I never thought the day would come. But after months of planning and years of dreaming the moment had finally arrived. With the sounding of my alarm on Monday morning I was ready for the first of 52 jobs: Thornbridge Brewery. My possessions for the next year were ready and waiting neatly packed into a single bag – “Mr Blue”. I had a feeling we were going to get on very well.
Mr Blue makes a foodish friend
When I first started this blog it was obvious I was going to need some help. After a few emails back and forth I came across Refold and their designer James who had created the artwork for my favourite watering hole – North Bar (a must destination for any discerning beer drinker). James kindly agreed to assist with the blog design, for which I am extremely grateful, and as an added bonus helped me secure, through North Bar, my first job.
Thornbridge are relatively new to the beer world. Founded in 2005, their rise to fame echoes the growing popularity of craft beer here in the UK. Although we may think of Americans as Bud/Coors Light gluggers, we owe a great deal to them for revitalising the beer sector. Beer slowly became in vogue and everyone from fashionistas to foodies started sipping away at craft brews. 4 years after their founding and with over 200 brewing awards to their name, Thornbridge were in a position to open a second, larger, state of the art facility two miles down the road. This presents them a rare opportunity to brew using both traditional and modern techniques. I hoped if I worked hard I’d get the opportunity to shadow a brew at both locations.
The new Thornbridge Brewery
First day at a brewery and where better to start than at the beginning of the process – the Malt house. Malt is one of 4 key ingredients in the brewing process, the other 3 are water, hops & yeast. Not only does the malt contribute to the flavour and colour of the beer, but the malt’s starch content is later turned into sugar which is later turned into alcohol (although a certain amount of residual sugar remains to give the beer texture and body.) Malts can vary across producers; an English malt is different from a German malt, for example. They can also be manipulated in various ways to create certain taste profiles, for example dark roasted malt will give the coffee like taste used to make stouts and porters. If you ever get a chance to go to a brewery, ask to taste their malts. Just don’t go eating a handful of black malt – that stuff is potent!
Just as a clean cellar is the foundation of a great pub, a clean malt house is the foundation of a great beer. With that in mind, I was entrusted with the task of emptying the malt house, washing it down, scrubbing it spotless, then putting the many different malts back in place. A combination of 3 years in a desk job and a lacklustre approach to exercise didn’t stand me in good stead. Hauling 25kg malt bags may not sound like hard work, but when done repetitively, and in awkward spaces, I began to get a sense of what the lads referred to as “brewer’s muscle”. But this is why I’m here! At the end of the week, I’ll think of beer in a different light. I’ll remember the noise of the malt mill, the smell of the malts and the feeling of triumph after slugging that last bag of black malt onto the top shelf. I’ll savour every sip.
The malt rack – painful to look at
My afternoon was filled with making boxes, and labelling 5 litre mini kegs; a chance to rest my tired muscles. Little did I know the hardest part of the day was yet to come. In my ignorance I grossly underestimated the 4 mile ride home to my bunkhouse for the week. I had clearly not considered three very important things. 1.) Derbyshire, unlike London, is hilly. Very hilly. 2.) I’m carrying 20kg on my back. 3.) I’m riding my Uncle’s bike, flat tyres included.
Tour de foodish
A “30 minute ride” turned into a journey from hell – the last thing I wanted after a hard day’s work. The Lord Snooty inside of me nearly got his way 20 minutes in. I even called Mum and Dad to look into hostels nearer the brewery. But then I remembered the malt house and thought how the trip would never be a success if I gave up at the first hurdle. An hour later, soaking wet, I finally made it to the middle of nowhere for some well earned rest. I was so relieved I was willing to overlook that I’d left my sleeping bag behind.
And so the first day of my culinary adventure ended how I’d least expected it. Eating a bowl of cereal in bed. Oh well, there are still 364 days to go…