Hook Norton was one of the breweries that weaned me off Greene King IPA in my twenties. Mrs RM and I used to come across Hooky quite a bit on our Midlands trips, well before it became a national beer and then got ignored like 6X has.
We visited the brewery with my Sis (actually we snuck in when no-one was looking; that’s what you did before you bought tickets for brewery happenings on Eventbrite).
I remember we were happy with the 3.5% weak one back then, considering the stronger Old Hooky in the same way we’d now consider Cloudwater Double IPA ; an occasional indulgence.
Since then, I’ve had more than my share of slightly watery halves in a succession of Beer Guide pubs in what I’d call the eastern Costswolds, where Oxon, Northants and Gloucestershire meet. The proper drinker has largely been replaced by the Prosecco/Peroni sipper in what have become dining pubs.
The countryside around the brewery is still gorgeous though.
On the very edge of Northants, the Great Western Arms at Aynho is a smartish canalside pub which I thought I’d been in before, so familiar is the style.
If I had, I would have remembered the pubs most distinguishing feature though;
This is what I was trying to recall when I revisited the Ashley pub last month. I think the Crown’s dragon looked slightly more battered than this upmarket example.
Apart from an attractive outside area, the pub is set up almost exclusively for dining, apart from the three seats above which entirely blocked the way to the bar. To cap it all, the Hooky was average at best (NBSS 2.5), enough to drive you to Punk IPA.
Aynho itself is a good mile away over the M40, and one of the most picture-postcard of the Northants villages bordering the Costwolds.
As is Enstone, a village designed to confuse the Beer Guide completist. Not only does it have a Church Enstone (try the Crown) and Neat Enstone, but the Beer Guide’s Harrow is now called, well, it was hard to say.
I walked past this place three times, thinking it was just an art gallery, before the internet reappeared long enough to connect to WhatPub.
It looks nothing like a pub anymore, the small bar area uses plastic water containers (top) as a keynote feature, and the single local clearly hates it all. But he drinks enough Hooky to make this one of the finest halves of that beer I’ve had in ages (NBSS 3.5). Pubs are weird like that.
While in the village, do stop by to admire this lovely sign outside the village store, and buy some of their local pate. You could almost be in Chipping Norton, rather than 5 miles away.
When you come across a beer that’s not as good as you remember, whether Hooky or 6X or Adnams, it’s tempting to blame the brewer for changing the recipes.
But I’ve had wonderful examples of those beers in the Peyton Arms, Anchor at High Offley, and Queen’s Head respectively, so for me the pub is the key.