Sunday, 12 May 2013

Snarling In The Shadow Of Giants

     Brewed & Unleashed in Suffolk    

My first encounter with HellHound Brewery was this post from everyones favourite high-fiving blogger NateDawg. I read it, briefly dreamed of being a brewer, then went back to whatever I was doing at the time, which was probably having a beer, and thought no more about it.
Fast forward eight months and I get a tweet from somebody called HellHoundJack saying he was going to be in Billericay (where I work) visiting Ales By Mail (who have their warehouse there - what a terrible coincidence for me) and could he pop in to see me. What could I say?
Jack Carroll, for he is HellHoundJack, is a former football journalist on the national press who in his own words, 'had kids, moved to Suffolk and started a brewery'. Based in Hadleigh in Suffolk it first brewed on November 17th 2009 in a 6 barrel plant and are looking to produce beers that are a little different from those generally available, which, if you read this blog regularly you'll know are the ones that I'm very much in favour of. Suffolk does however have a couple of rather large breweries in the shape of Adnams and Greene King which monopolise the local pubs, clubs and bars making the challenge of starting and maintaining a small brewery and getting that beer into local outlets a tough one. Meeting Jack, twice as it turned out, once at my workplace and later on the High Street, I was impressed by his passion for what he does as well as his friendliness and enthusiasm. He answered all of my questions about the beers that I'll be reviewing here and it was clear to me that he was a man who very much 'knows his stuff'. Let's see what they taste like.
First up is the Lil Devil IPA 4.0% described in the tasting notes I was kindly provided with as 'an IPA which takes no prisoners'. Brewed with local malt and 'a staggering' amount of Fuggles, Celeia and Stella hops, it pours a glowing golden golden pale orange with a dense off-white head. The aroma has a real earthy fruitiness from the hop combination, with high notes of peach and mango, deep and rich, heady and dense with a faint honey sweetness right at the back. It barely touches the tongue as it glides over, but then back comes some bitterness rolling relentlessly back like a streamroller, flattening the woody apricot, lemon, pear drop and candied orange concentrated gooeyness that had exploded in front of it. The finish is long lasting and dry with bold bitter citrus and some bready yeastiness right at the end. This is a great English IPA, which reminds me of Hardknott's English Experiment only with bigger, fruitier and bitter flavours. This is well worth seeking out.
Dirty Blond 3.9% , HellHound's original beer, brewed with Fuggles and Green Bullet hops from New Zealand, and is apparently a favourite of a certain member of the royal family. It pours a lemony-orange colour, very much a 'dirty blond' from which I assume the beer gets its name. The tight white head is full of the floral aroma of honeysuckle, heather honey, lemon zest and a little vanilla. Crisp and light over the tongue with the softest prickle of carbonation, it's more bitter than I was expecting with a Hobnob biscuit maltiness looming over a deliciously floral honey sweetness in the taste like a raincloud over a meadow, but it never overwhelms it as the balance in this beer is very good indeed. The finish has more Hobnob biscuit mixed with a drop or two of golden syrup upping its sweetness, drying to a long bitter finish. It's possibly a little too 'safe' for me, I'd have liked more citrus bite in the middle, but as it has the royal seal of approval then perhaps you need to try it for yourself.
Wheat beers are a style that find popularity with people that have previously professed a dislike of beer in general as the bitterness levels are much lower. Thunderstruck 4.2% is HellHound's take and pours with the characteristic volumious off-white head you would expect. I have intentionally poured this beer in two stages so that I could see, having noted that the yeast had settled to the bottom, how the clearer version appeared. I have to say that I was astounded by the clarity of the liquid gold in my glass with its ripe aroma of honey-drenched apricot, banana and clove, with some late grassy coriander notes joining the party. Swirling the yeast around in the bottle, I notice upon depositing that it disperses evenly, turning the contents a muddy amber. Tart and dry over the tongue, there's some beautiful lemony honey flavours, quickly followed by some velvetty smooth apricot toffee, mushy bananaa and spicy coriander seed highlights. The finish is tart and sweet, with more of that honeyed lemon coming through. It really is outstanding and I'm very pleased to see an English brewer nail this style so exactly whilst also bringing something a little different to the usual mix.
The last of the four is Black Shuck 3.9% , a breakfast stout brewed with porridge oats, Fuggles hops and pressed coffee, named after a demonic ghostly black dog said to roam the coastline and countryside of East Anglia, and also the inspiration for the name of the brewery. It pours black as hell, thick and oily with a tight beige head. There's a big aroma of liquid milk chocolate and coffee, and it bites bitterly at the tongue as it washes over it, leaving more coffee flavour with a swish of its black tail. There's a big grating of dark chocolate, heavy on the cocoa solids, rasping and a touch spicy as it carries merest hint of white pepper along with it, flooding the mouth with an intense bitterness that actually dries the mouth so completely that it leaves the finish mouth-puckeringly arid. Due to the dryness a lot of the bitterness is dragged away however it does leave some satisfying cocoa powder blowing around like it's been inhaled from a spoon. This is certainly not a shy beer, it's big and snarlingly bitter rounding on the palate like a wounded animal and perfectly typifies this brewery and what it's about.
I'm actually rather impressed with these HellHound beers, much as I've been impressed with a lot of the newer breweries beers I've had recently, and that's because they really care about the flavours therein. They're not afraid to pack taste in giving the drinker something big and bold to appreciate, whether it be hop or malt forward or well balanced like these. Brewers like these really need to be supported and really need their product to be showcased. This is of course easier in a city like London, with new breweries springing up every month, lots of informed drinkers with available income searching for the lastest tastiest offerings. However in the outlying, more rural areas this is a little harder, so beers like these need championing. I know I'm preaching to the converted here on the whole, but if you come across beers that you haven't had before then give them a go, and if you like them tell others and buy them again. Make a baying, growling, snarling hound that'll repay you and future drinkers with a thirst for taste and flavour.

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