In the summer of 2014, Waitrose (for Brewclub readers in the colonies often described as an ‘up-market supermarket’) teamed up with Thornbridge to launch ‘The Great British Home Brew Challenge’.
Rob Lovatt, Head Brewer at Thornbridge, explained: “A considerable number of home brewers develop great quality beers that can never be appreciated by a larger drinking public. The Home Brew Challenge will provide home brewers with an opportunity to match their beers against those of other enthusiasts, and have them tasted by a panel of expert beer judges.”
The competition garnered some 200 entries, and the winner was ‘Vienna IPA’ brewed by Graham Nelson in his kitchen, now brewed by Thornbridge and on the shelves of Waitrose stores.
Rob Lovatt said, “I knew Grahams beer was going to be in the running for best homebrew the moment I tasted it. It was solid, well-balanced, clean and had a modern hop profile which really stood out. We have closely followed Graham’s recipe to keep true to the batch he first made at home.”
Graham added “Since learning that Id won its been a fantastic experience to be involved in helping Thornbridges brewers scale-up my recipe and make the beer. I only make forty bottles when home brewing so to see ten thousand bottles packaged and ready to be sent out was quite humbling!”
So, mention of the word ‘Vienna’ leads me to expect this to be a red IPA, probably redder than Oakham’s rather excellent ‘Scarlet Macaw’ (reviewed here), but perhaps not quite as red as Thornbridge’s ‘Kill Your Darlings’ (reviewed here).
Well there’s a definite red tint to this pale ale, a comforting barley sugar/cough candy colour. There’s a rich head, but it fades quickly.
The nose is piney, with citrusy undertones and a hint of newly cut grass.
The flavour is sharp and citrusy, underpinned by the aforementioned pine. That’s when the Vienna influence kicks in, adding a comforting caramel mellowness to what might otherwise be ‘just another’ IPA – as if anything by Thornbridge is ever likely to be ‘just another’ anything.
It’s beautifully balanced, and a delight to sip after cutting the grass on a warm summer’s evening. Graham’s done an excellent job of producing a beer that works; I’m sure the temptation to produce a ‘hop bomb’ that strips your tooth enamel was almost overwhelming. I suspect the competition judges endured some stinkers, but this is a worthy competition winner and worthy of a permanent place in Thornbridge’s repertoire.
The challenge was clearly a success, they’re doing it again this year. British homebrewers have until 31st July 2015 to enter, details can be found here.