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Thornbridge Brewery, Cocoa Wonderland

Thornbridge Brewery was founded in 2005 (where did those twelve years go?!) by Jim Harrison, owner of the recently restored Thornbridge Hall, a spectacular stately home in the Peak District. It turns out that Jim’s not short of a bob or two, but that hasn’t stopped everyone from marvelling at Thornbridge’s incredible rise from humble beginnings in a carpenter’s shed on the grounds of the estate.

The newer state of the art brewery (they now operate from two sites, the first still being at Thornbridge Hall) at Crompton Mill, near Bakewell, is on the site of Richard Arkwright's former cotton factory. Arkwright was the chap that worked out how to harness water power, creating the modern cotton industry with his spinning frame in the late 18th century, and in the process became one of the founders of the industrial revolution. Thornbridge Brewery has taken on that mantle, becoming one of the major driving forces of the modern craft brewing movement.

This lot take their brewing seriously. Armed with food science and microbiology degrees, the newer brewery is full of the latest hi-spec equipment, along with in-house research and development facilities. Head Brewer Rob Lovatt oversees proceedings and speaks more about quality control than any brewer we’ve ever met. Just check out his blog posts for some no holds barred views on the industry at large.

As one of the most innovative breweries in the UK, they are pushing the boundaries of flavour and styles. Most breweries use a handful of different malt and hop varieties in their beer. Thornbridge use 20 varieties of malt and around 60 varieties of hops.

Their strap line is 'Innovation, Passion and Knowledge'. This is no hollow promotional hyperbole dreamt up by a marketing agency. It’s just how they go about their day-to-day business. They have now won over 350 national and international awards to prove it.

Last year Thornbridge invested £1million in what Rob describes as ‘the Rolls Royce” of bottling lines to package their beer. It was at this point they decided to drop their distinctive 500ml bottles and move to 330ml. They got a bit of stick in the process, but there can be no doubting that smaller bottles have allowed Thornbridge to launch a wider range of more experimental, stronger brews.

One of the first off the new bottling line was this week’s beer, a wonderfully decadent chocolate porter. It was originally a collaboration between the brewery and a Sheffield-based cafe and sweet shop called… you guessed it... Cocoa Wonderland. The complex roasted malts make us think this would be an amazing porter without the super addition of real cocoa beans during the maturation process. It’s beautifully rich, full bodied and sweet, but somehow a roasted bitterness and hints of coffee keep it restrained, balanced and oh so drinkable. 

Cocoa Wonderland has won tonnes of awards including Gold medals at the International Beer Challenge (which our Matt judged) and the World Beer Awards.

We’d love to recommend a food pairing, but to be honest, this is a decent pudding in its own right.

Thornbridge remains one of our favourite breweries in the UK… big bottles or not.






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