Patreon’s Choice #2: Bottled Hophead

Hophead label.

This is a quick entry in our series of notes on beers suggested by our Patreon subscribers. This time it’s the bottled version of Dark Star Hophead as suggested by @AleingPaul who has never tried it himself.

We bought this from Beer Ritz at £2.78 per 500ml bottle and, like the cask version, it has an ABV of 3.8%.

A note, first, on that cask beer — a classic we think it’s fair to say, or at least a standard. Here’s a bit on the history of the beer from an article we wrote for All About Beer a couple of years ago:

Another cult favourite is Hophead from Dark Star, a brewery in Brighton, a fashionable coastal resort an hour’s train ride south of London. Mark Tranter… worked at Dark Star from the 1990s until 2013. He recalls that, at some time after 1996, one of the owners of the Evening Star pub where the brewery was then based went to California and came back with Cascade hop pellets. These, along with other U.S. hops available in small quantities via hop merchants Charles Faram, formed the basis of ‘The Hophead Club’, conceived by Dark Star founder Rob Jones. At each meeting of the club members would taste a different single-hopped beer. ‘Cascade was the customers’ and brewers’ favourite, so it was not long until that became the staple,’ recalls Tranter. When he took on more responsibility in the brewery, Tranter tweaked the recipe, reducing its bitterness, and, in 2001, dropping its strength from 4% to 3.8%. Today, with the brewery under new ownership and with a different team in the brew-house, the beer remains single-minded and popular, giving absolute priority to bright aromas of grapefruit and elderflower.

Cask Hophead might have had a wobble a few years ago, or it might just have been that we had a run of bad luck, but on the whole it’s been a beer we cannot help but drink when it’s on offer. Its relatively low strength means we can take a decent amount without getting in a whirl or suffering the next day; its light body makes it swiggable and easygoing; but it is far from bland, even by the hop-saturated standards of 2017.

Perhaps our fondness is partly down to the fact that we’re of the Cascade generation and developed our love of beer when that hop variety was the coolest thing in town. Whatever the reason, fond we are.

So, how is the bottle? Does it capture the magic? Can you get that Hophead buzz in the comfort of your front room, dressed in your jim-jams?

Apparently not.

The bottled beer is utterly dull — a pan-and-scan VHS, K-Tel edit, plastic imitation.

It’s not horrid — there’s enough hop character there to spark a little pleasure — but it feels heavy, tastes as if it’s been microwaved, and has nothing to set it apart from any number of golden ales from less beloved breweries available in every supermarket in the land.

It’s weird to feel so irritated by a mediocre beer, but it must be because it’s a mediocre incarnation of a great beer.

We won’t be going out of our way to buy it again but will perhaps enjoy our next encounter with cask Hophead all the more.

8 thoughts on “Patreon’s Choice #2: Bottled Hophead”

  1. Quite a challenge to retain the character of a cask beer when translating to bottle. I guess that’s why many brewers bump-up the ABV, e.g. Proper Job 4.5% in cask, 5.5% in bottle. The weaker the beer, the greater the challenge.

  2. Interesting that they’ve managed to take branding which is always quite distinctive on a bar, and turn it into something bland which doesn’t really “connect” with the clips.

    Think I prefer the APA though.

  3. Oh dear best avoided then! Looks like I’ll have bulk buy some Hawkshead’s Windermere Pale to get a decent hoppy session ale in a bottle or stick with the stronger Oakham Citra, neither of which are bottle conditioned but still taste good.

    On a related note I visited Theakston’s recently and the tour guide there told me that they are going to be filtering rather than pasteurising all their bottled ales from now on.

  4. Best hoppy session ales in bottle that I know are from Cheddar, Bitter Bully and Hardrock are especially good. Bottle conditioned but the yeast usually sticks to the bottom of the bottle. Pasteurization always seems to leave a caramel tang to me, ok with strong dark beers but it tends to rob pale and lighter beers of distinctive flavours. I love Hophead in cask but have never been tempted to try it in bottle for this reason. So thanks for confirming my thoughts. Can anyone recommend any other good session ales in bottle?

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