As it seems like winter at the moment I thought I would review a beer appropriate to cooler weather. Imagine it is winter! One of the best things about winter is winter beer – strong, full of taste and warming on a winter’s night. Over the last couple of weeks we have been fortunate to have one of the better examples down at our local pub. Cromwell’s Hat is a beer brewed to suit the season, by Springhead Brewery.
Springhead brewery began life back in 1990 and was then the smallest micro-brewery in England. It started out brewing in a small outbuilding next to the brewer’s house but, as production and demand increased, it moved to a custom built brewery on an industrial estate in Sutton on Trent, near Newark in Nottinghamshire. “Springhead” refers to a bend in the River Trent; the place where the brewery was sited.
The head brewer (Shirley Reynolds) is extremely proud of her range of beers which have built up over the years. They can be found in pubs nationwide (though more readily available in the Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire areas), beer festivals and also can be purchased for drinking at home, direct from the brewery. These beers include Roaring Meg (a strong blonde ale at 5.5% ABV), Puritans Porter (a dark, tasty porter at 4.0% ABV) and Charlie’s Angel (a light coloured, fruity beer at 4.5% ABV).
You can also go and visit the brewery and tours are available – you need to contact the brewery (details at end of review) and it can take up to 40 people.
*A Bit of Background*
Springhead beers tend to take the English Civil War as the inspiration for their names. Cromwell’s Hat is no exception! The name of this particular brew refers to the occasion when Cromwell was offered the Crown of England, after Charles I was beheaded. As a politician Oliver Cromwell was more comfortable staying as Lord Protector, rather than becoming a king. Keeping his hat instead of donning the crown was his way of showing he had maintained his parliamentary principles and not taken on any Royalist ideals. Thus, the beer Cromwell’s Hat was born!
As a seasonal beer, Cromwell’s Hat is only available during November and December. It is a strong beer though and may often linger in pubs until a short while into January.
Cromwell’s Hat weighs in at 6.0% ABV and is placed firmly in the category of a Strong Bitter. It is a winter beer, brewed using Northdown Hops, Pale Crystal Malt and with the addition of cinnamon and juniper berries for added wintry flavours.
*Look, Aroma & Texture*
Looks wise, Cromwell’s Hat is a dark brown beer with a slightly copper red tinge. The head is slightly off white in colour, medium in size and lingers for the majority of your pint. Aroma is spicy like mulled wine (the cinnamon and juniper berries really show through), combined with a slight honey sweetness, hints of blackcurrants and a smell a little like that from a glass of cola. Body is quite syrupy and full bodied, much as you would expect from a strong beer, but with a good amount of conditioning making it less heavy than some winter ales. It is quite smooth in the mouth and rich on the palate too.
Cromwell’s Hat is a nice warming beer that has a good combination of flavours you would associate with a winter or Christmas beer. Primary flavours are the sweetness of honey and a soft maltiness. This is combined with a vinous fruit flavour (a little like a deep red wine), and the spiciness of the juniper and cinnamon, which builds in strength as the pint progresses. This all leads to a short bitter/sweet finish and an aftertaste that is warming and has a spicy tingle.
~~~WHAT I THOUGHT.
Cromwell’s Hat isn’t a beer I drink regularly. This isn’t because I don’t like it though! It’s mainly down to circumstance and planning – At 6% ABV it is pretty strong, so I usually reserve it for a last long drink at the end of the night. Also, it is a seasonally produced beer, so my sampling of Cromwell’s Hat is limited to just a couple of months out of the year. It is a beer to be sipped and savoured and not a beer to be swilled and glugged down. The strength makes it an ideal beer to take your time on – this also gives you a chance to fully appreciate the flavours that build up as you drink and as the beer warms up a little. I recommend that you drink it on the warmer side of chilled, otherwise it won’t reach its full potential in terms of depth and character.
My last couple of pints of Cromwell’s Hat were enjoyed in The Industry – the pub around the corner from me. Here we paid £ 2.40 a pint for an excellent quality beer. Previously I had tried it during a trip to Springhead Brewery, where a sample of it was included in our tour. The Industry had it on the bar for about a week and we popped in on a few evenings and had one each on each occasion. I did find that as the beer got older (meaning it had been maturing in the cask down in the cellar for longer) it got even better and the flavour towards the end of the cask was much more developed and fuller. The young (less matured) beer at the beginning of the cask was still tasty, but not as balanced and strong.
I can appreciate that a few people won’t like the taste of this one. The blend of the bitter and the sweet and the mulled wine quality make for a slightly out of the ordinary flavour for a beer – this is no tasteless lager or characterless beer of the “smooth” or “creamflow” variety! It is smooth, tasty and warming, with a real taste of winter.
Springhead Fine Ales,
Old Great North Road,