Hawkshead Stout, IPA and Export

Hawkshead bottled beers: IPA, Dry Stone Stout and Brodie's Prime Export.

Hawkshead of Cumbria is one of those breweries whose beer we’ve read more about than we’ve drunk. Best known for their pale-and-hoppy session ales, and much beloved of our northern beer blogging peers, they have recently acquired their own bottling line, and sent us three beers to try.

Dry Stone Stout (4.5% ABV) is a great name for a beer, suggesting the Cumbrian landscape as well as indicating, we assume, the intended character of the beer. It looked enticing in the glass, unctuous, and with a dark, immoveable head. Unfortunately, this bottle, from the first batch off Hawkshead’s new bottling line, seemed to have gone a bit wrong. Where we expected flinty austerity, we found an overwhelmingly buttery, toffeeish, Werther’s Originals character.  Boak, taking it as a kind of ‘Caramel Shortbread Stout’, rather enjoyed it; Bailey found it undrinkable.

Modern aromatic IPAs seem to fall into two broad categories: tropical-fruity and weedy-leafy. Hawkshead’s nameless version (7%) is firmly in the latter camp. It gave off a sweet pipe tobacco aroma on pouring, and its taste provided reminders of pine, lemon verbena, meadow grass, and, er, other type of grass. It shares some of the pleasingly raw character of Brewdog Punk IPA at is best, and is similarly dry. We found it nicely clean with no interfering ‘off’ notes. If it has a flaw, it might be that it is not terribly distinctive — why would we buy this rather than any other IPA of around the same strength? (See also Northern Monk Brew Co New World IPA.) Nonetheless, we liked it a lot, and would certainly buy a few bottles if the price was right.

We finished on a really interesting beer — Brodies Prime Export (8.5%), a stronger version of one of Hawkshead’s flagship products. Almost-black and red-tinged, it reminded us at once, not of another beer, but of Pedro Ximenez, a sweet fortified wine made from raisins, with a barely perceptible top note of grapefruit spray. It also brought to mind that bottle of 30-odd-year-old Adnams’ Tally Ho we drank last year, only without the unpleasant funkiness. In other words, Brodie’s Prime Export tastes like a ready-aged beer. It is rather classical and classy, despite its ‘craft’ branding, and gets four thumbs up from us.

Back in the Beer Loop, Sort Of

Windermere Pale Ale pint and pumpclip.

Apart from the small matter of the Olympics, our trip to London was also an opportunity to gorge on beers we can’t get here in the most westerly town in Britain.

We’ve been taking in the buzz about breweries like Hawkshead, Windsor and Eton and Kernel, and feeling a little left out. In the space of a few days, we put that right, as best we could.

We had a session on Hawkshead’s 3.5% barely-coloured-at-all Windermere Pale Ale at the Eagle which was just perfect — not aggressive or explosive, but certainly fascinating, like one of those actors who is charming for reasons you can’t quite put your finger on. And here’s sessionable: after a long evening concluding with several supposedly final rounds, we were more-or-less sober by the time we got home and hangover free the next day. Also good to note that, as the evening wore on, those we were with abandoned their Grolschs and Guinnesses until we were simply ordering eight Windermeres with each round.

We drank two kegged Kernel single-hop pale ales which went some way to convincing us of the hype: the kinds of beers you can smell from several feet away as they sit on the bar; which attack the senses and cause you to sit up straight, shaking the cobwebs from your head. We wouldn’t want to drink beer like this all the time but they were great as a hop-binge indulgence. (On a side note, one was served as cloudy as German wheat beer, but tasted just as good as t’other.)

We tried a couple of Windsor and Eton cask ales — Kohinoor IPA (4.5%) and Eton Boatman (4.3%) — which, even though they were served a touch warm, were obviously quality beers, and the kind of thing we’d be happy to drink every day of the week, much as we are with St Austell Tribute and Proper Job.

Amongst many other beers (Italian, Belgian, American; keg, cask, bottle… urgh… tired tastebuds) we even managed to fit in an ‘all-Brett’ kegged IPA from Brodies. We couldn’t tell it was made with Brettanomyces, to be honest, which is perhaps why we enjoyed it as much as we did.

But why did we feel the need to catch-up? We can get good beer in Cornwall and (though mild is in short supply) can even find a good variety, from strong stout to pale and hoppy. When you read breathless blog post after breathless blog post, though, it’s hard to maintain a philosophical indifference to the greener grass on the other side.