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Hook Norton BeersSaturday before last, Sarah and I had a trip around the Hook Norton Brewery in Oxfordshire.  This was an event organised through the CAMRA Hook Norton Complimentary Club – there are a number of these clubs within CAMRA – generally signing up means that you get sent information, and occasionally special offers.  The event – which was free to Complimentary Club members – provided brewery tours for 3 groups of people (first come first served), free samples of the beer, and a buffet lunch (unfortunately, due to a broken-down caravan on the northbound A34, by the time we arrived there were only a few scraps left – but never mind, we were there for the beer and the brewery tour really).

I have to say that the brewery put on a good event, and were definitely not at all stingy with the samples of beer – it was unfortunate (for me at least) that it was my turn to drive, so Sarah got to enjoy more of the beer than I did.  We had time for a taster before the tour – I went for the Hooky Bitter (3.6%) – a good session beer, golden and hoppy with a fine malty taste – went down very well.  Sarah tried the Hooky Gold (4.1%) and was really impressed – I managed a slurp and agreed.  As the name suggests, it is a golden beer, light tasting nd very hoppy – apparently it is the first Hook Norton beer to use American hops – Willamette from Oregon – or so they thought, but when they looked through some old brewery papers from the late 1800’s they found receipts for … Willamette hops from Oregon.

The brewery tour was interesting – well, breweries are interesting – though to be honest, if we hadn’t already known a fair bit about how a brewery works, I’m not sure we would have learned a lot.  Maybe it’s the layout of the brewery, but the tour was quite disjointed and out of sequence – we saw the coppers and the hopback, then the mash tuns, then the malt store and the mill, then the cooler…then a brief look through the door of the fermenting room – for some reason we weren’t allowed to go inside – then the racking vessels and cask fillers.  Having recently been round the St. Austell Brewery, where you start at the top and work your way down the building and through the brewing process, this was a bit haphazard.  Anyway, our guide Barbara did her best – I don’t think she was used to a tour full of CAMRA members asking difficult questions!

Then to more samples and a look round the shop (unfortunately time did not permit us to look around the museum – that’s something for another visit).  I tried the seasonal beer that had just been released – Summer Haze (4.5%) – a wheat beer – the first that Hook Norton have brewed.  At first I thought it tasted a bit thin, but as I got down the glass I came to like it more.  Very refreshing and a bit fruity – very much a summer drink.  Sarah went for the Haymaker (5%) – a pale ale, with quite a bit of taste – again, quite hoppy (Goldings this time).  After that I had to stop so I could drive home – but Sarah kept going back for more – mainly the Hooky Gold – a definite winner with her.  We brought a few bottles back to sample, as you can see from the picture.  You might notice that one beer that is not there is Old Hooky – that is one Hook Norton beer that we can get quite readily in the supermarkets where we shop, so we didn’t think it was worth bringing any back with us.  I’ll let you know what the bottled versions taste like.

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