Of all the breweries re-modelling their ‘look’ at the moment (seemingly everyone!), Hawkshead are probably the ones who ‘need’ to do it the least; such is the position that the Staveley-based brewer enjoys in both the drinking and brewing worlds. Spot a Hawkshead beer on the bar – from classics such as Red and Lakeland Gold to newer, bolder additions such as Dry Stone Stout and Cumbrian Five Hop – and you know you’re in for a treat (something Tandleman recently attested to). Matt Clarke and his brewing team are responsible for beers with not only bold flavour, but grace in balance and a consistency record that puts them firmly in my top five UK brewers. One suspects I’m not the only one.
Still, freshening up the look of a pumpclip can do wonders for new markets, and the new range of bottled beers certainly reflect that. Smaller in volume (330ml, with the exception of the stout), for a start, than their tried-and-tested range of Windermere Pale (which is constantly embroiled in a bitter three-way battle with Rooster’s Yankee and Magic Rock’s High Wire for my favourite British Pale Ale), Lakeland Gold and Brodie’s Prime, which reflects the stronger alcohol content and section of the market that these beers are perhaps aimed at.
Joining the sublime company of Cumbrian Five Hop and NZPA is the almost plainly-named IPA. Weighing in at a modest 7% abv, it displays all of that boisterous character that you’d expect from one of Matt Clark’s beers; it screams with hop personality. Pouring a rich amber, the body is sweet, muscular and rippling with boiled sweet and round, soft malt notes. The billowing head fills the top of the glass and you can’t help but stick your nose in there each time you sip; mango, lychee, strawberry and pineapple aroma all whizz by. Alcoholic heat rounds off the sip, reminding you that this IPA came from the Cumbrian hills and is as fortifying as they come.
Dry Stone Stout (4.5%abv), bottled, retains all of the character that I recall from trying on cask late last summer. Rich chocolate truffle dominates the nose – a sweet, rummy note that carries on into the body, where it’s joined by a little fruit to lift proceedings – dark cherry and plum. The finish is dry, woody and creamy, giving the whole beer a Black Forest Gateaux feel. It’s certainly on the sweeter side of stout, but not too much so. Moreish and satisfying.
Finally, Brodie’s Prime Export (nice use of the term Export, too – you don’t see that much these days, do you?) brings new dimensions to the hard-to-find (well, in my neck of the woods, anyway- and I’m talking about on cask) classic. BP’s a bit of a stand-out in the Hawkshead canon – it’s not really a stout but sometimes sold as such on bars – more of a strong dark mild (Leeds’ Midnight Bell sometimes suffers from this identity crisis). Lifting the alcohol levels makes complete sense for this bottled version, and it’s quite a beer.
Dark ruby when held to the light, with a fleeting, tan collar, there’s almond and Dundee cake on the nose; the mouthfeel is thick, slightly oily and tongue-coating and loaded with tobacco, cherry, chocolate, blackberry and mild coffee flavours. the finish is booming; sweet, then bitter, then finishing with a gentle, soporific afterglow of alcohol. Brodie’s Prime Export is a deliciously complex and intriguing beer.
Damn fine beers indeed – if you hop over to the website you can read more about other limited-edition bottles that Hawkshead are producing at the moment.
I like the aforementioned revamped look; the ‘Beer from The Lakes’ strapline is evocative and the clips look good on the bar – especially the cleaned-up, emboldened core range ones. As usual, I maintain my stance that the best re-brands are often the more subtle ones. The new range-look certainly looks good on a bottle. Luckily, Hawkshead can always back up changes with great-tasting beer.