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Classic Beer of the Month May 2017

Hook Norton Old Hooky, 4.6%

I’d always thought that Old Hooky was a beer that had been around for a long, long time.

Hook Norton Old HookyIt wasn’t just the name that suggested this to me but also the style of the beer – a traditional, full-bodied, cask-conditioned best bitter with plenty of English hop character.

Perhaps thoughts of Hook Norton’s magnificent Victorian brewery, steaming away in the beautiful Oxfordshire countryside, also played their part, conjuring up images of flat-capped workers rolling out barrels more than a hundred years ago.

So it came as a bit of a shock to discover that the beer was only created in 1977, as a special brew for the Queen’s silver jubilee.

That makes Old Hooky the same vintage as the Sex Pistols and Saturday Night Fever, which is still young to me, although, I concede, it must feel pretty old to the latest generation of beer hunters.

Sensibly Simple

If a brewery today were looking to create a jubilee beer, a conventional, robust ale would probably not be its first choice. More likely, the preference would be for something lighter in colour, with maybe a nominally-appropriate ingredient or two dropped into the recipe like Golden Promise barley or Sovereign hops.

But the brewers of the 1970s sensibly kept things simple, with an eye on quality rather than novelty. Using pale ale malt and a generous amount of crystal, they produced a wort that was deep amber in colour and rich in fermentable sugar.

Transferring it to the copper, they added three classic English hops – Fuggle and Challenger for a smooth bedrock of bitterness and Golding to add more fragrance.

The outcome was an old-fashioned ale that leads with a luxurious, almost fudgy maltiness until a floral, gently fruity hop character both lightens and freshens the palate. The hops then build in the dry finish adding more floral notes and just a pinch of liquorice while the malt lingers long on the tongue.

Forty years on, this substantial, satisfying beer is drinking better than ever.

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