Review: Thornbridge Bracia
This is the kind of beer geek I am: I follow all London beer bars on Twitter so I’ll know if something exceptional comes on (granted, if your locals are The Craft Beer Co, The Old Fountain and The Old Red Cow, pretty much every night is exceptional). And the other day, I was rewarded for my geekery with the news that Craft was going to put on the cask-aged version of Thornbridge’s Bracia. In case you didn’t know, this Bracia has been aged for three years on Pedro Ximenez casks (that’s a kind of sherry). It’s a severely limited/rare release. A beer event in itself. I’m swooning just writing about it.
Naturally I started planning my visit to Craft the day I heard the news, and this Tuesday last the Big Day had come. I took a non-beer geek friend and off we went.
First shock: it’s £6 for a half-pint. But hey, quality costs, right? So I front the dosh for two halves, and there it is, as black as the night with a light frothy brown head that sinks a bit but sort of stays for the whole time we’re drinking. So after a build-up like this, it can only end in disappointment, right?
Wrong. This is one beer that’s every bit as good as the hype says. The nose hits first and the sherry aroma is unmistakeable: raisins, brown sugar/molasses, grapes and a little bit of wine. Then, the first thing on the tounge is the honey: sweet, more than a hint of molasses, and very floral. “Floral” is an adjective commonly used to indicate a delicate flavour, but Bracia is about as delicate as a hammer: when I say “floral”, think flowers with a heavy, penetrating sweet smell, like gardenia, or honeysuckle. The honey flavours blend well with the oaky, near-tannic notes from the cask, lots of vanilla going on there, then the sherry comes back with raisins, grape juice and a hint of dark berries. Then, just as you worry about the beer becoming too sweet and too cloying, the dry, roast bitterness comes on, with a distinct nutty layer, plus just a little bread (toast) to finish. The dry hoppy finish also stays with you for a surprisingly long time, making Bracia something very unusual: a beer of extremes that’s still perfectly balanced. As you drink it (this is a beer for sipping, not quaffing), it opens up a bit and the vinous/sherry character becomes more pronounced and the sweetness subsides. You get more of those raisins, the dark berries, maybe a bit of strawberry too, maybe just a little hint of grass.
I had another half after the second. It was worth it. Is it possible that I’ve had the beer experience of 2012 the second week of January?