Horndean, in Hampshire, is a small village to the north of Portsmouth. It is actually situated on the A3, the main road that connects Portsmouth with London.
Long before the A3 was constructed, Horndean was a busy village for as travellers and soldiers made there way to and from the country's main naval town.
In the eighteenth century, Ann Gale and her family ran a bakery and a grocery store. Her son, Richard Gale expanded the business by becoming a corn and coal merchant, and then went on to acquire "The Ship and Bell Inn".
In 1853, Richard Gale's son, George Alexander was running the Inn, which by now included the famous brewery, and the family business continued to expand.
The Gale's brewery has remained in Horndean, although it now owns pubs throughout Hampshire, Berkshire, Sussex, Surrey and the Midlands. It's beers, ales and wines also make 'guest appearances' at pubs and festivals all over the country.
Gales produce a range of different beers, wines and whiskey, the most well known of which is HSB - or Horndean Special Bitter.
Walk into any of the many public houses that Gales now own, and you can be sure that you will find draught HSB at the bar.
Ordering your first pint of HSB is an experience, rather than a transaction.
Firstly, there is the anticipation. If you have read this review, read about HSB elsewhere or seen the list of awards the beer has won (see below), you know that you are about to order something special.
As you approach the bar, you will see the pump with the famous HSB logo on. There are occasionaly posters or marketing materials behind the bar, but a beer like this sells itself on reputation alone.
As you order your pint, you can be sure of excellent service. The Gales pubs pride themselves on their service, as well as their beers !!
As they pull your pint, the dark beer gushes down the side of the slightly tilted glass. This isn't your standard "lager" or beer where it has to be treated carefully, and trickled slowly down the side to prevent a foamy head forming. No, this is traditional ale - a hardy, earthly drink from the land !
As the pint is presented to you, a very thin foam will have formed on top, but this disappears very quickly. Any bubbles that are seen soon vanish too - this beer is hardly gaseous at all.
You pay your money (the cost varies, but is typically between £1.80 and £2.50 per pint), and retreat to a table - either inside the pub or in the typical English pub garden.
Here, back at the table, you get the chance to see the pint in all it's glory. The beer is dark, the colour somewhere between a standard pint of bitter and a stout, yet is quite clear. Any pint should have settled by the time you get back to your table, by a white film of bubbles may still appear on the surface.
As the time for the taste test approaches, the excitement builds. You lift the glass to your lips, your taste buds forcing their way to the surface of your tongue, fighting to be the first to be in the path of the imminent HSB wave.
Before the glass touches your lips, you cannot help but catch the aroma that wafts up from the beer. The smell is distinct, but not overpowering. It reminds me of a dew rich forest on a fresh morning, with a woody, fruity aroma. This serves the effect of further exciting the taste buds.
At last, the wait is over, and you raise the glass further so that it makes contact with your lips.
As the cool, (but not chilled), beer makes contact with your tongue, your whole mouth seems to come alive. They say that different areas on the tongue detect different flavours, yet with this every part wants in on the action !
Although this is actually bitter, there is quite a sweet taste to it - almost like treacle. This is combined with a fruity and woody taste, as you'd already picked up in the aroma, creating an overall flavour similar to that you might get from a rich, Christmas Pudding or fruit cake !
Again, though, this is not overpowering. You never fail to realise that this is a quality beer that you are tasting, and there is still a distinct malty, hops taste.
The lack of carbon dioxide in the beer makes this a very palatable drink. As the smooth, tasty liquid glides down your throat, it has very little "bloating" effect. Also, despite it's dark colour, it actually tastes and feels a lot lighter, hence many people who traditionally do not like beers and ales can handle this drink. Real Ales and beers are often regarded as a "man's" drink, but you will often see women enjoying this tipple, breaking the tradition.
One thing you will notice about HSB is that it is quite strong ! The alcohol content is measured at 4.8%, which admittadly is not that strong. However because of it's consistancy and lack of bubbles, it makes it very easy to drink - and quite quickly at that !
As I mentioned earlier, HSB has been acclaimed by many drinkers and institutions (such as CAMRA - the Campaign for Real Ale) alike.
These awards include...
1998 Silver medal - British Bottlers Institute
1997 Cask ale brand of the year - Licensee & Morning Advertiser Trade award
Gold Medal Premium Ales Class - International Beers, Lager & Cider Competition
Bronze Medal, Aromatic Cask Ale Mixed Hop Gist Section - The Beauty of Hops British Award
1996 Bronze Medal - Swindon Beerex
1994 Silver Medal - Brewing Industry International Awards
1985 Silver Medal - Strong Ale Class - Great British Beer Festival
As you've probably gathered, I am a big fan of HSB. This may be because I live in the village of Horndean, and have grown up with the beer, but it is probably down to the fact I haven't tasted a beer as good as this anywhere else !! If you enjoy beers and ales, I would strongly recommend that you seek this out. If you are fortunate enough to have a Gales pub near you, pay them a visit and order a pint. If you cannot get this in your local, you may find the canned or bottled versions in your local supermarket.
If you still cannot find a local supplier, check out the official Gales website at www.galesales.co.uk - you can also find details of the other Gales products available there.
Since originally writing and publishing this review on Ciao, a lot has happened at Gales Brewery. A couple of months ago, the current owners sold the brewery to Fullers. This transaction covers the pub chain, the brewery and the drinks currently produced. Although covered extensively in the local press, there has been little word from the new owners as to the fate of the brewery, HSB and the other drinks that they produce. It would be a huge shame should they decide not to continue producing this in it's home of Horndean.
I would urge you to visit http://www.thenewscentre.co.uk/saveourpint/ and sign the petition to keep HSB, and the brewery, if you are interested in preserving this fine, traditional ale.
The days are getting shorter, in the mornings there is a slight chill in the air, the leaves on the trees are turning wonderful shades of red, yellow and brown. Autumn is approaching and my thoughts turn to….Beer!? Let me explain. After a long hot summer where the preferred drink is bottled larger just out of the fridge or exotic Belgian bottled beers also served chilled, the lowering temperatures make it once again safe to turn to real ale, which needs to be drunk warm so isn’t my first choice when it’s hot outside. The hot weather can spoil good real ale, which requires special care to produce a perfect pint out of a pump There are an enormous variety of real ales to choose from in the UK but as a southerner and as a Brightonian my favourite pint is Gale's HSB. HSB is not from Brighton or even from Sussex but it is widely sold in my area and so it has been adopted by Brighton beer drinkers as one of its own. I came across HSB when I moved to Brighton as a student and I was looking round for a suitable replacement for my favourite north London drink Fuller’s ESB, which was not easily found on the south coast. The first time I tasted HSB I was struck by the similarity between the two beers and was immediately a convert. THE BREWERY George Gale & Co Ltd the maker of HSB is a traditional brewer first established in 1847 at Horndean, just 12 miles north of Portsmouth in Hampshire. The brewery now owns and supplies over 120 pubs on the south coast. As well as it’s premium ale HSB it produced a wide variety of ale types of varying strength and flavours. In addition it also makes over 20 types of traditional wines using traditional flavourings from cowslip to strawberry. HSB The letters stand for Horndean Special Bitter. It is a traditional cask conditioned beer made from Maris Otter Barley, which is floor malted in the age-old fashion, the subtle flavourings are provided by the f
inest English hops. (If you want a more detailed explanation of the beer making process check out some of my previous ops on Guinness, Stella Artois or Duvel-plug over!) HSB was first produced in 1959 to cater for a general demand for stronger and fuller tasting real ales. It took a while for the beer to be established but with the increasing popularity of real ale drinking in the 70’s and 80’s accompanying the emergence and CAMRA (Campaign for Real Ale), HSB became Gale’s best selling ale. Over the years HSB has won many awards including Gold Medal in the Premium Ales Class - International Beers, Lager & Ciders Competition1997 and Silver medal winner - Great British Beer Festival 2000. Having said it is as strong ale it’s by no means as strong as some comparable beers in its class. HSB weighs in at 4.8% ABV whereas a very similar beer such as Fuller’s ESB is stronger at 5.5% ABV although I think the strength of HSB has been reduced from around 5% ABV in the recent past. When poured, preferably in a straight pint glass, the beer should be a deep dark amber/light brown colour and it should be perfectly clear (if it isn’t take it back and demand a different pint!). It does have a frothy head on pouring but this will soon decrease and only a thin layer of bubbles will be seen on the surface. This is the way it’s supposed to be. As you bring the glass close to your lips you will notices a strong fruity aroma, very distinctive and quite unusual in many ordinary bitter. The aroma is a mixture of flowers with a hint of malt; I was also reminded of the smell of freshly baked bread. Judging from the smell you might expect the taste to be quite sharp and maybe slightly bitter. This is not the case on taking your first sip you will initially notice a sweet fruity taste giving way to a complex mixture of flavours including honey, treacle toffee maybe a hint of chocolate (the Belgi
um dark variety) followed by a nutty after taste. In terms of taste it punches well above it’s weight, what I mean by this is it tastes like a much stronger beer than it actually is, hence against it compares favourably with Fuller’s ESB. It is full bodied with a thick consistency and a lingering aftertaste lasts this is a serious ale! It is also slightly livelier in the glass than most bitters although I would stop short of describing it as fizzy a fact, which might attract some of our poor misguided larger drinkers out there! HSB has also recently been available in cans (also 4.8% ABV) and won the 1997 International Gold Medal for canned ales. Although the canned version is excellent HSB is a class act and should be enjoyed in all it’s glory in a public house that knows and lovingly cares for its beers. It can be found as a guest beer in non-Gales pubs but I would suggest it is best sampled in it’s true home a tied Gales pub. If ever in Brighton you could visit ‘The Prenstonville’ off the seven dials area, the ‘Sir Charles Napier’ in the Southover district and probably best of all ‘The Basketmakers Arms’ (see previous review). In most Gales pubs buying two pints should still get you change from a fiver so it’s good value as well as being a great drink. So now that summer’s ended and winter is approaching ditch those cold pints of ‘amber nectar’ and try out a taste of the best examples of traditional British brewing. For more information about HSB or any other of the products mentioned above contact: George Gale and Co. The Hampshire Brewery, Horndean, Hampshire, P08 ODA. Phone (023) 9257 1212 Or Email firstname.lastname@example.org Thanks for reading and rating this opinion © Mauri 2002
This really is one of the top English strong bitters. If you like your beer with a kick, a nice dark brown colour and a fine malty taste this is the beer for you. I lived in Horndean for 9 years before getting a free transfer to the Shepherd Neame catchment area. (I don't like living more than 10 miles from a good real ale brewery!). Unfortunately Gales beers are not the best of travellers and are not often found far from their own stamping ground. If you have a good real ale pub near you which has guest beers why not try twisting the Landlord's arm to see if he will feature it. You need to get on draft. Sorry, but I do not subscribe to the theory that getting it from a can is better than nothing; it isn't. You will only moan about how tinny the beer taste. If you cannot get it on draught you had better do without. OR MOVE TO PORTSMOUTH
I'll have to admit straight away that this is my favourite beer of all time. That said it will not be to everyone's taste - I first tried it 4 years ago and hated the stuff and couldn't drink it but at the time I'd only just started drinking lager (before that I was drinking cider, horrid stuff now - well at least the mainlines), but then a couple of years later I came back and Wow. At the top of the can it says "Strong Traditional Beer. International Gold Medal 1997". The beer itself is a fairly heavy affair, it has a fantastic full flavour without the awful chemically taste you get with some get with some mainstream beers. It really should be drunk at room temperture as it loses a lot of the flavour if you chill it. I really would reccommend that you drink it draught if at all possible, although the cans are good. If you must drink it from a can, make sure you pour it into a pint glass as it measurably improves it. The real problem with the cans, in common with just about every other beer, is that it can acquire a somewhat metallic taste. Whilst it is quite heavy it is extremely smooth and easy to drink and can even be quite good on those nights were large consumption of alchol is required. The only drawback is the lack of availability of the beer outside the Portsmouth area (the breweries in Horndean around six miles away). In Portsmouth it is easy to get hold of because Gales owns a lot of the pubs in the local area, but now I'm 30 miles north in Guildford I can only get it in one Hogshead pub and the town centre Sainsbury. I'd also recommend GB also from Gales although its been a long time since I've had it. I recommend looking at Gales website (www.gales.co.uk) for more depth on the flavour of this beer. Append: It tastes a quite like London Pride but less harsh. arrrggghhhh, the Hogs head has stopped selling it in Guildford, I'm now going to have to go down Portsmouth way
to drink it.
Palate: Very full bodied and silky textured yet well balanced malt and hop with complex fruit. Aroma: Floral hop with a hint of Dundee cake. ABV 4.8%.