10 September 2009

It's a Hardknott life

I'm still in Amsterdam until tonight, so I'm bringing you back a fortnight to the last Thursday in August when Reuben took a selection of Woolpack Dave's beers, from the Hardknott brewery in Cumbria, along to meet some Irish beer fans in the Bull & Castle.

We started with Woolpacker, the basic 3.8% ABV pale ale. I liked this -- the nose is sharp and redolent of tart oranges. A combination of sulphurous and spicy flavours lie at the heart of the beer and between the mineral and the citric elements you end up with an invigorating, cleansing beer experience. There was just a bit of a bum note on the end with a cardboard aftertaste, but it didn't detract from the whole, or not much anyway.

Second up was the slightly stronger, but along the same general lines, Beyond the Pale. Oddly complicated beer this: a bitter oily aroma and fruity sherbet notes suggest lots of American C-hops, but there's also some seriously earthy, Orval-esque brett funk going on as well -- Cascade sweepings from the farmyard. "Interesting" is the keyword for this one, and I'd say it may be an acquired taste, though by the end of my sample glass I had mostly acquired it.

The amber-orange theme continued with Final Frontier: orange to the eye, orange to the nose, but unfortunately not a whole lot to the palate. The bitterness in this IPA is quite harsh and is all in the aftertaste. I missed any sense of foretaste complexity, other than a vague and unpleasant soapiness. A beer whose single dimension is just not a good one. Sorry Dave.

For some reason Zippy Red is described as an IPA even though it doesn't really fit my profile for IPA, nor is it in the least bit zippy: the big and chewy boozy body makes it much more laid back and sippable. Think fireplaces, dressing gowns and snifter glasses. But those trademark oranges are back, given a Cointreau-like feel by the hot spirity foundation. Another strange but not at all unpleasant one.

Last up was the only bottle filled outside the brewery by an outsourced bottler: the 4% ABV Stout Tendency. It's a stout. It wasn't popular around the table, but I got a kick out of it. The nose is full of smoke and treacle with a definite chocolate hit as well. Despite the low ABV it's remarkably thick and very caramelly tasting -- as stout as this sort of stout gets.

So they're a bit of a mixed bag, the Hardknott beers. As Reuben made clear, and I've no reason to doubt him, these work much better on cask. But there's still a lot going on with them. I doubt anyone could accuse Dave of making dull fare.

It was great to taste the beers behind the blog -- thanks to Reuben for providing the opportunity, and I really hope to get to try them in the natural habitat at some stage.


  1. Thanks Beer Nut. To be honest, I'm not sure that I've quite got the bottling right. Borne out by the fact that the Stout Tenacity is the most accurate representation of the cask out of the whole bunch, in my view. Interesting that this is chill filtered and re-carbonated rather than bottle conditioned.

    But, I don't think I've ever had a beer on draft that has ever been as good in bottle. Some get close, but.....

  2. Stout Tenacity is the only bottled hardknott beer Iv had and I found it to be very well crafted indeed. Some filtered beers can be over filtered, pasturized and reduced significantly in character, like supermarket bottles of Tribute or Abbot ale. This one was quality.

  3. Nice round-up, nice to see the smaller producers getting a bit of blog-time too. Bravo. And good look to Woolpack Dave, too.

  4. I am pretty sure that the fact that all his beers fell on the concrete a couple of hours before hand had some part in the odd reactions.
    A few days later when I tried them all again (except Zippy as it was the only one) I did not get the odd flavours and they were closer to the the cask.

    Beyond the pale and Woolpacker were my clear favourites and at a push I would say woolpacker from the bottle range and on cask I liked beyond the pale the best. A special mention for Zippy as I did not get enough of that on cask but what I did have was lovely stuff and a sipper for sure.