Our literary history is rich with hogsheads. No, gentle reader, I’m not talking about the impaled sow’s head from Lord Of The Flies that represented the dark savagery that lurks in the souls of all men.
Rather, I am referring to the large wooden barrels commonly used to store foodstuffs and booze.
Huckleberry Finn would regularly sleep in an empty sugar hogshead when he was living the carefree life of an unsupervised child, whiling the days away smoking corncob pipes and rafting on the Mississippi River.
Even the crotchety geezer known as Grandpa Simpson drove a car that got 40 rods to the hogshead, and dadgum that infernal metric system, that was the way he liked it!
While most of us can agree that a hogshead is a large wooden barrel, there is less certainty over the exact size. Due to the USA and UK using different definitions for imperial measurements, the hogshead somewhere between 48 and 54 gallons, depending on who you ask. That’s around 250 litres for you metric folks.
The point of the story is that in Victorian times, English Ales were traditionally aged and transported in barrels known as hogsheads. Of course, this was before refrigeration, so beer could really only be transported for a day or two by horse-drawn carriage before it would start to spoil, so most beer back then was very local.
Luckily, we have a new Alberta brewery called Hog’s Head Brewing, which set up shop last year in St. Albert, a bedroom community bordering the northwest corner of Edmonton.
Thankfully, in this post-refrigeration era, we can get fresh beer delivered from around the world in newfangled steel kegs instead of wooden hogshead barrels, or packaged individually in bottles or cans.
Cash flow came quickly for this new brewery, as another small Edmonton unexpectedly lost their lease, and needed a new place to brew. Hog’s Head had idle capacity in their brand-new brew house, so Amber’s Brewing is also produced on contract out of the Hog’s Head facility.
This helped Amber’s Brewing stay in business, and provided Hog’s Head with some much-needed cash flow in the early days.
Your humble narrator first sampled the wares from Hog’s Head about a year ago, when they were much harder to find in the Calgary area. Luckily, their six-packs are now available at your local well-stocked booze merchant.
Hog’s Head mostly concentrates on India Pale Ales, which are always appreciated by the beer cognoscenti. I’m not talking about those fake IPA’s like Alexander Keith’s, which is an IPA in name only.
No, gentle reader, the Hop Slayer IPA is a hophead’s delight, with sharp bitterness and strong flavours of pine resin in the aftertaste. A bit darker than most IPA beers, this pours a reddish-burgundy into the glass, with plenty of citrus aromas on the nose.
For those not up to the challenge of an extremely hoppy beer, Hog’s Head also produces Baby Back Hops IPA, a much milder version with a subdued hop profile. This brew still has enough hops to proudly proclaim itself an IPA, but the malt is much more balanced, with a lighter aroma and hints of grapefruit citrus in the aftertaste.
If, unlike my last few blind dates, you are not into the whole bitterness thing, seek out the Clockwort Orange Wheat Ale.
With a the label sporting a hog dressed like Alex DeLarge from the 1962 novel A Clockwork Orange, this is a wheat beer made in the Belgian style. Unlike the novel that gave this fine brew its name, drinking this beer will not make you go crazy if you listen to Beethoven’s ninth, so throw caution to the wind and pick up a six-pack.
The yeast used in wheat beers often infuses the brew with a citrus-like flavour, and this beer is no exception. Interestingly, wheat beers usually have a grapefruit-inspired flavour, but this brew has intense notes of orange peel, and even some orange pekoe tea.
This is a malt-forward brew with a slight caramel sweetness, well-balanced by the citrus aromas and mild hop bitterness. If you were going to drink Hog’s Head all night, this would be the beer to stock up on.
Hog’s Head brewing is becoming more widely available in Southern Alberta, but smaller booze merchants are not yet carrying it. Check out www.liquorconnect.com to find it in a store near you.