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Thornbridge Brewery, Mr Smith Gose to...

The winning recipe from the Great British Homebrew Challenge

Thornbridge Brewery was founded in 2005 by Jim Harrison, owner of the restored Thornbridge Hall, a spectacular stately home in the Peak District.

They operate from two sites, the first still being at Thornbridge Hall, where they began life in the humble surrounds of the carpenter's shed. The newer state of the art brewery 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 beer 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.

Their strapline 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.

Despite this success, they haven’t lost sight of their humble roots and one of their most popular initiatives proves it. The Great British Homebrew Challenge, which they’ve run in partnership with Waitrose since 2014, seeks to find the best home-brewed beer in the country. The winning recipe, chosen by a panel of experts, is brewed by Thornbridge and sold in 70 Waitrose stores across the country.

This week’s beer is the latest winner; a watermelon gose named after the 1939 Frank Capra film ‘Mr Smith Goes to Washington’. Its creator is digital designer Josh Smith, who lives in North London.

“I’ve been brewing for around 5 years, starting with tiny stovetop kits but slowly moving to more elaborate setups” explains Josh.

“I’m still a small batch brewer compared to most, mainly making 10-litre batches in my kitchen and fermenting under my stairs. Having a small London flat means I have to adapt, but I think you can brew in whatever space you have, it’s a pretty adaptable hobby.”

“I brew because I really enjoy the process of recipe creation and experimentation. I split lots of my batches into smaller sizes and add different ingredients to each, from hops to different fruit and other, sometimes strange additions. Some turn out well, some less so, but it’s great to push boundaries of the things you can make at home.”

Watermelon has been a popular ingredient in the American craft beer industry for some time, with independent brewers such as San Francisco’s 21st Amendment and Ballast Point producing their own take on the flavour combination. But what resulted in Josh putting it in this brew?

“The beer was inspired by a watermelon, feta and mint salad recipe I really like. Watermelon works so well with salty flavours and I naturally made the connection to Gose - a sour and salty beer. I had tried Mello watermelon juice from Waitrose and was impressed by how much flavour it had.”

As he admits, not all of Josh’s experiments work. But this one does. It would be a shame to think that his beers won’t ever reach an audience beyond his closest friends and family ever again. But you never know. There is always next year.

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