In 2002 I pulled my last pint as a licensee, waved goodbye to my cellar and set off on my travels into the ‘corporate’ beer world. I’ve often mused since then which beers I wished had been around during my publican years so I could have had a natter with the regulars about how brilliant they were. This week’s beer is one of them, because the brewery was only founded in 2005, and yet its beers have picked up more than 350 national and international awards. I wish I’d been around to champion this one from behind my bar. It’s Thornbridge Jaipur.
Many brewers spend squillions thinking up a tag line to describe their values, ethos and aims. Thornbridge keep it simple with three words: Innovation, Passion and Knowledge, and what’s more, they fulfil every one of these objectives.
Thornbridge Hall was one of the breweries I visited when I first joined Cask Marque in 2005. Brewing was done in an eclectic 10 barrel plant in the Hall grounds. If creativity had a sound, this place fizzed with it. Young brewers from all over the world were given the freedom to experiment with styles, flavours and ingredients. Innovation box ticked.
It felt very much a cottage industry, before the word ‘craft’ had even entered into British beer vocabulary. I was beckoned through a secret door at the brewery into a magical world (no, it wasn’t Narnia). It was a stately dining room which looked like as though it hadn’t changed in hundreds of years: a huge oval table with at least twenty place settings, pewter goblets, a massive chandelier and the Bakewell hills as a backdrop through the windows.
“This is where we do the food and beer matching” my host solemnly told me. Knowledge – ticked.
It was the first time I had experienced a brewer doing something serious and scientific with food and beer, and it was probably the catalyst setting me off on my journey to become a Beer Sommelier.
Due to the popularity of Thornbridge’s beers, a state of the art brewery, Riverside, was opened in 2009 (in addition to the Hall), in Bakewell. It enabled production on a far larger scale, but set an almost unrivalled commitment to quality. The Riverside site is as immaculate as the day it opened its doors, you could eat your dinner off the floor (although you’d be kicked out if you tried). Passion – ticked.
In my opinion, Thornbridge Jaipur is one of the great beers of our generation, and I truly believe it will stand the test of time. Thornbridge introduced a big, punchy, heavyweight IPA to thousands of unsuspecting drinkers. It said “sod the strength” and produced a 5.9% beer, when most of the corporates were running scared about strong beers. It said “let’s blow this one up with flavour” long before it became achingly fashionable to do so. Jaipur has got citrus in spades, especially pithy grapefruit, but it’s soft and smooth and rounded. It’s got a lip smacking sweet honey undertone and then a long, enduring bitter finish which begs for another gulp.
What’s more, this beer polarises people. Some look shocked when they first try it, some look as though they’ve discovered Nirvana. But this is the beauty of a great beer, it gets people talking, and that’s why it’s an iconic beer in my book.
It’s also incredibly versatile with food: the citrusy hops can cut through the heat of dry Indian food, such as samosas, bhajis and Biryanis. But they also cut through oily fish like smoked salmon. And if you want to experiment a bit, try it with a slice of moist carrot cake with frosted topping. It’s weird, but it definitely works.