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Classic Beer of the Month November 2017: St Austell HSD

St Austell HSD, 5%

A lot of good things have happened at St Austell in the last twenty years.

St Austell HSDA new generation of leadership, spearheaded by managing director James Staughton – great-great grandson of brewery founder Walter Hicks – has seen the company transformed from a diminishing regional presence into one of the most dynamic breweries in the country.

Fundamental to the change of fortune was the appointment of head brewer Roger Ryman in 1999. Ryman arrived from Maclay’s in Alloa and promptly arrested the brewery’s decline, smartening up the existing beers and gradually adding new brews to the roster.

Among his many successes was the launch of Tribute, once just a special beer for the solar eclipse under the name Daylight Robbery, today a national brand that manages that elusive feat of being both easy to find and worth seeking out.

Throw into the mix the arrival of the US-inspired IPA Proper Job, its heavyweight brother Big Job, the award-winning Admiral’s Ale, the lager Korev and a host of really ambitious brews that nevertheless remain highly drinkable, including Cornish takes on Belgian styles, and it’s easy to see why the St Austell beer range would be largely unrecognisable to a regular in one of its locals back in the 1990s.

One name that they would be familiar with, however, is HSD. Launched in 1975, this was the company’s premium beer, the top-of-the-range product that outshone lesser offerings such as Bosun’s Bitter and Tinner’s Ale.

Its name is a tribute to the man who began it all, the letters standing for Hicks Special Draught, although local wags – clearly impressed by its 5% ABV – have always known it as High Speed Diesel.

Moreish, Smooth Malt Flavours

This level of alcohol means it’s a bit too strong to be stocked by all St Austell pubs but it still has quite a presence in Cornwall, helped by the fact that Roger and his team have sharpened up its act.

Brewed using Maris Otter pale malt, a good dose of crystal malt and a pinch of black malt, the beer is subtly seasoned with Progress and Golding hops.

It’s a beer that provides wonderful respite for anyone suffering from a lupulin overdose. Hops know their place in this beer, and that place is tucked nicely behind the malt, providing just a light, freshening citrus balance to the mellow caramel notes.

Caramel continues long into the finish, even as the beer dries on the palate and turns marginally more bitter. For such a malt-driven beer, it is remarkably easy to drink and by no means cloying.

Not living in Cornwall, my experience of HSD has mostly come through the bottle-conditioned version, but this is now being phased out in favour of a slightly stronger equivalent.

The new beer, called Hicks Traditional Strong Cornish Ale, is also bottle conditioned but rolls out at 6% ABV. This gives the beer a bit more punch but the characteristic, mellow, moreish, smooth malt flavours remain.

If you can’t find HSD in cask, it’ll do splendidly.

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