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Hawkshead Revamped

IMG_1357Of 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.

Cumbrian Five HopDamn 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.

These beers were sent to me by the brewer for review. You can also see what Rob over at HopZine thought of this trio in his video blog here


lagerIs there anything more pleasant than being thrown a beery curveball? The lack of anticipation lowering that guard; the lack of anticipation letting you experience something fresh, without preconception, without hyperbole. This is what life outside the bubble must be like…

Me, I’m a man who doesn’t leave much to chance, especially over the holidays. Time off (anything really; work, kids, blogging, writing, exercise, anything) is precious these days, and I want things to go right. Everything correct and in its place. Anchor Christmas takes pride of place in the Yuletide roll-call; but this year’s edition leaves me cold – in fact, I couldn’t finish it. Harsh, unloved and astringent, this was the first year that I actually poured some of it away.

I’m sure you all got bought beer for Christmas, too. Boxes of the stuff will be sitting around for weeks yet; I’ll get through it though, no fear. A package from Booth’s (as in, bought from Booth’s by a relative) contained not one, but two complete curveballs. First up, Broughton’s Organic Lager (5% abv). Those that know me know I’m a bit of a Lager nerd; constantly on the quest for a UK one that lives up to style – and therefore- billing. You know, this one’s pretty good; the key is the finish. It has to be snappy. I find so many UK Lagers simply too sweet –  by some long margins.

Broughton’s retains a keen balance; the nose doesn’t really give much away apart from really rich, creamy malt – which is so rich as to be a little disconcerting – but that lightly toasted malt note reduces in the body where it eventually diminishes into a relatively snappy, flinty finish. Brightly gold and with a sustaining condition throughout the glass, it’s one of the better attempts at a style that we’ve yet to nail in the UK.

IMG_1294Booth’s 1847 Ale (6% abv) was brewed by Hawkshead Brewery, which should have served as a portent of the quality within. After teaming up in the summer for their excellent beer festival, Hawskhead not only stepped up to the plate for this commission but knocked the ball out of the park. Coal-black with a yuletide red streaking through it, 1847 delivered every flavour that I expected of the Anchor Christmas; Raisin, Rum, Plum, Almond and Molasses topped off with a defined, pine-led hop finish. The balance of flavour is really quite something; there’s so much going on but the way the beer flips between moreish and robust to refreshing and clean within one sip is quite astounding.

I will take this opportunity to plead Hawkshead to brew more. Next year, if this reappears, I’ll be buying a case. Or three.



Cumbrian Crackers from Booths

IMG_0281I spent some time last night on Twitter doing one of those ‘virtual tastings’ that are proving quite popular at the moment. It was for Booths, the northern food outlet, and they’ll be stocking Great Yorkshire Beer in their Ilkley Store if you’re local. The main reason behind it was to launch their Beer and Cider festival, which is running right now until the end of May.

Up here, Booths have a somewhat cult following for those who like beer. Their range is excellent, and more importantly, local to that specific store, which means that no matter where you are it’s always worth popping in and seeing what treats you can find. Doing virtual tastings and the like is helped immensely by the fact that the beer’s so damn good; especially the two corkers from Cumbria that were sent along to comment on.

Festival Ale is brewed by Hawkshead – who have had a long-standing relationship with Booths – and weighs in at a lithe 4%abv. Fresh, zippy, incredibly light of body but finishing with huge mouthfuls of lemon and grapefruit pith, it’s a Pale Ale that you really want to try to get your hands on if you are a fan of Windermere Pale and NZPA (and who isn’t?). It’s a limited edition brew, but I start the move here and now for Booths to stock it permanently. Wonderful.

Stringer’s Delta V (6.5%abv) is a big, bold, brutish UK IPA. Burnished Amber, the nose was incredibly vibrant with fresh, peppery hops – with more than the usual citrus default going on. On the sip it’s thick with boiled-sweet sugar and a big, boozy warmth appears at the end; just before a long, long, long bitterness kicks in, reminding you that this is a beer to respect. It’s lovely; another home run from Stringers.

Anyway, check out the festival for northern treats and don’t miss these two. You can also check out Baron Orm’s (who took part, too) ratings here. Also, in a stroke of coincidence, Dave Bailey has recently blogged about getting Hardknott listed in Booths – and it’s worth a read. 

Two Taps: Hawkshead Brewery and The Watermill Inn

It’s with great shame that I admit I’d never heard of The Watermill until coming across it in Adrian Tierney-Jones’ wonderful book, Great British Pubs. What’s this? I stuttered. An Inn that brews its own beer? And it’s massively dog-friendly? And a mere two miles from Stavely, home of Hawkshead Brewery?

It couldn’t have been more tailor-made for me unless it was in Stavely itself. So, bookings were made, Wilson’s overnight bag arranged (kibble, waterbowl, retractable lead, copy of Modern Dog magazine, that sort of thing) and off we went, meandering up through Ilkley, Skipton Kirkby Lonsdale and finally arriving in Ings, home of The Watermill.

More on that later. first up, Hawkshead Brewery. A visit that I’d been hankering after reading Nick’s excellent dispatches and, more recently, Phil’s experience of their summer festival. Despite just being after 12 when we arrived, hungry wife and panting Border Terrier in tow and salivating at the thought of super-fresh Windermere Pale, the place was filling up nicely with a good mix of people; two elderly ladies sharing a pork pie platter and glasses of stout,  the obligatory coach visit of CAMRA types (the brewery t-shirts and relaxed attitude to ponytails giving the game away) and a couple of families. The tap itself is large, airy and light, and the staff are certainly attentive.

It took me a while to formulate the beer order though; there was just so much. Windermere Pale, Drystone Stout, USPA, NZPA, Red, Gold, Lakeland Lager…in the end it was a toss-up between Windy Pale (one of those beers I just can’t pass up – ever) and Drystone Stout for me; the Drystone being  particularly impressive this time. Smooth, sweet, and heavy on the woody, bramble-fruit notes, it disappeared in about four gulps and proved the perfect foil to our cheeseboard and Scotch Egg lunch (thanks Nick, you were right about the eggs).

It’s only when standing in front of Hawkshead’s range that you realise that they’ve absolutely nailed the ‘Brewery for all seasons‘ angle. Whether it’s the comforting maltiness of Best or Red that you’re craving, or the hop-hits of USPA, NZPA that’s driving you, there’s something for everyone. Lakeland Lager and Gold couldn’t be more refreshing in the close heat, but if it’s colder then the autumnal, rich Brodie’s Prime is your man. It’s a modern tap, alright – wood and chrome and leather-backed chairs – but it’s one that you’d be daft to miss out on visiting if close by.

Our lodgings, The Watermill Inn, also has a decent reputation in doing things just right with a minimum of fuss. Our room was huge, frankly, and the place maintained a busy buzz in the deceptively large bar area most of the day. Of course, the main attraction is the brewery (see the website for the story behind the kit) and the incredibly dog-friendly attitude of the Inn; all the beers – which sees up to 6 or 7 on the bars at any time – are dog-themed, and well-brewed. Over the course of the evening I sampled a fair few of them, with the Blonde being my personal favourite; a light, airy pint with a super-dry finish doused with Lemon and Lime. The dark mild, Blackbeard, was another highlight later in the evening.

As the night drew in, the pub filled with walkers, guests and drinkers, 80% of them with a four-legged friend in tow. Our food was good and hearty – my Fish and Chips was amongst the best I’ve had in a pub; a huge, succulent fish, thick, crispy beer batter, sitting on a bed of mushy peas and home-made chips. The menu is simple but tasty and reasonable in price, and there is a bar for non-dog lovers.

Those that know me know that I’m not one for striking up conversations with random people – even in bars – unless pushed, but the thing about owning a dog is that you automatically find common ground; especially so if both parties are holding frothing pints of beer brewed all of 15 feet away. Still being warm, we  moved to the tables outside, nestled next to a meandering stream, chatted to every punter that passed, met dog after dog after dog, and generally had a great time. Faith in the human race was restored, and we’re already planning our next visit.

We retired to bed happy and full. What more can you ask? A great British Pub, indeed.

Hawkshead’s ‘Well Hopped’ Range

You may laugh, but I generally don’t take up breweries on offers of beer for review. There’s been a lot said about it in the past – about the obligation, the lack of credibility – all of which I vehemently agree with. But when Hawkshead contact you, exceptions are made. These beers were sent to me (and many others) and I’m bloody glad they were.

Sinply put – you don’t turn down Windermere Pale. Ever.

The three samples represent the ‘Well Hopped’ range; 6-7% in abv and hopped with an English and New Zealand bias. When you think about it, that’s the perfect analogy for Hawkshead; the traditional, quintessentially British attitude to unswerving quality and understatement, underpinned by the slightly zany, garrulous exclamation brought by Matt Clarke. Nowhere does that split-personality come across more than with these bottled gems.

Cumbrian Five Hop (6.5%) was my choice of the lot. Fuggles, Citra and Amarillo combine in the nose to give you a swirl of catty, lemon and tangerine notes underpinned by a herbal, slightly minty foundation. The body is clean, smooth, and with a definite note of cereal, reminding you that this beer is not all about the nose. Just when you think the beer is done, a long, dry, biting bitterness appears, making the next sip all too inevitable. Finally, a little hit of alcohol warmth shines through, leaving you to contemplate a very, very accomplished beer indeed.

NZPA combines the classic Kiwi hop family; Riwaka, Green Bullet, Nelson Sauvin and Motueka. Lighter in shade and tone than Cumbrian Five Hop, this pours a light, sunny gold and that aroma fills the glass immediately; Grapefruit, Lemon Pith, White Grape and Mango. Fresh, light, spritzy. It drinks pretty much as you’d want it to; light, elegant and sleek, carrying all those citrus flavours through the body and into a long, rasping finish.

Finally, Windermere Pale is labelled as ‘Bottle Strength‘ here; stronger than the Cask favourite at 6%, and a much different beer for it. Burnished gold in colour as opposed to uber-pale, I thought the aroma was actually less fleet-of-foot than the original. Sure, there’s all that pithy, dry-as-a-bone tangerine peel and peachiness coming through, but it finishes sweet and robust, rather than dry. There’s a herbal, hedgerow note in there too that’s interesting. I thought this version to be an interesting experiment with a (fast-becoming) modern classic, and a welcome one at that – but overall, I do prefer the original session-strength, lighter version.

All in all, another snapshot of what Hawkshead are doing right now in terms of Pales. Now I’ve just got to make sure I don’t miss those barrel-aged stouts that they’ve been hiding from us up there in deepest, darkest Cumbria…

Borek with Hawkshead Lakeland Lager

Borek are a very simple, very tasty, little Turkish treat you can knock up in no time if you’re in the mood for something unfussy to enjoy with a few good beers.

You’ll want to make a sharp little tomato sauce to enjoy with them, and if you do this first, then that’s the main job done. Simply put about a third of a pint of Passata in a saucepan, add a swirl of Olive Oil, a dash or two of Tabasco, 2 cloves of Garlic (minced), a pinch of Salt, Sugar and a good grind of Black Pepper. Finally, add a little Basil. Stir, bring to a high simmer and then either turn off or continue simmering very, very low – depending if you want to watch it or not.

For the Borek, first make the filling. In a bowl, crumble half a block of Feta, add a few shavings of Parmigiano Reggiano or another hard, sharp cheese, a large handful of chopped, fresh Dill, a grind of Black Pepper, some chopped, fresh Mint and about 200g of Chopped Prawns. Cook the prawns first, leave to cool, and roughly chop into pieces.

You’ll need some Filo Pastry – the ready-made packs are the ticket, and each pack will have about 6 layers in it. Take 3, and lay out. Cut a long rectangle, lay the filling in the middle and then roll like a sausage. You’ll need some melted butter and a brush to hand to seal the edges, and then pinch and seal each end. It is a little fiddly, I won’t lie, but it’s worth it. Simply repeat until you’ve got nothing left.

Once all done, brush with butter, place into a hot oven (200c) and bake for about 10 minutes – they don’t take long – but once browned on one side, flip (carefully) and re-baste, then watch again. When the pastry is gold, you’re done. If you want – and can – then you could deep-fry these.

You’ll be surprised how much flavour is packed into these little cigars. Crisp pastry, then soft, salty cheese, with little nuggets of Prawn within – and the Dill goes so well with those flavours. Don’t like Prawns? Then leave them out, and just have cheese.


To drink, something light and crisp will do the trick – Hawkshead’s Lakeland Lager (5%abv). fits the bill. Spritzy, gold in hue and with a vaguely peppery, green note on the nose, the body is zingy with lemon and lime with a little tangerine as it finishes. It maintains a good, malty-biscuit body. It’s simply too easy to drink, and maintains good flavour when chilled. Buy more than one – you’ll need them. Serve with the dip, some good music and conversation, and pour yourself a beer.

SIBA North Beer Competition – And The Winners Are…

I spent Thursday judging (with excellent company – you know who you are) the Northern section of SIBA’s Annual Beer Competition, and as is usually the case, a few beers really stood out for quality. The overall winners were:

Gold: Hawkshead’s Windermere Pale

Silver: Three B’s Stoker’s Slake

Bronze – Marble’s Manchester Bitter

You can see the category winners here, and I’d like to extend my congratulations to all; not the least RedWillow Brewery, and local buddies Kirsktall & Ilkley. All entirely deserved and it was great to catch up with you all.

Windermere Pale is a more than worthy winner; one of the true benchmarks in Pale Ale. If you’ve not tried it yet then you’re doing yourself a disservice; and there isn’t enough room here to contain my never-ending love for their New Zealand Pale Ale. Simply stunning beers; don’t miss out

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