One of the great pleasures of going abroad is trying some of the local tipples, and that goes for beers as much as wine.
Water may rehydrate after a yomp through the sweltering Mediterranean heat but nothing slakes one’s thirst like an ice cold beer. During a recent fortnight on the Greek island of Alonissos (population: really quite small) I carried out independent research that conclusively proved a bottle of lager is far more effective than bottled water when it comes to restoring the equilibrium of mind and body.
The last time we visited Alonnisos, which is close to Skiathos and the “Mama Mia!” island of Skopelos (where they made that appalling film), it was a Dutch-only two-beer affair: Amstel and Heineken. Since 1995 and now, the market has opened up to include Greek beers so I was happy to introduce myself to the taste of Fix, Mythos and Alfa and some Amstel for old times’ sake.
As good as they are – and in temperatures of 30C-plus they proved exceptional – they are left in the shade by the beers produced far closer to home by brewers near Birmingham. I am thinking especially of Hobsons Brewery, which is celebrating its 21st birthday in Cleobury Mortimer on the Shropshire/Worcestershire border.
It is a common misconception that Hobsons and fellow independent breweries defy business logic. In the face of the mega-brewers, churning out one-taste-fits-all lager, surely they are too small to compete? The trump card, of course, is individuality and what the experts call flavour profile, otherwise known as good old-fashioned taste.
Hobsons combines tradition and innovation. In an intriguing sideline, it has made a switch from hops to apples this summer, launching Oldfields Orchard cider in a partnership with its local hop grower and orchard man Geoff Thompson.
The drink is made with Thompson’s bittersweet cider apples at a new pressing hall in the orchards, ensuring there is no contamination of the wonderful beers.
There are delicious medium dry and medium sweet ciders (both 4.8% abv) but purists will be challenged by the Discovery Cider (6% abv), made with pink Discovery apples.
Brewer Henry Hobson claimed he once made a knock-out cider with the classic eating apples and the Oldfields team has produced a limited edition 750ml bottle which is designed to be enjoyed like wine. Which In my case means in abundance.
It is an astonishing drink, very dry and overwhelmingly apple-packed. The pink-tinged colour is delightful too.
While I was at it, it seemed like a good idea to run the rule over Hobsons’ splendid portfolio of beers, including the refreshingly light Twisted Spire; Old Henry (“delicious, rich, full flavoured… good balance of bitterness and nutty, almost caramel tones”); Manor Ale (“dry, nice and bitter, full, citrusy – great with a cheese and pickle sarnie”), and Postman’s Knock (“dark ruby porter… Dick Turpin would neck this… lovely throwback, not that I remember the era of highwaymen”).
The surprise package though is the light, refreshing Hobsons Stout (4.3%). The stout, previously made for a limited edition run, has been reintroduced to the range following customer demand. It’s a terrific drink, rich and liquorice-spiked, not overtly so, brewed with Columbus hop.
I also like the great value allied to quality offered by The Wine Society, which has some lovely whites priced under a tenner a bottle for the summer. The wines showcase lovely southern European grapes and offer a welcome insight into the joys of drinking wines sourced well off the supermarkets’ beaten track.
Las Olas Verdejo, Rueda 2013 registers on the McComb tasting notes as “fruity, dry on the palate with subtle apricot.” According to the Wine Soc, it offers “lemony acidity and grassy flavour… similar to good sauvignon blanc.” Unoaked, floral but not blousy, pure, from verdejo grapes, I’d happily drink this with some salty tapas. (13%, £7.95 bottle.)
Tastier still is the mineral, flintiness of the Italian A Mano Fiano-Greco Bianco, Puglia 2013. I picked up a lightly honeyed and herby quality to the wine. A lovely marriage of fiano and greco. (13%, £7.95 bottle.)
- I am always happy to taste-test beers, wines and spirits. Just email me: richard.richardmccomb.com – thanks