Wednesday, 16 January 2013

The Jekyll and Hyde brewery


                     Alas Jekyll and Hyde are not the latest craft led, Keykeg embracing, sour experimenting, barrel ageing, southern hemisphere hop adoring microbrewery (and I'm not saying there's anything wrong with any of that Kraftoids), but the moniker does apply to a very well regarded brewery not too far from Sunny Sheff. One who tick many of the above boxes yet seem to have an odd relationship with drinkers here and further afield.

Rather than fanny around with hints and nudges I'll tell you now its Thornbridge.

It occurred to me the other day, reading a number of Golden Pint awards lists, and reviewing my own, that a heck of a lot of bloggers really rate Thornbridge, whereas blogger or not, I have a weird love hate thang going on with their ever changing brew folks. Looking at my top tag subjects, if its not Thornbridge themselves or their beers I'm covering, their pubs certainly feature very heavily. If I visit 4 pubs in any given crawl in Sheffield I will come across Thornbridge in one guise or another. So I must adore them, right?

Well, erm, not really. Because for every thing that Thornbridge does that makes me go "wow" or gives me a satisfied "world is good" feeling, there's equally something annoying, dubious, or icky, like a half chewed sweet found under the settee covered in hair and crumbs. In fact, so opposite are my feelings and experiences, I can't make up my mind if this highlights the scope and size of their business, or simply reflects the fact that not everything one brewery does will be enjoyed by everyone. I suppose it could also be indicative of an unsound mind, but that's between me....

The final prompt to think about this was a trip to two Thornbridge pubs, one of which I drank an astonishingly good Thornbridge beer in. Details of that will come later, but this brief night out is a microcosm of my Thornbridge experience. For every highlight there is a low shadow. Its like the worst most tempestuous marriage ever, the lousiest most frustrating friendship of all time. It looks like this.

I luuuuurve Halcyon. Its possibly the only beer I'll ever drink in whatever format it comes in (although preferably cask) and still really enjoy it. I adore Thorny Goat, and Beadecas Well, Yule and Pollards, plus McConnells, Galaxia, Chiron, Tzara, Evenlode and their whisky cask stouts.

I like the pub staff as well - not quite as weird as it sounds (I hope), but Steph and Ed at the Bath, Jamie James and Ems at DAda, the nice folk at the Tap, which isn't a Thornbridge pub, Adam at the Coach and Horses, even The man of Ash and Kirk Hammet at the Hallamshire House, all seem very affable and importantly knowledgeable people. Beers and pubs thrive with good staff. Therefore it follows that the regularity with which I drink in Dada, The Bath and The Tap must be largely attributed to those who serve me beer there.

And talking of pubs, in breaking news, I really like DAda. Even though its weird, gimmicky, poorly located and uncomfortable. And has stopped selling food. Despite all of this its excellent. And despite my fears, The Bath has seamlessly transferred from Independent to Brewery ownership without losing its identity and charm. Although, arguably its lost a lot of customers....

I also love the Tap, which is not a Thornbridge pub as I mentioned, and, power cuts permitting, I enjoy a visit to the Coach and Horses.

After which it all gets tricky. You see, the excellence of the beer draws me to the Hallamshire House but I have quickly developed an aversion to cobalt grey. The Hallamshire House therefore is a trade off - better beer but worse decor. Another microcosm.

Meanwhile, I think the Scythes is probably OK but its not somewhere I've been more than once since it changed hands, likewise the Stags Head, although I have no specific dislike of either. I have never been to the Blackamoor or Cricketers since Thornbridge (I, know probably didn't) took over. And I really dislike the Greystones.

I also dislike Raven, Jaipur and Kipling on Keykeg, and Puja, General Sherman, Feaerahoarans (that one no-one could pronounce) and Wallonia full stop. And I don't like being ripped off, so it stands that I don't like buying Thornbridge bottles. Although, in keeping with this chalk and cheese theme of contradiction, many of them are truly sensational.

And finally there's the decline in fortunes of the original range. Thornbridge's first beers, or at least those I first tried, were really good. Jaipur was outstanding (still one of the best cask beers I ever tasted), the St Petersburg was delicious, The Lord Marples easy drinking but full of flavour, the Wild Swan was quaffable. Only one of those statements remains true. Ten brewers a year or not (probably not!) Marples and St Petersburg have changed so much as to be unrecognisable shadows, and not in a good way. And only the wet hopped Jaipur I had at the Hallamshire House came close to its superlative forerunner. Mind you, it was really good....

Later arrival Kipling also used to be a delight. Really hoppy, and citrus bitterness abounded, and in not being as night shortening as Jaipur, it was a go to beer. Now its one dimensional and lacking in bite. Its a memory, not a decision. A Thornbridge beer to avoid, along with Brother Rabbit, Ashford, Lumford and Hopton, AKA Red Lion.

So that's my split personality Thornbridge appraisal. I hope I've been fair and balanced in my assessment, but I'd have to quote a dear friend of mine to sum up Thornbridge best - "They produce fantastic beers, but I dunno, there's something not quite right about them". Just think, if they could be judged on beers (erm, excepting the above list!) alone they could rule the world. Of beer.

And then what would I have to complain about?

Wee Beefy

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