Top of the hops: 10 of Somerset’s best bottled craft beers
Now Somerset, with its mellow, rainy, mild climate is famous (and justly so) for its cider orchards, and it may be that, like me, you’ve been too busy knocking back prosecco to explore the vibrant crop of hand-made, small-batch, craft beers that our breweries are producing. So over the past week, I decided to discover just what I’ve been missing out on (hic)…
First, some quick definitions. For a craft beer to earn the moniker it must be brewed in small batches with a focus on experimental brewing blends and processes and carefully considered natural ingredients. Natch. In Somerset, some of the very finest craft beers are made in micro-breweries, drawing on local spring water and foraged fruit and flavourings. These beers really do taste of the countryside (in contrast to the over-carbonated, mass-produced, generic lagers that crowd supermarket shelves). So here goes…
Wild Hare (5% abv)
Made by Warmley-based Bath Ales, the Wild Hare is a favourite in our house. Drink it cold on a summer’s day and marvel at its clean, citrusy crispness. Drink it in January (hang on while I pour a glass) and enjoy its deep malty hoppiness – just right for a classic Pale Ale in the English (as opposed to American) style.
Milk Shake (5.5%)
Not a Nesquik but an incredibly dark and velvety (though not quite as dark or thick as Guinness) milk stout. It pours out of the bottle soooo smoothly. It’s one of eight artisan beers brewed by Wiper & True of Bristol (I know, not actually in Somerset, but as near as dammit) using sugar from cows’ milk, chocolate malts and vanilla which gives it a sweet flavour. It’s one to slip, not gulp.
Equinox Black IPA (5.9% abv)
A strong, velvety beer that looks just like a stout with a dark core and creamy head, its bitter chocolate and sweet maltiness is cut with sharp notes of pineapple. This is a strong-flavoured, complex beer that works well with a juicy blackened steak by the award-winning team at Glastonbury Ales.
Wild Goose Chase (4.5% abv)
Evercreech-based Wild Beer Company is a fantastic example of the newer, younger, hipsterish micro-breweries producing refreshingly daring beers with attitude. Their Wild Goose Chase is made with a special wild yeast from local orchards, so a little bit of apple creeps into the hops. You can definitely taste the fruit tho I thought it was citrusy until I read the label.
Goat’s Leap (5.5% abv)
A classic hoppy India Pale Ale, with lots of body and a nice, bitter finish from one of Somerset’s established award-winning breweries – Cheddar Ales.
Southville Hop (6.5% abv)
This is a loud, all-American-style IPA, made in Bristol. If Donald Trump made beer, it would taste like this – slightly mouthy, a bit raunchy with tropical fruit deep at its heart.
Smoke ‘n’ Barrels Autumn (6% abv)
The second of Wild Beer Company’s beers to make our ranking, this beer is pure bottled autumn, full of dry leaves, smoke, sweet caramel and their signature appliness. Drink it now in front of a roaring woodfire – perfect with toasted chestnuts or gooey roasted marshmallows.
Old Buzzard (4.8% abv)
This is a dark copper coloured, chocolately (but not like a stout) brew with a bit of a smokey tang – good for long, winter nights. Brewed by well-established brewers in Wiveliscombe, Cotleigh has a broad range of well-crafted beers in a variety of styles.
Buff Gold (4% abv)
If you’ve visited The George Inn at Croscombe (just along from Shepton Mallet), you may have enjoyed a pint of King George the Thirst – a beer brewed exclusively for The George by Blindman’s Brewery from its own spring water. Buff Gold (on the right) is one of just two bottled ales made by Blindman’s and it encapsulates all that is great about this proper local brewery – toasted gold flavours of hops with some sweet malt balanced with just the right amount of bitter. A fine beer for everyday drinking.
Old Barn (4.5% abv)
A ruby ale (the clue’s in the colour) made with four different malts and Cross hops that give it its distinctive Christmas puddingy flavours. All dried fruit and spice from the romantically-named Twisted Oak Brewery in Wrington. Didn’t actually drink all these – forgot to take a pic of the bottle so I asked the nice man at the brewery to send me one.
What’s your favourite craft beer tipple? Or are you wedded to wine?