Real Ale Reviews Independent reviewers of real ales, beers and lagers from around the world, including beer reviews, breweries, watering holes and real ale events
    Sebright Arms / Lucky Chip

    Sebright Arms / Lucky Chip

    The bar is busy. The tables are full. The backroom is heaving and buoyant. Welcome to the Sebright Arms, dimly light and vivacious. We arrive from Soho at the fading of a sun drenched afternoon - four pubs, six pints, four hours. Three and a half miles later, bellies demanding meat and bread and barley, we bundle over the threshold. A table is found, pale beers ordered, burger menus devoured by hungry eyes. It's a young crowd, an old ...

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    A King and a Prince

    A Prince Amongst Beers

    It's not every day that you get the chance to try a beer that's older than you are. Last Saturday night I opened a bottle that was just that; I opened a beer that was older than me, so that’s over twenty five, give or take the odd ten years. In fact it was a lot older than me, more than twice my age. It was brewed in 1929 in fact, so that’s 83 years old. A mate ...

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    Build A Rocket Boys!

    Build A Rocket Boys! by Elbow & Robinsons

    Elbow are the kings of soaring melancholy, masters of poetic northern introspection.  Let Elbow's albums flow over you and you can be mesmerised by their beauty alone. Put in the time to listen, to soak up the poignancy, the humour, the extraordinary manifestations of the ordinary and their albums become life affirming tributes to the everyday. Conversely, it's quite easy to stick an Elbow album on and realise thirty lethargic minutes later that time - and ...

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    Man shed!

    Readers Pubs

    At the first pub there's a piano in the window but no one to play it. The seats are filled with ghosts. A long pew is adorned with individually wrapped cushions, resembling a bum-friendly box of Mr Kipling cakes. It's quiet, the fireplace glows warm and friendly, everything is cosy and snug. Welcome to Pete's Retreat. "We'll be at home here, let's get a pint." Much as we could stay forever we've a long crawl ahead ...

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    De Struise Pannepot 2008

    Pannepot 2008

    Broody and brown, like blood-red soil on a wet day, four-year aged Pannepot is dragged out of the beer cupboard and into a glass like Jack Dee to an in-laws barbecue... It simply doesn't want to open (the journey back from Belgium wasn't kind: a contemporary shot it's load in the suitcase, drenching the stash of bottles and it's still sticky and downtrodden) but eventually, after much gushing and fizzing, it acquiesces. Perhaps it's just the toll of ...

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    John Keeling Fullers

    Desert Island Beers #50: John Keeling - Fuller, Smith & Turner PLC

    It's a special week on the desert island as we celebrate a half century of castaways being swept up onto our shores. Robinson Crusoe # 50 is a real coup for us as it features none other than Sir (it’s only a matter of time) John Keeling; Head Brewer at Fuller, Smith & Turner PLC, (better known simply as Fullers). John was born in Droylsden, Manchester, in September 1956. When he left school without telling his ...

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    Will Hawkes

    Desert Island Beers #38: Will Hawkes, The Independent

    Welcome to the latest episode of Desert Island Beers which this week features Will Hawkes who works on The Independent’s sports desk and writes about beer in his spare time. Born in London and brought up in sunny Kent, he has had an interest in ale since he could convince a barman he was 18 – but his real conversion to good beer came after a year spent living in Southern California in 1999-2000, when the ...

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    Marston's Fever Pitch English Bitter

    Marston's Fever Pitch

    First off I should point out that I don't often take kindly to products and advertising that jump on the football bandwagon. The best footy related marketing is the football advertising by Nike and Carlsberg (ignoring their most recent attempts). So, I'm potentially a little biased against Marston's Fever Pitch... Let's start with the positives: oranges, lemons, citrus peel but not zest. It's more interesting than I expected, more summery. A mellow bitterness that isn't displeasing and ...

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    Englischer Garten

    Drunken in Munchen

    Let's be frank, I'm not brilliant at getting drunk. It's not that I'm a bad drunk per se, but since my uni days my tolerance has faded and I'm much better suited to a lazy pub garden or the frantic but well partitioned boozing of a hot festival day. So, the morning after the night before, eating pizza along the tramlines of Munich, Stag Day 2 of 3, the first beer is an inevitable mistake. The 12 ...

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    Lowlands Bier Festival

    Beer From The Low Country

    The smell of beer slopped on wooden tables, the glint of light in the top of the chalice, the sounds of a deck of cards and the clink of glasses. I'm in a bar in the north country but my senses are across the sea and howling winds, in the bustle of a backstreet bar in Belgium. Four pm on a sunny Friday, sampling the beers of the Low Countries in a bar in Leeds, dreaming of ...

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    BrewDog Blitz 2.8% ABV

    Brewdog Nottingham

    The blue logo can be seen for hundreds of yards. The windows that look out onto Hockley's student-filled streets, opposite a tea room, cinema and acclaimed bistro, are plastered with huge crest shaped decals, archetypal generation Nike branding for a Starbuck's influenced post-modern brand experience. B R E W D O G Reminiscent of the type of industrial themed sandwich shop found in downtown Prague or New York's Soho, but with added chutzpah and a munificence for ...

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    Shibden Valley by Tim Green

    Shibden Mill Inn

    Down a winding single lane road the descent to Shibden Mill Inn is not one to be taken with nonchalance. A careless clutch foot could result in an unexpected round of automobile tobogganing, even without the help of rain, ice or snow. But survive the swooning approach and there sits a fine pub to be snowed in at: good beer, warm hearths and food fit for kings. The pub is infected with sunny Sunday smiles. Gregarious family ...

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    Packhorse bridge and Old Bridge Inn Ripponden

    A bridge in time

    A brisk day in March, wet but without rain. Ducking through the dripping steel railway bridge, carving through residual puddles, Sowerby Bridge seems jack-knifed between the twenty first century and the 1970s. It's partly the lack of ubiquitous chain stores, partly the dubious puns of the shabby independent shops, but mostly the hues of a downtrodden day in a small Yorkshire town. Out the other side of the town the road befriends the trajectory of the ...

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    Hopback Summer Lightning: a bit of a legend in Beerland

    Hopback Summer Lightning

    Some beers have a pedestal. Sometimes it's deserved because they are truly great beers, technically and taste-wise. Some are headliners, built by a cheeky PR campaign or an elaborate story. And some are deserved winners of awards and a place within beery folklore. Summer Lightning by Hopback falls in the latter category. Back when I was enjoying my third year on this planet and coming to terms with the fact I would soon have a baby ...

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    February 28th, 2012FletchtheMonkeyDesert Island Beers

    This weeks Desert Island Beers features Jeff Rosenmeier, the founder and owner of Lovibonds Brewery of Henley-on-Thames, Oxfordshire. Jeff caught the brewing bug back in the mid 1990’s after tasting a friends homebrewed stout. His successful career in software engineering gave him the opportunity to move to England. The job entailed traveling all over Europe, giving him a further opportunity to sample many of the great European beer styles during the week and at the weekend Jeff would then be busy cloning them in his garden shed.

    Finally, the hobby put a strain on household resources (not enough water pressure, not enough electric phases) and Jeff packed in his successful career to start Lovibonds in his adopted home of Henley-on-Thames. Lovibonds is one of only a handful of craft brewers in the UK that kegs 100% of its production, despite disapproval from the consumer rights group, CAMRA.

    Jeff Rosenmeier Lovibonds Brewery Henley on Thames Oxfordshire

    Jeff Rosenmeier

    Sierra Nevada Pale Ale

    A castaway classic?

    Orval and cheese

    Orval and cheese

    La Chouffe by Brassiere d'Achouffe

    Cheeky La Chouffe

    The Beers

    Hello Jeff! Which five beers would you want to have with you if you were stranded on a desert island, and why?
    Read the rest of this entry »

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    October 13th, 2011FletchtheMonkeyBeer Events, Beer Reviews

    Over the last few months the Sainsbury’s Great British Beer Hunt has been taking place providing a welcome opportunity to try some different beers from the familiar supermarket shelves.

    And in October Bad King John from Ridgeside Brewing was crowned winner of a six month national listing in 300 Sainsbury’s stores. Bad King John beat beers from around the UK to the throne via four regional heats (120 beers), a three week stint in Sainsbury’s stores (16 beers) and a grand judging final in London (final 8 beers). Spearheading the competition was Caesar Augustus by Williams Bros of Clackmannanshire which clinched a listing across 150 Sainsbury’s stores.

    Sainsburys Great British Beer Hunt beers

    From ginger beer to wild hops...

    Sainsburys Great British Beer Hunt beers

    ...to all the great leaders?!

    This year’s 16 finalists were:

    Flying Dutchman Wit Bier, Caledonian Brewing Co, Alva, Scotland

    Orange peel and a herbaceous twist make Flying Dutchman easy to identify. Intriguingly, caramel and liquorice offer something the average wit beer might not, and something syrupy-sweet mops everything up. An interesting start!

    Golden Seahawk, Cotleigh Brewery, Somerset

    An aroma of freshly cut garden weeds (those sticky buggers that find their way onto the bottom of shoes, gloves, the seat of your pants); flavours of wholesome cereal doused in honey. A nice golden ale.

    Frederic’s Great British Ginger Beer, Frederic Robinson, Stockport

    Perfect with fish and chips it says. Well I’m late home from work, sore from five a side and soaked through with autumn rain. The (award winning and only nearby late night) chippy was shutting but let me jump the chairs blocking the doorway to pick up fish cakes and scraps. Perhaps any beer would have done but Robinson’s Ginger Beer cut through the sweat of the chips like no other: spicy, tongue tingling and sweet. Still, I couldn’t help feeling I’d rather just have had a Ben Shaws…

    Wild Hop IPA, Harviestoun Brewery, Clackmannanshire, Scotland

    A beery lemon marmalade on just-golden toast, with a contradictory bitterness – sharp but simultaneously mellow. The hops might be wild but the beer isn’t: its gentile, moreish and gulp-able – beautiful with undercurrents of sex.  In a beery kinda way.

    I lust this beer.

    Full Bore, Hunter’s Brewery, Devon

    A whopper at 8%, it’s a shame Full Bore smashes toffee and not a lot else at me (a left hook of honey perhaps?), thus feeling like an opportunity missed. But drunk after three other Sainsbury’s Beer Hunt beers it feels like I missed the opportunity to give it a fair crack of the whip. Now to find a bottle left on the shelves and give it a fair trial…

    Two Hoots Golden Ale, Joseph Holt, Manchester

    Through the clear bottles it’s a vibrant golden ale but poured and tasted it’s flat and sun kissed to the point of no return. Crystal malt is about the only flavour discernible behind disintegrated hops. Unfair to pass judgement except on the colour of the glass.

    Stronghart, McMullen & Sons, Hertfordshire

    Strong and ruby-tinted brown like creosote, Stronghart packs the a bitter punch and a wallop of brandy-seeped raisins. Sweet and tart like opulent plums and just a tad balsamic. Don’t let it knock you out – it’s strong enough to.

    Bishop’s Farewell, Oakham Ales, Peterborough

    All Oakham’s ales (that I’ve tried) are citrus influenced and this is no different. A decent beer to sup on an evening but nothing makes me want to wax lyrical on the joy on hops like some of Oakham’s ales do.

    Churchill Ale, Oxfordshire Ales Ltd, Bicester

    Toffee apple aroma introduces a strong malt backbone perfumed with citrus hops. Far from your typical strong IPA this is a gentle and very English pale ale. A soft spot for Churchill (because I used to work not far from them) was enough to make me go back twice for more, but the first bottle remained the best.

    Ivanhoe, Ridgeway Brewing, South Oxfordshire

    If the label takes you back in time then it’s a warning that pale ale in this context might mean ‘paler ale’ (compared to what was available in the days of Ivanhoe, anyway). Harvest fruits and English malt make for a pleasant beer drinking experience. We’d be lying if we said we bought it, we saved a few pounds by remembering this bottle.

    Bad King John, Ridgeway Brewing, South Oxfordshire

    Spent cocoa beans and a boozy Bailey’s aroma, perhaps a dash of vanilla. Dark, dry, sweet and roast: a cacophony of intriguing characteristics emerges from the depths of nowhere. Bad King John must have been a complicated fellow. Thick without cloying, the King has soul and a long bitter aftertaste. It’s Ivanhoe’s nemesis and it’s even more memorable.

    Worcester Sorcerer, Sadler’s Ales, Stourbridge

    Toffee apple and raisin nose, and smells just a little like my Burton Ale home brew. The flavours defy this initial bouquet, revealing a muskier side, molasses and burnt grain. Call it Worcestershire Sauceror and serve with roast dinner. Strangely likeable.

    Caesar Augustus, Williams Brothers, Alloa, Scotland

    Wowser. Now this is a good beer! Caesar’s honey gold complexion and medicinal Saazy nose tingles nerve endings (perhaps helped by 24 hours in the fridge the first sip hits my front molars with a scintillating pulse!). Caesar Augustus is boundlessly refreshing. An innovative lagered IPA? Come on, the result is a crisp and vibrant pilsner, surely? A joy to behold.

    Profanity Stout, Williams Brothers, Alloa, Scotland

    A vodka and vanilla nose, followed by reams of bitter Green & Blacks mellowed by a lingering smoked coffee bean dryness. Sophisticated but living on a thin line: its ABV may deceive you.

    Golden Summer, Wold Top Brewery, Yorkshire

    An old favourite from one of the most consistent brewers in Yorkshire. I tend to buy Wold Top’s beers from the most charming farm shop near Bradford, on the road between Halifax and Keighley, usually alongside strange vegetables and local cheese. Against The Grain was unremarkable to many, but as a gluten-free beers go I think it was a triumph. And Golden Summer is no different, on the face an unremarkable beer but it’s incredibly perfect in too many situations to be called average. As HopZine say, a great bridging beer, and in my mind eminently versatile. You can find grapefruit and lemon if you try, but it’s the cereal backbone that I love. A summer beer that genuinely shines.

    Wye Not, Wye Valley Brewery, Herefordshire

    …because the other beers are probably more enjoyable. Weighted in the favour of its malt ingredients, it never quite lives up to its biscuit billing. Should malt be your thing though, you could do much worse.

    Bad King John Ridgeway Sainsburys

    Bad King John, good 'king beer

    And if we’d been picking the winner? Well Wold Top’s Golden Summer and Harviestoun’s Wild Hop IPA were stand outs, whilst Bad King John fought the corner of the darker beers and Stronghart offered something a bit different. But for sheer brazen excellence, Caesar Augustus provided the most enjoyment and refreshment. It’s exactly the sort of beer I’d pick up regularly in the supermarket, and for that reason, we’re firmly sold.

    Williams Brothers Caesar Augustus

    Topping a line up of strong leaders, Caesar Augustus

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    May 25th, 2010FletchtheMonkeyBeer Reviews

    Oxfordshire Marshmellow

    BrewDog Dogma after rehab?

    BrewDog Dogma after rehab?

    An aroma of seeds, thick and sticky. Open it up with a bit of oxygen and red berries burst in the nostrils. It tastes of marshmallows of course, with dashes of toffee, spice, poppies…

    This might not be to everyone’s tastes in the same way as Theakston’s Grouse Beater whch has a similar complicated taste that cuts through the usual bitterness of British brown ales.

    It’s what BrewDog’s Dogma might be like after a few months in the Priory.

    I probably had to work quite hard on this beer, but underneath the initial taste, there’s much for than a hop or malt character to it – it’s interesting if not immediately ‘wow’.

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    February 18th, 2010FletchtheMonkeyPubs & bars

    As an adolescent I was lucky enough to have three excellent  local pubs, all within 200 yards on the same road. Set back from the road The Horse and Jockey was a lively pub with one bar and a lounge with dart board, pool table and Sky tv. The beer was lager, one or two hand pulls of something like Hooky Bitter and at one point a Chinese takeaway operating in the back room servng takeaways to the hungry inhabitants. Read the rest of this entry »

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    December 14th, 2009FletchtheMonkeyBeer Reviews

    Beer Swap Pt 2

    It went right to the wire but I did manage to drink my beer swap beers just in time to write about them this week. I had two beer swap partners, I was sending to Adam Croft who has written about the two Leeds Brewery bottles I sent him so far, and my sender was a mystery person.

    Lovinbonds Henley Amber - bitter but refined

    Lovibonds Henley Amber - bitter but refined

    My beer swap sender turned out to be a wine blogger, none other than Andrew Barrow aka the Wine Scribbler who is based in South Oxfordshire at the exact opposite end of the county I grew up in.

    And judging by the beers, there’s a wealth of brewery action in that area, the four beers coming from parts of shires Oxford, Buckingham and Berk that were close enough to home when I grew up to appear on the local news, but that I’ve never explored before.

    First up was Lovibonds Amber Ale, a 3.4% premium pale ale in a 330ml bottle. Read the rest of this entry »

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    December 3rd, 2009Alan WalshBeer Reviews, Lagers
    Cotswold Premium Lager - 330ml bottle

    Cotswold Premium Lager - 330ml bottle

    Following the brief response I made to comments asking about this lager left on an earlier unrelated post, I have now taken delivery of a batch to get a full review done. Firstly I would note that I was wrong before when I said that this came in a 500ml bottle. It does in fact come in a 330ml and so is right there in my opinion to take on the mass produced bottled lager area of the  market. I could not stand in a bar drinking Old Hooky from it’s bottle but I would have no problems doing so with a 330ml bottle like this. Having said that, the brading itself does perhaps leave a little to be desired and the label does not really have the colour or liveliness it would need to cut it on the shelves of a busy bar. The outward appearance of the bottle unfortunately does not do justice to the contents.

    Golden Premium Lager

    Golden Premium Lager

    The beer is pale golden with a lingering malty aftertaste, probably down to the Maris Otter malted barley. The beer has as strong a flavour as those that it would, in my perfect world, displace from the shelves in all bars, but it is less aggressive with it. I am having a bottle with Winnie and Jim, I have been the most disciplined and dragged mine out for 15 mins but Jim polished his in less than 5 and Winnie was under 10. All three of us agree that this is drinkable, with the 5.0% abv maybe too much so!!!

    I would love to see a day when locally produced lagers, available in 330ml bottles, take over from the mass produced bottles that are available in Vodka Revolutions up and down the country. If this work from the Cotswold Brewing Company is anything to go by there are certainly British lagers more than capable of taking up the fight.

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    June 7th, 2009FletchtheMonkeyBeer Reviews

    This is an ale that is increasingly common on UK supermarket shelves and one that you should not overlook this summer, whether it rains or shines. Brakspear’s Oxford Gold pours a golden amber and starts with the scent of honey. It tastes citrusy and gently sweet. A great accompaniment to an alfresco evening after a long day in the office.

    Another fine ale from Oxfordshire!

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    May 19th, 2009Alan WalshReal Ale

    Hook Norton Brewery’s Old Hooky – 4,6%abv

    Following on from last night’s review of Hook Norton Brewery I thought it important to get a review of one of their beers up as soon as possible. Old Hooky is the flagship of Hook Norton Brewery around the country being widely available in many supermarkets as well as most good wine/beer merchants. The very bottle I am drinking was sourced in Morley from ASDA and was on their 3 bottles for £4.00 mix and match deal.

    As an aside me and the monkey boy, when we first moved to Morley, experimented with buying every bottle of Old Hooky on the shelf in ASDA whenever we went. Within a month we had a range of five different Hook Norton beers available (More than most shops in Oxfordshire) right here in Yorkshire. Unfortunately the levels of consumption required to continue this selection proved unsustainable.

    Right – back to the beer. Old Hooky is not the light, paler type of ale that I typically favour but is one of the beers that I drink most often. This is largely because it’s the most widely available offering from my favourite brewery, but also because it’s a bit of an anomaly in that it’s full bodied, darker flavoured and yet not at all heavy.

    Hook Norton advertises this as a ‘fruity’ beer and it is, but not in the light citrus way I think of when I hear that phrase. It comes across dark and fruity like my Nan’s Christmas cake, reminding me of treacle rather than golden syrup, yet slips down just as easy as summer or pale ales. I would recommend trying this beer with a nice steak or a beef stew as it has the body to compete with the meat but will not fill you up and leave you embarrassed with half a plateful of leftovers.

    I give this beer to a great many friends as a taster from home and it is always well received with many friends asking me to bring other Hooky varieties up for them to try. For this reason, and because of it’s wide availability and low price in ASDA, I have to rate this as one of the best beers available in Britain today.

    We'll tidy up the artwork but for now you get the idea of what it looks like for when you're in ASDA

    We'll tidy up the artwork but for now you get the idea of what it looks like for when you're in ASDA

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    May 18th, 2009Alan WalshBreweries

    Hook Norton Brewery: A Short Introduction

    I grew up in rural North Oxfordshire and as a child was fortunate enough to have spent a great many happy hours in the gardens of Hook Norton pubs. As an older teenager I played pool on the teams of Hook Norton Brewery owned pubs and, as a young professional living away from home, my first port of call when I go to see my parents is always the local with my old man.

    It is therefore with great pleasure (and more than a little nostalgia) that I bring you Real Ale Reviews’ first ‘brewery profile’. I have to admit that I hold Hook Norton Brewery in a highly elevated position amongst UK breweries and in all honesty this is in no small part due to the fact that I grew up in ‘Hooky Country’. However, like the lucky sod who lives at number seven when a beautiful, intelligent girl lives at number five, I have found the quality of what I started with has led it to being the best I’m yet to find.

    Hook Norton Brewery’s History

    In 1849 a chap called John Harris began what was to become Hook Norton Brewery in his farmhouse. Over 150 years later the now well established business is still in the hands of Harris’s family, currently run by his great great grandson. In the modern age it is testament to the ethos of the business that they have resisted the temptation to sellout in order to turn a quick profit. Equally demonstrative of the traditional principles which run deep in the veins of Hook Norton is that fact that the brewery remains steam-powered, with power being provided by steam engines installed way back in 1899.

    While cynics may point at the current trend towards popularity for the traditional and claim that Hook Norton are cashing in, I personally see no merit in this argument. Admittedly the traditional aspects are currently a major pull for a small brewery trying to compete in the modern world. I would even concede that the re-introduction of local deliveries by Dray and Shire Horse in 1985, 35 years after their initial cessation, does appear to be something of a gimmick. But are they not also an important part of helping people to understand the history of what the brewery is about and what it is trying to achieve?

    The steam engines that power Hook Norton Brewery are thought to be the only engines in the UK currently put to daily use for their originally intended purpose. For me this is where history stops and innovation begins. It must have been difficult to resist change in times when tradition was not lauded and things could be done more efficiently with new technology. The brewers at Hook Norton chose to do just that and carry on making fine ales in the best way they knew how.

    Hook Norton Brewery Today

    Reaping the rewards of a rich history is all well and good but one gets the definite feeling from Hook Norton that the management intends on building a solid future on the foundations laid by the brewery’s past. In 2009 they are producing a seasonal beer for each month of the year, meaning that I will be trying some for the first time. The brewery also runs a visitor centre, alongside it’s well stocked shop, giving guided tours of the brewery which include opportunities to sample the beers brewed within.

    Please visit their website for more information at www.hooknortonbrewery.co.uk

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