One could expect that the success of BrewDog would have led to a rush of smaller breweries in the UK to make more extreme bottled beers, but som far there haven’t been too many. In addition, some of the super strength beers I’ve bought with me from the Pig’s Ear festivals have been rather bad stuff.
But there is one English brewery that is establishing itself with strong and flavourful beers, namely Thornbridge Hall. I ordered some of their beers from Beermerchants when I was in England this spring, but I never got around to typing my tasting notes.
They have a broad range of beers, some of which are made in limited quantities. Some may seem rather expensive, but they are well worth the price.
Their Halycon is a splendid India Pale Ale, the Kipling and the Jaipur are also worth looking out for.
The top of the range are two series of barrel aged beers. The Alliance beers are barley wines, some of which are aged for 18 months in Madeira or Sherry Casks. The Alliance beers are a collaboration between Thornbridge’s Head Brewer Stefano Cossi and Brooklyn Brewery’s Garrett Oliver, no less.
But the most exiting beers, for which I have more comprehensive notes, are the St.Petersburg series. They have brewed an imperial stout, and then aged it for 300 days in various whisky barrels, much in the same way as BrewDog, I assume.
The St Petersburg Imperial Russian Stout Highland Whisky has been aged in a Mortlach cask. It is very dark, almost black, with quiet carbonation and a small chocolate head.
Wonderfully complex beer, some elements are liquorice, coffee and treackle. A little smoke. Sweet malty palate, the ghost of the whisky laughing in the background. Strong, long lasting whisky finish. My favourite of the three.
The Islay Whisky Reserve looks much the same. Aged in a Caol Ila cask.
This is the most extreme of the trio, with a strong aroma of peat, seaweed and smoke. The palate is very smoky, including sour peat, reminding me of attempt to lit a campfire with wet wood. Smoky whisky finish.
The Speyside Whisky Reserve comes from a Macallan cask.
It has a more subtle aroma than the other two. Smooth, silky, some alcohol in the background. Malty sweet, but a bit anonymous. Some tar, a hint of smoke. Nice lingering complex finish. This shows more of the flavour of the stout itself, rather than the whisky, which makes a nice contrast.
I don’t think it is a coincidence that these exiting beers comes from a company with an Italian head brewer, who probably has less regard for British conventions. Their openness to collaboration with brewers from around the world is also a factor which puts them in the forefront of developments.
I hope I have the opportunity to visit Thornbridge one day!