Saturday, 26 February 2011

A bolt from the blue

Following my somewhat underwhelming experience of bottle-conditioned ales from local micro-breweries, as a contrast I thought I would sample one of the long-established favourites of the genre.

Brewed by the long-established Hop Back micro brewery in Salisbury, Summer Lightning was one of the first of the new wave of “golden ales”. It is now, I think, the only bottle-conditioned beer available in Morrisons’ 4 for £5.50 offer.

It comes in a square-shouldered brown bottle with a distinctive label featuring a carved head from the brewery’s original pub, the Wyndham Arms in Salisbury. I always think square-shouldered bottles are not the best for BCAs as they tend to create an airlock when pouring which can disturb the yeast. The ideal shape is the smooth, tapered one used for Taylor’s Landlord and many German beers.

However, this sample poured crystal clear without any difficulty after having been stored for about 48 hours. I left a few drops of beer in the bottom of the bottle but it gave the impression of now using “sticky” yeast so I didn’t really need to.

It forms a solid but not excessive head that persists to some extent all the way down the glass, and shows the distinctive rising spires of carbonation associated with bottle conditioning. The colour is a bright pale gold, maybe towards the darker end of the lager spectrum.

It’s fairly light to drink and doesn’t really give the impression of being 5.0% ABV. Side by side, you would not think it was any stronger than the 4.4% Hawkshead Lakeland Gold. The hop certainly dominates over the malt, but it’s a soft, restrained hoppiness overlaying a sweet note coming from the malt. It’s an earthy, Southern English hoppiness, though, not an insipid floral one.

In summary, this is a well-made beer that would make an ideal refreshing summer ale. It meets the three basic requirements of BCAs – clarity, condition and pourability. It’s much more distinctive than the broadly similar Young’s London Gold, but perhaps in the years since it was launched the spread of more assertively hoppy golden ales has, relatively speaking, made it seem more subtle than it once was. Nevertheless, it’s still something I’d happily drink a few of.

5 comments:

  1. Always makes me bloody thirsty reading the description of these beers. I was passing Morrisons later today anyway.

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  2. I've always liked Summer Lightning, but I don't recall drinking it in bottled form. Perhaps a trip to Morrison's tomorrow won't go amiss, especially as I'm off duty at the folk club and won't be performing.

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  3. Beautiful. A long time favourite, and yes - the yeast used to get everywhere so the beer didn't travel well (eg to morris dancing festivals etc) but now the sediment remains firmly in the bottle. How did they do that?

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  4. I had another of these while watching the rugby this afternoon, and it was one that had conditioned too much for its own good, to the extent that I needed two pint glasses to fit it in. But it still poured crystal clear, proving that sticky yeast can do the job, and it kept the spires of natural CO2 to the end. It also seemed to have developed a richer, more complex flavour.

    That really is the whole point of bottle-conditioning, that there's clear evidence of the secondary fermentation having taken place and added something to the beer.

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  5. I bought some yesterday (still on offer) and for the first time in years drank something other than Guinness.
    Its back on the list, superb.

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