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How I Created … Thornbridge Tzara

Thornbridge Tzara
By Rob Lovatt

I was twenty-one when I started working at Meantime Brewing in London, where I was rapidly immersed into a very Germanic brewing culture.

Rob LovattWe were brewing helles, pilsners, Vienna lager, wheat beers … you name it, we brewed it.

With frequent visits to Bavaria, and with help from fantastic brewers such as Eric Toft at Brauerei Schönram, I really got a feel for German brewing traditions and the thought processes behind these beers, and I now feel very comfortable brewing almost any German style.
Despite brewing an amazing range of forward-thinking ales, Thornbridge didn’t have a ‘Germanic style’ in its core selection.

When I took the helm four years ago, one of the first beers that sprang to mind to add to the already impressive stable was a kölsch, offering a more Germanic and traditional beer style that would fit nicely into the range.
Although I love almost all of the German beer styles, the one I always come back to is kölsch. It’s a beer style that suits any occasion, whether it’s after a hard day at work, after a day’s climbing or just swigging a glass while cooking a roast on a Sunday afternoon.

I love how crisp and delicate the beer is, also the endearing ‘scratchiness’ from the fermentation combined with lovely bready malt aromas. This combination is what seems to make it so moreish.

Very Specific

Kölsch beers are sometimes mistaken for light lagers because of their straw blond colour. They are, however, distinguished by their very subtle but noticeably fruity flavours. They are light in both body and appearance. Their maltiness is subdued; their hoppiness is assertive but unobtrusive.

Kölsch is also a very specific beer style. In 1985, the Köln Brewery Association prepared the Kölsch Konvention.

It stipulates that a beer can only be called kölsch if meets the following criteria: it is brewed in the Köln (Cologne) metropolitan area; it is pale in colour; it is a ‘vollbier’ (a German beer tax category beer with a starting gravity of between 11 and 14º Plato); it is hop accented and it is filtered.

Craft breweries circumvent this legislation by naming their beers ‘kölsch style’ or ‘Köln style’.
The ingredients we put into Tzara are fundamental to its success. Let’s start with the malt bill – mostly pilsner malt and wheat malt (5–10%) plus a dash of caramel malt pils.

We get ours from our favourite German maltster, Bamberger. The amazing Maris Otter we use for Jaipur does not make the cut with kölsch: it is too well modified and the wort would simply not taste right.

Hops must also be classically German – traditionally, Perle or Spalter Select are used for bitterness (we currently use Perle), with Tettnanger and/or Hallertau Tradition added at the end of boil for aroma.

Our Rolec Hopnik (an advanced kind of hop back) is filled with a combination of both – the same amount of hops as a brew of Kipling but the nature of these noble hops means they will not overpower the essence of the brew.

Our liquor needs to be soft in order to get that distinctive smooth mouthfeel. Luckily, Bakewell water comes off the millstone grit of the Peaks, straight from Bamford Reservoir, and is very soft.

Our yeast is sourced from White Labs in San Diego. We propagate it in the laboratory and our yeast propagation vessel to the perfect pitching quantity. Some breweries use lager yeast and then ferment at a higher temperature than normal.

This can produce great results, but I feel the overall flavour profile benefits from using a ‘proper' kölsch strain, so that is what we use.
So the recipe is quite simple, but the ingredients must be of the absolute highest quality. Luckily the ethos at Thornbridge means there is never any compromise on these ingredients, or indeed the process of production.

Fruity Flavours
What is now needed is a few weeks of lagering at 4˚C, slowly moving down to -1˚C, to round out those fruity flavours developed by the kölsch yeast strain. The relatively high primary fermentation temperature and the nature of kölsch yeast means that lagering doesn’t need to be as long as, say, for a helles, but it still must happen.

Thornbridge TzaraDissolved oxygen can produce off-flavours, ruining the delicate taste for which kölsch is known. We keep levels typically below ten micrograms per litre post fermentation (something we do for all our beers) and this means Tzara leaves Thornbridge in the absolute best possible state; as fresh and vibrant as can be.

After fermentation and lagering, we arrive at a key difference between a true kölsch and Tzara. We don’t have a filter, so instead we use our centrifuge to clarify the beer. A true kölsch is always filtered, but centrifuging allows us to clarify the beer without stealing those delicate flavours we put into the beer in the first place.

I feel this is one of the reasons this beer wins an embarrassing amount of international awards.

It’s a real shame in this country that we see very little fresh Germanic beer. Even if the brewer has gone to every effort to see that dissolved oxygen levels are kept as low as possible, nothing beats a fresh beer.

The German styles that we produce are an attempt to redress the balance and ensure the British public can taste beers like Kölsch as they should be – brewery fresh!

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