From a garden shed to a buzzing production brewery
Saturday 23 October 2021
This article is from
A Brief History of Beer
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No history of UK craft beer would be complete without our good friends at Thornbridge. One of the most sure-footed of the ‘first wave’ craft breweries, Thornbridge, under co-founder Simon Webster and his team, has navigated its way from a garden shed in the grounds of Thornbridge House to a buzzing production brewery with a household name (though it still has the shed).
Alongside its early peers such as Oakham and Roosters (though these predate Thornbridge’s founding in 2005) Thornbridge effectively bridged the gap between traditional British brewing and the exciting – if unfamiliar – flavours beginning to make their way across the Atlantic. Jaipur was a revelation, serving as a first introduction for many to the punchy delights of a West Coast IPA, and catapulted Thornbridge into the limelight. It continues to be a firm favourite and one of the brewery’s best sellers to this day.
Halcyon Days, the beer in this month’s box, was created in 2007, in response to calls for something in the same American vein as Jaipur, but at a lower (more ‘British’) ABV. Thornbridge, however, has always ploughed its own furrow, as Simon explains.
“Everyone had been telling us that Jaipur was great, but if we could make something with the same flavour but not as strong then it would go really well,” he says. “So we decided to kick against that and brewed an even bigger IPA, showcasing a mixture of English and European hop varieties, at 7.7% and only available on cask.
“I remember, we were experiencing a typically warmer time around that time and the phrase ‘halcyon days’ came up in conversation. One of the brewers then mentioned that ‘halcyon’ is also the genus of Kingfisher birds, which we had seen a lot of in the Peak District that year. It just seemed like fate, so Halcyon became the name of the beer we were working on.
“The reception was swift and glowingly positive; certainly in the UK, very few people had tasted (let alone brewed) a beer that had such a high ABV and yet was so balanced; prior to this, most UK-brewed high-ABV beers were a bit of a novelty act.”
“It was probably the first of the British craft beers to taste like Carmen Miranda's hat looked,” continues Simon gleefully. “Bursting with big tropical fruit aromas, it had the depth and mouthfeel to make you want to drink it far quicker than you should. Like all our beers, it won awards very quickly and became a firm favourite and was part of what the beer press started calling ‘Extreme Beers’ which were mirroring the new wave beers in the USA. Such was its success that within two years we had created a green hop version which was also available in bottle and made it easier to distribute. I remember the award-winning beer writer Zak Avery calling it ‘An Innocent Smoothie on Acid’.”
“Having started out as a cask beer we have since brewed in keg, can and bottle and it has fans in all its various guises. It’s a proper West Coast IPA and pours with just a hint of haze from the generous hop additions and finished bitingly bitter. It remains a firm favourite of drinkers and our brewers and often takes me back to the halcyon days of when craft beer in the UK started.”
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