Imagine, if you will, the James Squire craft beer range. Picture the bottles lined up in a row, condensation dripping enticingly down the outside of each of them, promising to quench a thirst even as they transport you to a world full of flavour. They’re all there – little brown bottles, standing on a bar: Four ‘Wives’ Pilsener, Stowaway IPA, The Chancer Golden Ale, Jack of Spades Porter, Nine Tales Amber Ale, Sundown Australian Lager, One Fifty Lashes Pale Ale, The Constable Copper Ale and…
…Hop Thief American-style Pale Ale.
‘Hang on,’ you say. ‘Hop Thief is a varietal series. It can’t be part of the permanent, year-round James Squire range.’
It’s a fair point, but with its long history, its telling of a key chapter in the James Squire story and, thanks to its changing, evolving hop bill, its ability to keep reinventing itself (much like James Squire himself), Hop Thief American-style Pale Ale is actually very much at home in the permanent James Squire craft beer range.
The history of Hop Thief
‘Hop Thief started out in the late ’90s,’ recalls Rob “Freshy” Freshwater, Senior Brewer at the Malt Shovel Brewery (home of James Squire craft beer). ‘When we first started out making Hop Thief, it was as a limited release that was all about celebrating hops.’
The beer took its name from the time when James Squire, newly arrived in Australia, stole some horehound (a hop-like herb and the closest he could find to the real thing) for use in his then-clandestine brewing operation. This act secured his place in history as Australia’s first brewer, and gave us the perfect name for a happily hop-heavy brew.
The initial Hop Thief beer proved so popular that, as Freshy says, ‘a few years later we did another Hop Thief and a few years after that we did another one again.’ Eventually, it became clear that what had started out as a chance for the James Squire brewers to experiment and have a bit of a play was really striking a chord with customers, who obviously embraced the philosophy that ‘too much hops is never enough for our Hop Thief.’ Which is why we’re now up to Hop Thief 6.
The secret of the Hop Thief’s success over the years lies in the fact that its hops are always changing. If you buy a James Squire One Fifty Lashes Pale Ale or a James Squire Four ‘Wives’ Pilsener, you know what your tastebuds are going to get. But with the Hop Thief, there’s always that element of surprise.
‘Each time we’re featuring hops from different countries,’ says Freshy – those countries to date being America, New Zealand and Australia. So Hop Thief 5 (which came out last year and marked the transition from limited to permanent release) featured Citra and Centennial hops from the US, while Hop Thief 6 celebrates Simcoe and Columbus hops, also from the US.
As for Hop Thief 7, which will come out in six months or so, ‘we might venture to another part of the hop-growing world,’ smiles Freshy with a knowing twinkle in his eye that's captured perfectly in the above photo! That could mean Tasmania, or New Zealand, or the UK, or the Czech Republic, or Chile or Germany. The possibilities are as varied as they are exciting.
It means that Hop Thief American-style Pale Ale is unique among craft beers, not just within the James Squire range or even within Australia, but anywhere in the world. Having a permanent beer that keeps changing its core ingredient makes an already special beer even more special.
About Hop Thief 6
Hop Thief 6 is built around the Simcoe hop, which gives a sort of passion fruit, pine-like character. Freshy and his fellow James Squire brewers have backed that up with a little bit of Columbus for an earthy, floral characteristic. This cracking hop combination is offset by the full-bodied, rich malt character of Crystal malts.
If that sounds tasty, rest assured it’s even better when actually experienced. Freshy recommends matching Hop Thief 6 with spicy food like a good curry. Really, though, it’s a beer that can be enjoyed anytime and with anything (and anyone, for that matter) – much like the rest of the James Squire craft beer family, in fact…