9.5% ABV version, dry-hopped and seasoned with sea salt. It's sticky and incredibly sweet with big brown sugar notes, tasting a little unfinished to me. Ordinarily I'd still be very impressed, but at a festival inside the De Molen brewery the standard was somewhat higher.

Evenlode was Thornbridge's other dark offering, and the weakest beer they brought, at a tiddly 6.2% ABV. A dark brown porter, it has a slightly sour and yeasty aroma and tastes very dry with lots of roasted grain. Poking around the back of the flavour I found some peaches and scented soap. The missus got a liquorice hit from it. I can see this working better in quantities greater than the 100ml festival glass.

On the paler side of the Thornbridge range there was Geminus, an imperial IPA made on rye. I'm rarely a fan of rye beers and this heavy-drinking pale orange one just gave out too much of a sweaty hop vibe to be enjoyably drinkable. Your rye-based mileage may vary, of course. Halcyon 2009 IPA was a much better proposition. Despite getting on in years now, this has masses of fresh mandarin pith sitting slickly on a smooth, heavy body, shown off beautifully by the cask conditioning. It's a little sweet and sticky, with a touch of boiled sweet about it, but the hops stop it from being cloying and keep it drinkable, even at 7.7% ABV.

That just leaves the two 10%+ whoppers on the Thornbridge stillage. Alliance 2007 (picture, right) was another collaboration beer, this one brewed with the help of Garrett Oliver of Brooklyn Brewery. Pouring a very attractive dark amber shade, it shows off lots of boozy wood but in very suave sophisticated way: all smoothness and charm with none of the cloying impetuousness of younger wooded beer. I can see this working great as a fireside beer. It's fine in a brewery car park on a sunny September afternoon too, mind. The same goes for Alchemy XIV barley wine. Though rather pale for the style it's quite big-bodied and loaded with flavour. I got honey, toffee and lavender in different measures: the floral notes complementing the sticky malt quite beautifully.

All-in-all a great showing from Thornbridge and I really relished the opportunity to try the beers I read so much about but rarely see in real life.

Next we go up to the windmill beer garden where Manchester's Marble brewery had their gravity casks arrayed. They weren't playing the same high-strength game and even brought along Pint, their 3.9% ABV bitter. Perhaps they were trying to attract custom from the Dutch beer consumers' union. Pint is a clear yellow shade and very much hop forward. I found it a little watery, though the flavour did start to build quite nicely as I drank. Obviously it's not meant to be consumed in these tiddly festival glasses. At 5.9% ABV, Dobber worked much better. This hazy pale ale has lots of satsuma in the aroma and adds a coriander spiciness in the flavour. Supremely refreshing, I thought.

I didn't get Chocolate Marble at all: a soapy nose and rather dry tasting but with very little discernible chocolate. But then it was my last beer on the Friday so perhaps it's another one that needs a larger serve to be appreciated. Decadence imperial stout was much better suited to the festival milieu: there's a wonderful union of big bitter hops and rich dark chocolate to give a powerful coffee and oranges taste sensation.

Marble Barley Wine is quite a simple and pleasant one. Over 10% ABV and oozing big ripe strawberry flavours. For something more complicated and complex, there was Old Manchester, brewed with recipe input from Fuller's John Keeling. The hops are a mix of Goldings, Motueka and Simcoe, brewed to 7.3% ABV and given an extra dose of dry Simcoe. The result is a loud beer, yelling candied fruits at first, then throwing a serious big citric tang and hard bitterness into the glorious cacophony.

Another English brewery I don't see enough of, but there was one set up just behind Marble whom I'd never met before at all...


  1. An interesting read, that post.

    I feel the need to chip in by testifying to the brilliance of Marble Dobber. Wonderful beer. The way you're hit with the grapefruit, whilst not being reminded of drinking fruit juice after brushing your teeth, is fantastic.

    Not sure if you've ever had it, but Marble Lagonda IPA is also an excellent beer.

  2. I'll keep an eye out for it, though Marble beer very rarely crosses my path. More's the pity.

  3. "Metallic" - it's fascinating how often that word crops up in Burton Ale tasting notes, I've got a book from the 1930s saying the same thing, and Ive noticed it myself on occasions.

  4. It's something I often find with English hops in sufficient quantity.