A true labour of love…

Head Brewer's blog

By: Rebekah Wadham

As a Head Brewer, there are often projects you have on the back burner – things you’d love to do, but can never quite get round to doing.  Bottled conditioned versions of our cask beer has certainly been one of those projects I have wanted to explore for a long time. The devastating closure of our pubs during the COVID-19 crisis made me determined to get on with it. Many of the classic cask beers found in bottle are a pale reflection of the splendid beer available in cask format, especially when sterile filtered and pasteurised.  I really wanted to turn the tide on this and myself and team relished the challenge to make the best possible bottled conditioned beers we possibly could.  We picked two beers specifically for this project – our signature golden ale, Brother Rabbit and our classic bitter, Lord Marples.  These are now available as bottle conditioned beers.

This means the beer has been carbonated naturally, by adding priming sugar to the beer and inoculating with yeast just before packaging.  Over the next 1-2 weeks, the yeast eats the sugar and produces carbon dioxide, which dissolves in the beer.  This is in keeping with some of the old British classics, such as Thomas Hardy’s ale, Worthington White Shield and Gale’s Prize Old Ale; superb beers, all notable for their fine carbonation.

True bottle conditioned beers have become something of a rarity these days. One of the reasons is that it’s often easier to just force -carbonate using an extraneous carbon dioxide supply.  There’s less chance of infection, there’s no sugar to add and there’s less work to do.  Bottle conditioning is often associated with home brewing projects gone wrong – we’ve all been given a bottle of badly bottled conditioned beer that has exploded over the kitchen!  Thankfully, here at Thornbridge we have the time and equipment to do it properly. When it’s done right, there’s numerous benefits to the beer:

– Oxygen reduction, keeping the beer fresher for longer.

– Tighter CO2 bubbles, which gives a softer, more gentler feel in terms of carbonation.

– The beer is reseeded with live yeast; this means the yeast will be busy doing its own ’home improvements’, as the beer continues to mature in the bottle.

Given the current pandemic situation, which has meant the closure of pubs and bars up and down the country, another great reason to do this is it gives our loyal drinkers (and ourselves!) the experience to drink ‘real ale’ at home. We thought that bottle conditioning two of our cask heroes would give our drinkers the closest thing they can get at home to drinking real ale in a Thornbridge pub.  We hope you enjoy them as much as we do.

Rob Lovatt – Head Brewer and Production Director