Hook Norton Double Stout, Hook Norton Brewery
Added: Tuesday, October 1st 2013
Hook Norton Double Stout
This is one of the finest examples of a traditional English stout and is just the beer to sip and savour as autumn arrives. Hook Norton is an idyllic Cotswold village and it’s something of a surprise to drive up a narrow road and be confronted by the imposing red-brick Victorian tower brewery, with steam and the inviting aromas of malt and hops billowing and drifting from doors and windows.
Steam sums up the brewery. Its motive power is a 19th-century steam engine that drives pumps and pulleys while mashing, boiling and fermentation take place in superb wood and copper vessels. Local deliveries are made by horse-drawn drays but Hook Norton beers can be found in not only its 43 pubs but also further afield in 500 free trade accounts while bottled versions are sold in most leading supermarkets.
The brewery was founded in 1849 by a local farmer and maltster, John Harris, to refresh not only farm workers but also navvies building a nearby railway line. The company is run by his descendants, the Clarke family. Hook Norton is a classic example of a “tower brewery”, with the brewing process flowing logically from floor to floor – water tanks at the top, milling below, then mashing, boiling and fermenting on successive floors until cask racking ends the process.
Double Stout, 4.8%, is bottle conditioned and comes from a 100 year-old recipe. The beer was discontinued in 1917 but was brought back to great acclaim in 1996. The term “double stout” can mean different things to different breweries. Some used it to stress its strength and to differentiate it from a lower strength version or a “single” porter. Guinness once branded its porter and stout X and XX.
But at Hook Norton the term is a reference to the fact that two dark malts – black and brown – are used. Maris Otter pale malt is the main grain and three English hops are used: Challenger, Fuggles and Goldings.
The beer is jet black in colour with ruby hints. It has a rich aroma of sweet chocolate, espresso coffee, herbal hops and cracker-like malt. The palate is bittersweet with chocolate, coffee, dry smoky malt, a hint of caramel and an underpinning of bitter hop resins. The finish is complex, with a creamy “milk drop” malt note, the chocolate less evident now but still with a big hit of espresso coffee. It finally ends dry with growing hop bitterness.
The 500ml bottle is remarkably good value in Waitrose at £1.97. The beer is also available in most leading supermarkets. A case of 12 costs £19.99 from the brewery: www.hooky.co.uk.