Visit The Pub Curmudgeon site

Following my somewhat underwhelming experience of bottle-conditioned ales from local micro-breweries, as a contrast I thought I would sample one of the long-established favourites of the genre.

Brewed by the long-established Hop Back micro brewery in Salisbury, Summer Lightning was one of the first of the new wave of “golden ales”. It is now, I think, the only bottle-conditioned beer available in Morrisons’ 4 for £5.50 offer.

It comes in a square-shouldered brown bottle with a distinctive label featuring a carved head from the brewery’s original pub, the Wyndham Arms in Salisbury. I always think square-shouldered bottles are not the best for BCAs as they tend to create an airlock when pouring which can disturb the yeast. The ideal shape is the smooth, tapered one used for Taylor’s Landlord and many German beers.

However, this sample poured crystal clear without any difficulty after having been stored for about 48 hours. I left a few drops of beer in the bottom of the bottle but it gave the impression of now using “sticky” yeast so I didn’t really need to.

It forms a solid but not excessive head that persists to some extent all the way down the glass, and shows the distinctive rising spires of carbonation associated with bottle conditioning. The colour is a bright pale gold, maybe towards the darker end of the lager spectrum.

It’s fairly light to drink and doesn’t really give the impression of being 5.0% ABV. Side by side, you would not think it was any stronger than the 4.4% Hawkshead Lakeland Gold. The hop certainly dominates over the malt, but it’s a soft, restrained hoppiness overlaying a sweet note coming from the malt. It’s an earthy, Southern English hoppiness, though, not an insipid floral one.

In summary, this is a well-made beer that would make an ideal refreshing summer ale. It meets the three basic requirements of BCAs – clarity, condition and pourability. It’s much more distinctive than the broadly similar Young’s London Gold, but perhaps in the years since it was launched the spread of more assertively hoppy golden ales has, relatively speaking, made it seem more subtle than it once was. Nevertheless, it’s still something I’d happily drink a few of.