Brewdays. Sometimes, planets align. In the ISBF6 Constellation, Torrside are stars. Always up for doing something special.
Two weeks ago, they opened the doors to 2 helpers and one (Beerfinder) interloper. I pass you to Alice, for eloquence way beyond a 16thC Wandering Inquisitor. (Photos courtesy of a bad Vincent Price impersonator)
Its 9:05 on Sunday morning (That’s a positive LIE IN! Ed) and Luke (@hopsnsprockets) and I are on the train trundling out of Stockport through the southern reaches of Greater Manchester and into the rolling hills of the Derbyshire Dales clutching a hefty cargo of homemade sausage rolls. We’re on our way to New Mills, a charming mill town in High Peak famed of the Swizzels sweet factory and, far more importantly, home to Torrside Brewing with whom we are to spend the day brewing up an early addition to the ISBF line up.
The fact we’re on the way at all is something of a miracle given that our local pub, Stockport’s little gem that is the Petersgate Tap, was in the final throws of hosting its ‘Monsters’ event. An entire weekend with close to every tap and hand pull dedicated to a selection of the aforementioned Torrside Brewing’s more potent offerings.
It’s a ballsy move, not every establishment would want to risk scaring off potential punters with a wall of beer upward of 9% or indeed have to deal with the potential aftermath of such a crackpot scheme. However, with Torrside having earned themselves a well-deserved reputation for producing impossibly smooth and easy drinking ‘big beers’ along with a hugely enthusiastic legion of loyal follows from across the region and beyond, it can’t help but be an unmitigated success. So much so this was the second Monsters Weekend of the year.
All three of Torrside’s guests this morning are feeling the after effects of two days indulgence in ‘ones they made earlier’. We all went in hard on Friday, (with @beerfindergeneral in particular carving himself out a notable and well-tweeted place in local folklore) only to find ourselves back for some hair of the Dogs of War on Saturday.
And so it is that a slightly jaded trio meet at New Mills New Town station. James graciously took some merciless ribbing on the chin on the stroll down to the brewery, a good job as fairly obvious it wouldn’t be the last time that day his various shenanigans were to the subject of much mirth given we are about to spend it with the gentleman proudly responsible for his downfall.
Having done a little homework and read some of Jim’s other brew day blog posts, I know that he generally eschews the technical details (having covered them countless times before) in favour of a more anecdotal recount of the day’s activities. Excellent news for me. Whilst Luke has embraced home brewing with a fervour (regularly turning our kitchen into a hop scented Turkish bath house), I remain keener on the social aspects of beer; its discovery, consumption, sharing and discussion; content to pass judgement on someone else’s hard work. Don’t get me wrong, I know my fermenter from my mash tun but I’m hardly an authority on the finer nuances of the brewing process.
Cheerily greeted by brewers Chris (Spade Master) and Peter (Chief Spoon Wielder), I handed over my pork based snack offering. I saw this as a handy way to ensure I was looked upon favourably, no matter how useless I turned out to be at any other brew day activity.
With the formalities taken care of, it was time to crack on with the business of the day. I’m not sure how much I can give away as regards the particulars of the beer brewed specially for ISBF. Suffice to say it will be one of Torrside’s eponymous Monsters, a noble hopped, barrel aged Belgian beast.
With the grain hefted, stirred and merrily mashing, Nick, brewer number three, arrived at the ideal moment to assume his role as barman for the day and crack open the first of many varied and interesting beers.
The early wort; the thick, sweet, monster making stuff; made its way into to a state of the art piece of brewing equipment, a giant olive oil pan specially imported from Italy sitting on a paella burner. The first of the noble hops went in to the boil, eliciting an impressively vivid green eruption. Peter put on a demonstration of liquid thermodynamics worthy of the Royal Institution Christmas Lectures, creating a hypnotic sequence of whirlpools and volcanoes and we all stood transfixed by the bubbling cauldron like a group of survivors huddled around a burning oil drum in a scene from some post-apocalyptic movie.
As the brew cooled, the time wiled gently away. We chatted and joked and supped. The sausage rolls dwindled. Peter stirred (and stirred and stirred), estimating the temperature of the brew with remarkable accuracy as only a man skilled in his craft can, based on how sticky his spoon handle was getting.
The Torrside dogs kept us entertained. Kami (an old hand at all this nonsense) sat quietly by the doors soaking up a few rays, safe in the knowledge that the humans would come to her and she would not want for attention with minimal effort on her part. Toshi, the newest member of the family was far more forthright in his demands for a scratch and a leg upon which to lean. A doe eyed, spindly creature who at first glance looked to have the appropriate number of limbs in the appropriate places and a willowy air of grace and poise…until he moved and it was evident that he wasn’t a dog at all but a cross between a daddy-long-legs and a tangled up slinky strung together with bungee cords.
Digging out the mash tun, I enquired as to whether they’d found anything useful to do with the spent grains. There followed a colourful description of the farmer that collects it to feed his cows and the local Tesco’s discount aisle on a Friday night where he might be found with his unfortunately stereotypical cohorts, baler twine belts and flat caps a plenty.
Eventually it came time to transfer the brew to the fermenter. This was yet another highly technological operation utilising a Wilko’s basic sieve and plastic measuring jug.
It is my belief that these low tech solutions are undoubtedly one of the things that makes beer brewed on this scale what it is. Today was a new experience for me and I wasn’t sure what to expect but there was something reassuringly familiar about the whole process, not so far removed from the home brew roots from which Torrside grew.
I feel like we, as enthusiasts, often perceive a sort of kinship or shared understanding with the brewers that produce our favourite beers. Spending the day with the Torrside team showed me that this relationship isn’t imagined.
The beer itself is a real and tangible connection between the brewer and the drinker and through that product we experience a little bit of the time, effort, enthusiasm and passion that is poured into what they do. It’s why each brewer has something distinctive about their beer, a little of that individual’s personality can’t help but make its way into the stuff that eventually lands in your pint glass and it’s why something brewed in a sterile, faceless factory devoid of any actual people can never hope to have the depth of character of something that’s been patiently stirred by hand for four hours.
With the brew day wrapped up, the temptation to sit back and relax for a few more convivial beers was hard to resist, but we made the first sensible decision of the weekend and called it a day. It was a school night after all! My heartfelt thanks to Jim and James for inviting us along and to Peter, Chris and Nick for having us. I look forward to sampling the fruits of the days labour in November!