Hawkshead Brewery have also been involved the last few years with the Rainbow Project, brewing with the highly rated Crooked Stave and they are currently slated for the 2017 and 2018 iterations to be collaborating with Modern Times to generate more Anglo-American delights. During the course of the evening, I did try to tease out where the shift in gear from producing 3-4 solid cask beers to upping the roster to include a lager, then a range of wit beers, sours, pales, IPAs and imperial stouts (particularly the excellent Tiramisu, brewed in collaboration with another highly rated US outfit in Cigar City). Sadly, the 'teasing' didn't seem to lead to any pinpointed moment for Hawkshead on where the influence to experiment came from. The hiring of a brewer from New Zealand coincided with a transition to using some Antipodean techniques and ingredients, but this was dismissed as not the sole catalyst for change by the night's hosts, Mark (brewer) and James (sales, brewing and a little bit of everything).
Hawkshead's current sensibilities on dispense are plain to see; they are happy sending beers out in cask, keg, bottle or in can and their only concern seems to be about the quality rather than the method of serving. They have a strong workforce of around 30 people who allegedly happy about their business and all manage to have a turn with the brewing team, regardless of their own personal remit in the business.
The 20 barrel output brewery had reached a point where they simply couldn't take on new accounts; this enables some further growth and a chance for the Brewery to return to more experimentation with recipes and keep existing customers happy. This all possibly sounds too good to be true, but time will only tell, that and the keen tastebuds of customers who will move on if the quality should ever stray from the benchmark set. Given the brewery doesn't have room or access to a pilot kit, a lot of the brews have to be full invested producing large amounts of a beer which potentially might not shift units is a gamble too far, so the transition into better funding might provide some more experimental brews; Mark said as much when he suggested that a Sorachi Ace brew may be on the way in some fashion this year.
We'll come back to the evening round up anyway, there are six of Hawkshead's beers to discuss first...
Cumbrian 5-Hop - 5%
One of Hawkshead's most ubiquitous ales is the Cumbrian 5-Hop, which is a golden ale, this time served from keg, appearing a golden, lightly hazy beer with a heavy white froth on top. The aroma is massively malt driven with hints of orange and wood. The flavours deliver a metallic cereal tang along with more wood and orange. It's actually very easy to drink and gives a bitter and malty finish. Mark and James agreed that this is one of their 'gateway' beers, in that it is easy enough for lager drinkers to make a transition to ales from this beer. The hop profile changes for this beer depending on what is available and what has produced a good quality harvest in the English hop farms, occasionally there may be 6 different hops present, but on the aroma they do sometimes include US Citra or Amarillo.
ITI New Zealand Pale - 3.5%
This is the little version of Hawkshead's NZPA (as Iti means 'small' in the Maori language), this delicately pale and thin ale has the simplest malt bill of any of their beers and is hopped using varying amounts of Nelson Sauvin, Pacific Jade, Green Bullet and Motueka. The nose goes from a green plummy note through to some light butterscotch, conveying the same theme into the flavours. The thin but refreshing mouthfeel leads into a rich malty finish which is actually slightly sweet given how light this beer is in every other aspect.
NZPA (New Zealand Pale Ale) - 6%
This is the bigger brother to the Iti and hopped using the same profile, Hawkshead claim to have made this prior to the fashion of making New Zealand Pales. Its an amped up version of the Iti for sure, deeper in colour, deeper in flavour and finish. The mouthfeel isn't quite comparable, due to the NZPA being on cask and the Iti on keg dispense, but there are good contrasts to be had in tasting. On the night, Mark and James said there may (along the lines of never say never!) be a double version of this on the way at some point, given the line of questioning from the crowd.
Session IPA - 4.7%
Oddly, for such a simple style and premise and for such well balanced beer, this is the first time I've seen or tried Hawshead's Session IPA. It pours a light gold colour with a thin white head, the carbonation is good and makes the mouthfeel quite spritzy. Aromas of tropical fruit and citrus come through along with some sharper green fruit, including gooseberries and rhubarb. The flavours are pretty much the same, but this is very easy drinking and has a round malty and fruit balanced finish. Probably the beer of the night for me and one to look out for! At the moment, the 'Session IPA' moniker is possibly temporary, but it has a diverse malt bill in the use of caramalt, oats and crystal before the loaded hop profile driven by Centennial, Citra, Simcoe and Mosaic (with much more focus on late hopping) are put into the beer.
IPA - 7%
A bigger brother to the session IPA, this relatively new Hawkshead brew on keg is full of New Zealand and US grown hops including Centennial, Citra and Simcoe, though the aroma of this is mostly woody, it has a big rich quality which drifts into slightly dank and fruity areas. The roster of hops changes based on what Hawkshead have available and what works with the malt bill. Decent, but not as rounded and accomplished as the session version.
Jantar - 4%
A really odd way to end an MTB, with something quite light in ABV in relation to, admittedly, pale ales. This Polish style amber ale is very malt driven and similar in many ways to a Best Bitter style beer. The aromas are malt driven, along with some berry fruit, giving way to flavours of blackcurrant and raisins and considering it is only at 4% abv, it punches well above this level in terms of how rich and deep the beer is. Plenty of red fruit and citrus come through on the finish, a very good brew from Hawkshead.
The food on the night was supplied by the Black Lodge located (at time of writing) pop-up restaurant Oktopus, which provided some excellent talking points and 3 absolutely delicious courses to match with the beers. The goat's cheese and carrot dish was wonderfully simple and executed well, the mains of Skrei Cod was succulently brilliant and the dessert, a chocolate cake was moist, rich and delicious, although one minor gripe would be that there wasn't a beer that really worked with it; the red ale was close, but no stout or porter which would have been a perfect accompaniment here.
On this last point, we do have a bit of a sticking point on the roster of the Hawkshead Beers; considering the pedigree and usual remit on MTB of providing a range of beers that show what a brewery can do, 5 pales and a new recipe amber ale simply doesn't do justice to the brewery. A more diverse roster would have potentially included the Solar Sour, the Great White Wheat Ale, Imperial stout in the Tiramisu, even some Brodie's Prime which is rather different to what was provided. A massive opportunity to really push the boat out was missed here; there may have been issues of availability on certain lines, but it's perhaps something the brewery can bear in mind for their next outings.
The evening was still very enjoyable and the two hosts from Hawkshead were a credit to their brewery, best of luck to them whatever the future holds!
Mill Yard, Staveley, Cumbria LA8 9LR
Brewery Tel: 01539 822644
The Beer Hall Tel: 01539 825260