Hook Norton Brewery, Double Stout
Hook Norton Brewery began life in 1849 when a chap called John Harris purchased a 52 acre farm that included a malthouse. He took over the existing trade as a maltster and expanded the business by becoming a dealer in hops. A commercial brewery was the logical next step. The original brewing books (you can see these on the excellent Hook Norton Brewery tour) begin with brew No.1 on November 24th 1856, when they brewed a 'Mild XXX’
Around 1890 the Victorian 'tower' brewery was built. All the stages of the brewing process flow logically from floor to floor; mashing at the top, boiling in the middle, fermentation and racking at the bottom. Nowadays Hook Norton is the finest example of a Victorian Tower Brewery in the country. It’s an incredible building, if a little terrifying.
Before you can get to the brewery you have to pass their brewery tap, the wonderful Pear Tree Inn in this pretty little village nestled in the rolling Cotswold countryside. It’s a great little pub from which to sample Hook Norton’s wares. Beers like Hooky, Lion and a favourite of ours at BeerBods, Old Hooky, take pride of place on the bar. If you’re lucky you might even get to sample some kegged beer from their new craft brewery based on the same site and launched earlier this year. It may have raised a few eyebrows amongst the locals, but it shows Hook Norton aren’t resting on their laurels.
As we all know, it pays to look out for traffic when leaving a pub after a couple of lunchtime pints. What you won’t bargaining for when you leave The Pear Tree Inn is a horse and cart. The shire horse drawn dray at Hook Norton still delivers within a 5 mile radius of the brewery. Watch out.
Hook Norton is one of only 32 family owned breweries remaining in the UK. James Clarke, the great great grandson of John Harris joined the family business in 1991 and became Head Brewer in 1998. Upon the death of his father in 2004, James followed in his family’s tradition and became Managing Director, a position that he still holds.
James isn’t afraid to get his hands dirty and still overseas every brew that comes out of Hook Norton, including this week’s beer, the Double Stout, which uses a 100 year-old recipe.
The term “Double Stout” means different things for different breweries. Traditionally it meant it was of a higher strength than a “single” porter. Hook Norton have used the term because there are two dark malts used; black (for colour) and brown (for a ‘toasty’ flavour). Three English hops; Challenger, Fuggles and Goldings work with that Marris Otter malt to create this smooth, full-bodied stout.
It pours oil black with just the faintest ruby tint. Wafts of cocoa and espresso coffee dominate the smell and there is more coffee and chocolate on the taste, but it’s well-balanced now with a slightly bitter finish. This is one of the finest examples of a traditional English stout, by one of the finest examples of a traditional English brewery. Seriously, if you get the chance, visit Hooky and get yourself on one of their brewery tours. There is nowhere quite like it.