Originally published in What’s Brewing August 2002
Also reviewed in a piece on beers to convert lager drinkers to ales with, BEER Feburary 2009
Origin: Salisbury, Wiltshire, England
Buy from: most supermarkets, beer shops, mail order from the brewery (tel 01725 510986, www.hopback.co.uk)
Summer Lightning is arguably the most influential British beer of recent years, the first beer successfully to bridge the gap between traditional British bitters and imported quality blond lagers. It first emerged in cask form from the Wyndham Arms, John and Julie Gilbert’s brewpub in Salisbury, in the late 1980s, and became a mainstay when the Gilberts founded a separate brewery, Hop Back, in 1991. Soon the sincerest form of flattery was added to the beer’s critical and commercial success, with many other brewers copying the formula.
And it’s a formula that works. Summer Lightning and its imitators have managed to attract drinkers who would never have dreamed of touching a more traditional ale: I myself was introduced to it by a former lager drinker. Hop Back also anticipated the growth of bottled beer market when Summer Lightning inaugurated a new bottling line back in 1996, and the brewery has gone on to become a major supplier of BCAs to supermarkets.
Poured clear as recommended on the label, and at a slightly cooler temperature than usual for a British ale, Summer Lightning comes out pale golden with a warm orange glow, a very lively bead, and a thin bubbly white head that eventually subsides to lace. The aroma of perfumed hops is forward but not overpowering, with faint orange-like traces and a distant earthy and minerally scent.
The palate is mainly dry, crisp and refreshing from the start. It’s also notably lively and prickly, soothed by a smooth, clean maltiness, flashes of tangerine sweetness and developing zesty hops. There’s some elusive fruitiness on the swallow: plum skins or maybe very fresh tomatoes. The beer dries out further in a very long and moreish finish, with a firm but nicely rounded bitter hoppiness at the back of the mouth and some cheek-puckering dryness still softened by malt and late flashes of juicy fruitiness.
While Summer Lightning recalls the appeal of certain mainland European styles, such as those Belgian golden ales that many British drinkers still mistake for lagers, or genuine quality German and Czech lagers, it is still very much a recognisably British beer. Perhaps surprisingly, its innovative taste has been fashioned out of the most traditional of ingredients, Maris Otter pale malt and East Kent Goldings hops.
Try also: RCH Pitchfork, Swale Indian Summer, Achouffe Kwelchouffe (Belgium), Saison Dupont (Belgium), Früh Kölsch (Germany), or a premium Czech lager like Budweiser Budwar or Pilsener Urquell
Read more at ratebeer.com: http://www.ratebeer.com/beer/hop-back-summer-lightning/1242/