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Classic Beer of the Month November 2010: Thornbridge Jaipur

Thornbridge Jaipur, 5.9% (UK)

Nearly 80 awards in its first five years, including two CAMRA Best Strong Bitter titles, is an impressive medal tally that goes a long way to explaining why Thornbridge Jaipur is one of the beers every British beer connoisseur seeks out.

Thornbridge JaipurBut what is it that makes this beer so successful? Ask the brewers and they come back with three short words: Innovation; Passion; Knowledge.

It’s a snappy response that would slip glibly off the tongue of a marketing consultant or advertising copywriter, but the lads insist that this is not just a throw-away slogan. It accurately sums up the ethos of the brewery, they say.

The way Jaipur has developed in its short but eventful life is testimony to this. Anyone who has talked beer with the Thornbridge crew will instantly vouch for two thirds of that mission statement.

They are in this line of work because they love it and because they know a hell of a lot about it.

The third element – Innovation – is completely evident in the way in which the team is devoted to creating new techniques and processes that will achieve an even better result in the glass.

Even with a beer like Jaipur, it’s never a matter of resting on laurels. How the beer can be further improved seems always to be on their minds.

It was just over five years ago that the first pints of Jaipur were pulled. Brewers Martin Dickie (now with BrewDog) and Stefano Cossi came up with a pale, hoppy brew broadly in the American IPA mould.

The name of the beer was chosen because Jaipur was the Indian city where Thornbridge Hall owners Jim and Emma Harrison were married.

Chinook and Ahtanum hops offered a distinctive citrus character that was immediately appealing to the public. But the beer has since continually evolved as the brewers work on each batch to produce an ever better flavour.

On one occasion, the batch of Ahtanum hops supplied was not quite up to scratch so the decision was made to try Cascade and Centennial alongside it. Centennial was soon adopted as a permanent part of the hop grist.

Also now in the mix is the high-alpha Warrior hop that provides bitterness early in the copper, leaving the more fragrant hops to strut their stuff later in the process, most notably in the hop back as the beer is strained away after the copper boil.

There have been changes, too, in the malt grist. Initially only a Maris Otter pale malt brew, it was decided to add a little Vienna malt to give a fuller malt balance to the extravagant hopping, and the brewers have also played around with the water.

A complex salting regime involving additions of calcium carbonate, calcium chloride, magnesium sulphate and sodium chloride provides the ideal balance of minerals to bring out the best in the hops and to harmonise bitterness, sweetness and salt on the palate.

Beyond Brewing

Innovation continues even beyond the brewing cycle. In an effort to emulate the flavours of the cask-conditioned version of Jaipur as closely as possible, the lads have developed a system of bottling that involves centrifuging the beer to reduce the yeast count, rather than the clumsier filtration method that can also strip out flavour.

The novel technique ensures that the delicacy of the beer is maintained along with its more forceful characteristics.

Golden in the glass, Jaipur is instantly appealing, with tropical and citrus fruit aromas – grapefruit and pineapple cube sweets – bouncing out of the glass.

The taste is crisp and dangerously misleading with regard to the strength. At 5.9%, it’s a silent assassin waiting to pull the trigger, as the balance of flavours fixes the drinker as an easy target.

All too often beers with this level of hoppy complexity impress on the first sip, even the first pint. But then the hops become just too demanding, and you need to move onto something less aggressive.

With Jaipur, the hop balance is so skilful that it’s easy to keep on sinking the beer, entranced by the fresh, clean grapefruit and pineapple flavours that are grounded in an earthy leafiness and wonderfully balanced by sweetness from the malt and the minerals in the water.

The same bittersweet fruit mix lingers long in the dry finish, with pine notes adding to the complexity and bitterness gradually taking over, drawing you back for more.

For the drinker, innovation may be harder to judge, but passion and knowledge are all too obvious when this particular beer hits the palate.

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