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…