Oddbins are not usually known for their beer sales, having become an established name on the UK high street due to their wines – but maybe that’s starting to change. The closure of some of their competing chains (Threshers, Wine Rack) has meant it more likely grain fans will turn up trying to find something to their liking, along with all the grape already on offer. Recently what looked like an entire brewery range stared back at me from the shelves of a local outlet, and a previously unknown producer at that – Hobson’s Ales, from Cleobury Mortimer in Shropshire. Four in total, I bought one of each and retired for some sampling, to put them through their paces.
Manor Ale (4.2%)
The bottles look quite classic in style, each one a single bold colour. The first, Manor Ale, is described as a Bitter Amber Ale, brewed to celebrate the Severn Valley Railways Manor Class steam engines. It pours very flat, with a deep dark orange colour. The aroma is extremely bitter, none of the citrus zest mentioned on the label tasting notes comes through at all. Earthy bitterness on the palate, with some hops following. I’m quite a fan of bitter beers, and this is certainly a bitter amber ale as described. There’s a very dry, almost acrid aftertaste, which may put some drinkers off.
Old Henry (5.2%)
This one is a Rich Auburn Ale, and is the strongest of the lot at 5.2%. It’s named after the ex-master brewer Henry Hobson, who liked to sport a bowler hat of the style originally favoured by gamekeepers rather than City gents. It’s an opaque dark red rather then the advertised chestnut in colour, with a malty aroma. Tastewise it’s drinkable but for me was a bit empty and overly sweet. I drank this on a different night to the Manor Ale, so my tastebuds were unaffected! It looks and tastes quite light for it’s malty background.
Town Crier (4.5%)
Golden Ales are ubiquitous now in British brewing, which in my mind is a good thing. Town Crier is Hobson’s offering in that category, and as with their other beers the slight haziness hangs in the glass, but it doesn’t spoil the light straw colour of the beer. The smell is fantastic, crisp fruit – almost a hint of apple in there. As you’d expect, it’s pretty refreshing, and is slightly sweet for a Golden Ale, it leans away from the dry end of the spectrum – I imagine it would be tremendous on cask. My only quibble would be that the bottle has a black label, instead of…
Postman’s Knock (4.8%)
…their porter, Postman’s Knock, which is pinky beige – and therefore maybe more suited to the Manor Ale. Then the Golden Ale could be green! Anyway, that’s by the by – the last one is thick and dark, with aromas of malt and chocolate. The ripe, juicy smell is tremendous, and the taste really follows on well. Rich, treacly warmth and molasses – it’s a great example of a dark ruby porter, with aromas similar to Theakston’s Old Peculier, and that slight smokiness akin to Sinclair Orkney Dark Island, which is one of my all-time favourites.