Pré-ZBF Festival 2010
Top Tastings 2010 (Highland)
Origin: Ashford-in-the-Water, Derbyshire, England
Thornbridge are emerging as a world class new brewery, offering a solid range of excellent everyday beers but also knowing how to push at the boundaries of style while still retaining good taste and balance. Witness the popularity of these wood-aged imperial stouts at the Pré-ZBF event this year, where they lined up alongside cult iconoclasts BrewDog, Struise and De Molen.
St Petersburg is Thornbridge’s regular imperial stout and back when this batch was brewed in 2005 it was made from Maris Otter pale, Pilsner, dark crystal and chocolate malts, roasted barley and Bramling Cross and Galena hops. The beer was then aged in whisky barrels for around nine months, and bottled in mid-2006, since when as a bottle conditioned beer it has continued to evolve.
St Petersburg Speyside Whisky Reserve was matured in a cask from the Mortlach distillery, and now emerges almost black, with a fine foamy beige head. A treacly, very lightly sour and oaky aroma has a touch of smoky whisky, heralding a thick and rich palate, smooth and tasty despite the obvious alcohol, with chocolate, coffee, raisin and sherry notes. A beautifully mellow finish is lightly oaky with dark malt, a building woody dryness and a slightly bitter note.
If the Speyside is a refined and mellow beer, the Highland Whisky Reserve version, matured in a Macallan cask, is better still, full of vivid and unusual flavours but well-integrated and satifsying. This has a smooth and creamy but very dark and tarry aroma, with notes of varnish and a slight hint of cardboardy oxidation. A slick, sherried and honeyed malt palate has handfuls of fruit and nuts as well as wood, and there’s a minty, slightly cedary disinfectant-like note on a long developing finish that’s coffee bitter and slightly phenolic, ending with pursing tannins and an impression of sucking on wood.
Following a conversation at the festival, I’m delighted to discover it was partly my positive review of the standard version of St Petersburg that encouraged Kelly Ryan, then newly arrived from New Zealand, to apply for a job at Thornbridge following the departure of Martin Dickie to found BrewDog — Kelly is now a key member of their brewing staff.
Read more about these beers at ratebeer.com: