03 October 2011

On the pig's back

Hooray for freebies! The lovely people at Hogs Back in Surrey have been keeping FedEx busy and my beer fridge full with their wares. Before it burst at the seams I figured I'd better get to work clearing them.

Hop Garden Gold I opened one evening, arriving home from work tired, thirsty and in need of a hoppy pick-me-up. Gold it certainly is: dark, starting to shade towards red. Not much by way of head or fizz as it pours: usually a good sign in the drinkability stakes. It's pretty heavy, though, which limits its thirst-quenching power. The nose is sticky and even a little sickly, but the taste pulls the whole thing back from oblivion. It's not the hop-forward quaffer I was expecting, but it has some lovely floral honey flavours, spiked with jasmine and hibiscus. Rather than something to quickly drown my thirst it became one to sit over and enjoy slowly. Which I did.

I was still thirsty at the end, though, so opened a TEA. Can't say I'm a fan of the use of the word "traditional" on beer labels generally, and "Traditional English Ale" is more meaningless than most. Still, a 4.2% ABV loose-bubbled brown bitter. What's not to like? Well, there's really not a whole lot to it. Virtually no aroma, and no crispness or tannic notes. I get a little hint of caramel at the end, and as it warms this turns a little more complex to slightly tart red berries, but overall there's not enough here to hold my attention. For "traditional" read "boring", I'm afraid.

They also sent me a couple of the new season winter beers. Rip Snorter is the strong one, all of 5% ABV and a lovely shade of dark amber -- clear, of course, due to the brewery's open committment to brewery conditioning. The carbonation is low once again and that lets the heavy warming malt through. It's not any way boozy or hot, however: more ripe and full like squashy strawberries or country wine. There's a solid kick of bitterness at the front and a dry finish that does wonders for its balance and drinkability. I can see this really coming into its own when the nights draw in, and at that strength there's no need to stop at one.

Impressed by Rip Snorter, I was more sceptical about the full-on Christmas ale Advent. Only 4.4% ABV? That can't be good. It looks the part at least: dark red, shading to brown and it tastes... surprisingly nice, actually. It has a lot of the coffee and milk chocolate character of a brown-malt-laden porter, but adds in some subtly Christmassy spice as well (without the addition of actual spices, I think. It's not one of those beers). While definitely not as wintery and warming as the Rip Snorter, it's tasty, easy-going and sessionable. I imagine it would be great with Christmas pudding without being too filling. But perhaps it's just a bit early for thoughts like that.

Some lovely new additions there to the bottled English ales on sale in Ireland (available in all good etc etc). Thanks to John at Hogs Back for sending them over. Particular kudos for the way they've set their carbonation: this sort of light and loose sparkle should be an example to other brewers of how to do bottled ale well.


  1. I couldn't finish the TEA. I don't know if it was the power of suggestion but I did feel like I was drinking cold tea.

  2. I actually like my brown bitters to have a bit of tannin to them. This didn't even have that.

  3. never been a fan of TEA but their A over T is a bit special

  4. Just looking back at my review of A over T and it's remarkably similar to the one of Rip Snorter, above.

  5. They put the 'brewery conditioned' thing on the labels when they stopped bottle conditioning them. As far as I know the beers are now shipped out to Wales for bottling.

  6. I quite liked tea but it was boring. I thought it was similar to hobgoblin myself.
    I also could not tell the difference between TEA and BSA.

  7. I've always been very fond of the bottled Burma Star Ale. Been a while since I got hold of one, though; I didn't know that Hog's Back had stopped bottle conditioning...