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Classic Beer of the Month August: Hook Norton Double Stout

Hook Norton Double Stout, 4.8%

So much for innovation. Sometimes the best recipes come from the past.

Hook Norton Double StoutThat's what Hook Norton discovered back in 1996 when the brewers raided the company brewing books and brought back a beer that had last been produced nearly eighty years before.

Double Stout was one of the earliest beers in Hook Norton's history. The company was founded in 1849 and built its magnificent tower brewery in the 1890s. This rich, dark beer was one of the bedrocks of its Victorian years.

But malt restrictions, duty rises and licensing hours restrictions introduced during World War I saw this beer become less viable. Hook Norton withdrew it from circulation in 1917 and it remained hidden in the company's archives for decades.

With the beer revival gathering pace in the 1990s, breweries began to search for beers they could offer as guest beers or as seasonals in their own pub estate. With an eye on the post-Christmas winter slot, Hook Norton blew the dust off the recipe for Double Stout and it returned as a limited-run cask ale.

The beer soon gained followers and also found its way into bottle, which allowed drinkers far from its Oxfordshire home to sample its delights. The beer has never looked back.

The name Double Stout has nothing to do with the strength of the beer. Instead, it is a reflection of the two kinds of dark malt that are used in the beer.

Brown and Black

Joining Maris Otter pale malt in the grist are brown malt, which, say the brewers, 'gives the beer a pleasant dryness', and black malt, which is responsible for 'enhancing the colour and teasing the palate', adding a 'toast' flavour.

As you'd expect in a beer of this style, hops are not over-significant, as malt is the star of the show and roasted grains bring their own balancing bitterness. Hook Norton employs Fuggle, Challenger and Golding in the copper, just to add a little more bitterness and to work their natural preservative magic.

Double Stout pours a deep, dark ruby colour. The biscuity aroma bursts with chocolate, caramel and coffee – flavours that continue strongly in the smooth, bittersweet taste, before a finish that becomes more bitter as the roasted grains push through.

Full-flavoured, yet rather mellow, this is a very satisfying stout, a blast from the past that reveals that today's imaginative brewers can still learn some lessons from their wise, old predecessors.

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