I’ve known Hogs Back Brewery for years; our good friends used to live literally around the corner from them and happily still live within stumbling distance. They have an excellent and generous brewery tour, as well as a fantastic beer shop featuring all manner of British and foreign beers. If you ever find yourself in the area, I highly recommend you pop in.
Not only do they run a good shop and a fun brewery tour, they also know a thing or two about beer. They’ve done a remarkable job of “brewery conditioning” some of their range (in order to make it more supermarket-friendly) without spoiling the end result, and I can honestly say that I’ve never been disappointed on trying a new beer from them.
Enough preamble; it’s a big range and it will take some time to get through them all. I’ll start with their ‘regular’ beers, all in 500ml bottles. The first trio are from the lighter side of their range.
Starting with TEA, a 4.2% Traditional English Ale (they love their acronyms at Hogs Back, and what’s not to love about asking for a pint of TEA?!). A medium brown beer, with some lightly toasted malt on the nose. It has a medium body in the mouth, not sweet but with that nice gentle malt flavour present from the smell. A relatively gentle but pervasive hoppy bitterness throughout, leading through to a nicely dry finish. It’s nothing too out of the ordinary, but it doesn’t claim to be – it’s a damn good, well balanced example of a traditional English ale, just as it says on the label. A great beer that goes down very easily.
Next up is Gardeners Tipple, a little lighter at 4.0%. Very similar in appearance, but with a slightly lighter, less toasty nose. It’s lighter in the mouth too, a little sweeter on the tongue and a little less bitterness than the TEA. There’s hints of grass, although part of me wonders if that’s just suggestion from the name! Fresher than TEA, it’s a classic summer thirst quencher, especially after a hard afternoon’s gardening.
The last of the light beers is HOP Garden Gold, stronger at 4.6%. Golden in colour (unsurprisingly), with quite a green fruit aroma. The lightest body of these three, with more of the flavour of the grain coming through. Sweet again, with more bitterness to it and a surprisingly lingering green, hoppy finish. Nice, but probably more suited to a hotter, sunny evening than we have today!
Moving on to the next trio, we move into the darker side of the Hogs Back range.
BSA, their Burma Star Ale is a rich brown, 4.5% ale and is probably one of my favourites of their range. It has a rich, sweet, syrupy fruit nose, juicy date-like flavours mingling with toffee, which is nicely balanced on the tongue with a deep, lingering bitterness. Heaven in a glass.
Next we have OTT, a 6.0% ‘Strong Dark Old Ale’, almost black in the glass and with a deliciously chocolately malt smell. In the mouth there’s so much going on; dark, rich sweetness, the burnt bitterness of black treacle cutting through the sweet stickiness and the undercurrent heat of alcohol. It’s one of those beers that manages to taste every percent of it’s strength, and yet slip down with worrying speed. The name stands for Old Tongham Tasty, and Tasty is most certainly is.
And so on to Advent Ale, their seasonal Christmas offering. Almost as dark as OTT, but lighter at 4.4%. There’s still some sweetness to the nose, and some hints of toffee but it’s much drier in the mouth; there’s still some sweetness there, but the stickiness of the last two beers is gone and you have a toasted malty flavour. Being weaker it slips down gloriously well, although personally I would have said the OTT was even more Christmassy – I prefer my Christmas ales to have some more fruit to them.
We finish this tour with two of their stronger beers, sensibly in 275ml bottles. You can tell from the slightly blurry pictures how strong they are! I also finally remembered that I had some Hogs Back glasses (spoils from their brewery tour).
Brewster’s Bundle is a surprisingly golden, 7.4% strong ale. It has an enormously rich smell and taste, sweet with a significant alcohol burn to it. It’s positively chewy in the mouth, and is almost sherry-like. Brewed to celebrate the birth of one of the brewer’s children (who rather sweetly weighed in at 7lbs 4oz – thus, I suspect, the strength!) it’s probably closer to a barley wine than a regular beer. Certainly not something to knock back by the pint, but it’s a tasty treat.
So finally we come to Wobble in a Bottle, which is also bottled seasonally as Santa’s Wobble. The strongest of the range at 7.5%, it’s a ruby ale with an impressively rich, fruity aroma. Similarly big in the mouth as Brewster’s Bundle, although the alcohol hit is oddly less pronounced. It’s a slightly more approachable beer, too – slipping down far too easily, you can well imagine it leading to a wobble or two in no time.
All in all, a great range of beers, none of which disappoint. This isn’t quite the full set (it was what they happened to have available in bottles when I popped into their shop) – keep an eye out for their seasonal Spring Ale (easy to drink by the gallon), and their well-named A Over T, a monster 9.0% barley wine. Or indeed anything else with the Hogs Back logo. You won’t be disappointed.