I experienced a moment of immense disappointment the other weekend. I was in Leeds, and the day before I had (somewhat trepidatiously, due to the ongoing pandemic) enjoyed my first proper session at a beer festival in almost two years. In fact, you could argue I had what could be considered as too much of a good time, as the following day I was feeling a little worse for wear.
This didn’t deter me however. Strolling back into town after a visit to the excellent Nomadic Brewery where I enjoyed a pint of its restorative Strider best bitter, I arrived at Brownhill & Co. This little café-style bar is one of Leeds’ true beer highlights and a must-visit spot when you’re in town. As Leeds International Beer Festival was in full flow that weekend, the bar had decked out its taps with a host of Belgian delights including Saison Dupont, XX Bitter and several others. But what I really wanted to get my chops around was a half of Haná, a new helles style lager from Edinburgh’s Newbarns Brewery. Alas, this was not to be. The keg having kicked only moments before my arrival, I had to settle instead for a glass of straight Girardin lambic. A tough break, I’m sure you’ll agree.
Fate, however, still smiled on me when a can of Haná was offered up for this month's selection of reviews. I jumped at the chance to try it, naturally. Newbarns is a brewery I already feel overly familiar with, despite it only being established towards the end of 2019. Its four founders, Gordon McKenzie, Emma Mcintosh, Freddie Bjerkseth and Jonny Hamilton have quite the pedigree, having spent several years at Siren, The Kernel and Beavertown between them. (Regular readers and followers will likely also know that Jonny is a close friend of mine, and together we founded a magazine called Pellicle.)
Haná is a particularly interesting lager in that it exclusively uses a heritage malted barley variety of the same name. The variety was originally cultivated in 19th century Moravia, in the east of the Czech Republic where history states it was used by Josef Groll in 1842 to create the earliest version of Pilsner. While Haná is not part of the recipe in today’s Pilsner Urquell, it has been resurrected in England by Crisp Malt as part of a heritage malt breeding programme and has been used to stunning effect in this beer from Newbarns.
This helles has a distinctive sweet note, not unlike biting into a fresh, ripe peach. This is gently buoyed by flavours reminiscent of freshly baked bread and backed up with dry, slightly peppery and herbaceous snap of hops that cleans up all the aforementioned tasting notes, while leaving you wanting more.
At Brownhill & Co it was described to my disappointed, hungover self as “probably the best beer Newbarns has made so far”, which is saying something, as its output is seldom not delicious. After enjoying this can, I am going to upgrade that statement to “definitely the best beer Newbarns has made so far”. Miss out at your peril.
Matthew Curtis is a writer, photographer and editor of Pellicle Magazine. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @totalcurtis and @pelliclemag. Sign up to our All Killer No Filler subscription box and you'll find incredible beers like this one every month, plus more great writing from Matthew and our food writer Claire Bullen.