Sunday, March 01, 2009

Hop Back Brewery

Ah, Summer Lightning. Brings back memories of those days when 'Beer' was something alien to me, but Summer Lightning represented something different, something all together more palatable to my lager-numbed tastes.
Now, years later, I realise the importance of Summer Lightning's advent on the beer scene. Practically cornering the 'Golden Ale' market (Possibly inventing it? Help me out here?), the pantheon of awards it has garnered its brewer, Hop Back, is truly justified.

But what of their other ales?

I realised last week that, aside from a anti-climatic encounter with Crop Circle, I hadn't really got to know some of Hop Back's other wares. As any true beer fan would do, I put that right last weekend.

We all know of Hop Back's mastery of the golden, but what about the dark? Entire Stout (4.5abv) comes with another set of awards backing up its pedigree, and I was pleasantly surprised. Apart from the relatively thin body, the beer is surprisingly well balanced - lots of dry, bitter chocolate, and a slight natural carbonation from the bottle-conditioning. Roasted notes come through at the end, along with a rounded smooth finish. Despite not expecting much, this stout managed to be both a nice example of the style for a bottled beer, and a singular brew at the same time. Will be looking out for it on draught, for sure.

I have an aversion to beers 'with stuff in them' - and Spring Zing (4.2abv) certainly counts as that. "Lemongrass Beer" the label screams; '...Jesus Christ...' my heart groans. However, a broad smile was plastered on my face on the first sip. This is a really, really interesting beer that is super-drinkable. The nose is practically the same as Summer Lightning - all grassy hops and sweet malt. Yes, there is a lemony/citrus kick to the taste- a massive one actually - but it works really well. Again, SZ is a thin-bodied beer that chills down well, that manages to pack in a peppery, ginger note right at the end of a long sip. Its sweet, but has enough hoppiness to cut through and not be cloying. I'd happily drink this again, and I think that IPA lovers in particular should seek this out as a lip-puckering alternative if a change is fancied.


Anonymous said...

It's always been point of comment between Summer Lightning and Exmoor Gold as to who was the first - so, to draw something of a line in the sand I did enquire with David from Exmoor and spoke to Gazza ( and they both said that Exmoor Gold was the first "English Summer Style Golden Ale"... hope that helps.

Leigh said...

It certainly does - thanks for that!

Mark Dredge said...

Summer Lightning is a quality drop in the hot sun. And the Spring Zing too, I'd like a cold pint of that in the summer.

Zak Avery said...

I like to think that they happened contemporaneously, like Darwin and Wallace's theories of evolution. And anyway, I've got a hometown bias towards Summer Lightning - I used to drink in the brewpub when it was really still a brewpub.

Anonymous said...

That's interesting that Summer Lightning was your "gateway" beer. I haven't tried it though I often see it on tap.

I saw the Zing at the Real Ale shop and passed it up because it said it had coriander in it, and I just wondering how much coriander exactly? I actually like beer with stuff in it-- but I have to draw the line somewhere! Did you taste the herb at all?

Ale Louse said...

Funnily enough Summer Lightning was the beer that put me back on the real ale track after abandoning Tetleys followed by years of drinking Red Stripe and fizzy 'ciders'.

Introduced to it at the Duke of York in Dewsbury around 92/93 I think by the pub's excellent cellerman (now manager at The Leggers Inn), I never went back to my evil ways after drinking a shed-load and feeling fine the next morning! It's still something I can't resist, though of course there are plenty similar and better beers available these days.

Their bottled versions are surprisingly good too, as you say, and the lemon grass one in particular is a real triumph - especially good with Thai curry!

Leigh said...

great sutff, looks like SL is something of a 'trip down memory lane' for a lot of informed beer drinkers!
Impy - not so much with the coriander, actually. It's definately more of a gingery,citrussy kick. Strangely, there's a bit of coriander on the nose, however.
Zak - I recall you mentioning this, now! You know, I've nevr had any of HopBack's beers on tap - never! maybe it's a northern thing...

Anonymous said...

You can get hopback beers up here, I've had the Dark Mild, Stout and Summer Lightning in my local.

I completely agree with your take on Crop Circle (Crap Circle more like) too thin, the hops tasted metallic and it was too fizzy. I was also similarly unimpressed by the spring zing both from the bottle and on tap. I can't put my finger on anything in particular it just wasn't my cup of tea.

The man, nay the legend, Phil Harding from Time Team is a sharehlder in the Hopback brewery incidentally he also lists the good beer guide as one of the most important books an archeologist can own. A spot of beer related trivia for you!

Leigh said...

excellent work, john! nice fact. looks like im going to have to take this seeming embargo on HopBack beers up with the publicans of Leeds, then! If Darlo has it, why can't I!!!