Great beers at the Hook Norton Beer Festival

20140719_144946Humour is most definitely alive and well in the land of the beer festival…

This was my first time at this event, and on the whole I was impressed:

Good things:
  • 100+ beers and ciders on cask
  • Fast attentive bar service
  • £1.50 a half, which is very good value
  • Good tasting notes
  • Camping available if you wanted to
  • Live music
  • Good selection of non-alcoholic options and foods to keep drivers and kids topped up
Not so good things:
  • Billed as being family friendly, but there wasn’t much for kids to do – apart from a horse and cart ride around the car park field
  • Far too many people crammed into too small-a-space, especially when groups of folks turn up with their gazebos, chairs and the like

When you organize this event next time, please try to make a bigger area for festival-goers to congregate – give some room for people to spread out a bit and make sure the stage with the music is somewhere where everyone can see it.

My kids only managed to last about an hour and half before they became over-whelmed by the sheer amount of people compressed into such a small space – especially when we all had to pile in the tent to escape the thunderstorm.

It was difficult to navigate the site without tripping over gazebo guy ropes, dog leads, folding chairs and lord knows what else.

And please: next year have a free bouncy castle…most people I saw leaving early were going because their kids were bored or kicking off about something or other (mine included).  Beer festivals are normally a great family day out and mine usually get wildly over-excited at the idea of going to one (Arthur couldn’t sleep the night before the Hooky one, as he normally gets cake, crisps and pop all afternoon, plus unlimited bouncy castle time with his mates…imagine his disappointment when there was no castle at all)

Parents with happy children will stay a lot longer and spend so much more on food and drink…

Despite the above, the festival was well organized and there was a MAGNIFICENT beer list: with really great tasting notes that helped me choose the four beers that I sampled:


Dark Star – Hop Head:

Oh god, this was so good. Tons of hops, maybe Simcoe – but not at all catty. Pretty much excellent.  I love this beer to death.


Hyde’s – Anvil Sharp Motueka:

A beer I just had to try because I’ve been curious about this particular New Zealand hop. The beer turned out to be almost fresh cigar-like, thick malt and caramel, some graininess and a good non-citrussy hop hit. (I can’t actually find this beer anywhere on this site?)


Hopshackle – Hopnosis:

Lightly citrussy and ethereal. A tasty light maltiness and an excellent bitterness, Good pervasive and lasting after-taste


Oakham Ales – Scarlet Macaw:

On cask this is just like the bottle ( but even lovelier. All-round-excellent. Hoppy, bitey, makes you all screechy – just like a Macaw (that’s copied verbatim from my festival notes and was the last drink of the day…could you guess?)


Will definitely be going back to Hooky next year as long as there’s more opportunity to keep the kids amused while I sample beer…  :o)   I’m also happy to report that ALL of the money raised at the festival goes to charity.  So good on them.

Hook Norton: Haymaker


Look everyone, summer’s here.  No really it is.  Make the most of it, as it’ll be sharting it down in about a months time.

If it’s summer then it must be time to try another summer-type beer (even though Haymaker is available all year round) and also because Hook Norton are just up the road from me, and because the label on the bottle evokes misplaced bucolic reverie…That’s what it’s like around here, you know…rustic rosey-cheeked simpletons in smocks lean heavily on their pitch-forks and dispense sage weather advice from betwixt corn-stalk clenched teeth…


When poured Haymaker comes out a brilliantly clear high-summer sun gold, with a nice head that retains well to the end of the glass.

There’s an abundant aroma which seems to be all heather honey, cornflakes and floral hops…in fact I wouldn’t be surprised if maize was used as a small  adjunct in this beer, but feel free to correct me if you like, Hooky folks.

First taste lays an arrow straight line of sweetish malt down the centre of your tongue, that gets followed up by a well-judged lightly refreshing hop bitterness…the mouth-feel is solid, but light enough not to cloy.

With a really lovely sweet ‘n’ bitter aftertaste this beer fits the bill for summer drinks after work, rest, play or anything else that you might get up to in the summer…yes, even THAT.

I paid a £1.95 ransom to rescue my bottle of Haymaker from the icy fridge in the Kidlington Co-Op.  A fridge where they were also keeping the Old Hooky – which is just plain madness.  Someone from Hook Norton please tell them to stop doing this…

I hear some people even drink Guiness ice-cold these days, too, whatever are they thinking of?

Hook Norton: Flagship

flagshipAs far as stirring sea battles go, you can’t beat Trafalgar…and as far as beers celebrating this particular British naval victory go, you can’t beat Hook Norton Brewery’s Flagship.

Hook Norton is only about five or six miles away from where I live and I’ve had the pleasure of visiting the -still family owned- brewery on a couple of occasions. It appears lost in time, and retains so many original features that are still in daily use. If you’re ever up this way it’s well worth a visit.

Anyway, on with the review and accompanying naval analogy that I’m literally going to stretch to breaking point (you have been warned)

Flagship pours with a lovely polished brass binnacle colour, a hearty but steady-as-she-goes bottle-conditioned effervescence bears aloft a stable head the colour of a Napoleonic flag of surrender.

Admiral hops contribute to a subtle hoppy aroma that could almost be that of Nelson Sauvin (and I’m not just saying that for the sake of the Nelson reference!) crisp white wine, lemon and pine feature strongly.

The first taste was a broadside of extraordinarily clean bitterness, which blasted across the poop deck to leave a satisfying, and not at all cloying, malty character and a tot of alcoholic warmth; all of which quickly dissipated at the swallow to leave a really fresh bittersweet citrus dose of grapeshot hops to the back of the tongue.

This is a really great English style IPA, with just the faintest influence of the American style craft IPA.

At 5.5% it’s a bit of a dreadnought, but it’s so well crafted that you’ll barely notice the strength – until you’ve had three, after which you’ll be pitching, rolling before eventually finding yourself wallowing in the troughs.

Buy some if you see it; take it out on a boat, don an admiral’s hat and eye-patch if you must, but definitely try it.

You won’t regret it.

My wife bought this for me, from somewhere…probably the co-ey, as she goes past there on the way home.  She did tell me that it was about £1.95 or something.  Which I think represents excellent value.