TODAY, I’m testing something from pro-organic, anti-GM “fanatic” and future British Monarch, Prince Charles. One of his very own Duchy Originals range, here is an expensive £2.36 pence bottle of Duchy Originals Organic Ale.
On the outside, it all looks much as you’d expect. That is to say, traditional, exclusive and expensive. And, of course, organic. From a distance, you might expect to see something like this being sold by a local farmer at a county fair. But the crest on that neck label together with that “Duchy Originals” name promptly correct your mistake.
The big front label is equally sparse, yet classy and all the better for it.
It’s almost all plain white background. But that’s easily forgiven. The whole Duchy Originals concept isn’t what you’d call loud or marketing led. Literally, within three seconds, I went from having hardly heard of Duchy Originals to immediately understanding that this is all about quality organic product. That’s how effective the front label is.
Why have lots of big graphics? Totally unnecessary when you can place a lavish illustration of some hops in the centre. And where most would have a fake crest or coat of arms as a logo, this has the real thing. It has the genuine, royal Duchy of Cornwall coat of arms. In a sea of fake heritage, this is worth something.
Under this big picture of hops is some information that will be the selling point for some people. That’s because some of the barley in this ale will have come from the Prince’s own Home Farm at Highgrove. Under that is another selling point for people who wouldn’t normally think of buying bottled ale. Charitable consumers will be delighted to learn that profits from Duchy Originals Organic Ale are donated to the Prince of Wales Charitable Foundation. Good stuff indeed.
The same can’t be said for the originality of the vital statistics. This is a 500 millilitre bottle. And the ale within is a yawn-worthy 5%.
The back label is crammed full of information. There’s almost no blank space here. And the some of the writing is tiny. So we’re not here all night, I’ll run through all the important points quickly.
They describe it as having been brewed “the traditional way”. The malt is made from Plumage Archer barley, whatever that is. And that all comes from selected organic farms, including Home Farm at Highgrove. The describe it as having a ruby colour, being rich and having a balanced bitter flavour.
Then they go off on a description of the background of Duchy Originals. For the curious, it came about in 1990 when HRH The Prince of Wales decided that organic farming was the way to go. This is happens to be one of the results. They even have a slogan to go with it: “Uncompromisingly Good Food”. Goodness knows I could do with some of that. That diet of ready meals and crisps isn’t doing me much good.
The organic credentials are not at all in doubt. There’s a great big “Organic Certification” box from the Soil Association. And there’s a line in tiny italic text saying that the organic standards aim to avoid the use of synthetic pesticides and fertilisers. It plays on it’s organic-ness almost as much as River Cottage Stinger or Lomond Gold Organic Blonde Ale. But fortunately, not as loudly.
It contains barley malt. As does every other beer on the market. It’s suitable for vegetarians. And, for the terminally cautious, it contains 2.5 UK units of alcohol. They even have a very good website at www.duchyoriginals.com. Everyone is fully accounted for. Aren’t they?
There is something on the back label that is bothering me. You see, Duchy Originals came up with the recipe, but they didn’t brew it. That job came down to Oxfordshire’s Wychwood Brewery. The one and only Wychwood I’ve reviewed was the respectably drinkable Hobgoblin Ruby Beer. With them describing it as ruby in colour, I’m wandering if this won’t be almost exactly the same as Hobgoblin. It would be no bad thing if it is. But I want Duchy Originals Organic Ale to be something special. Will it be? Let’s find out.
The explosion of foam took me by surprise. I’m not sure if it was because the bottle was shaken, or if it’s supposed to froth out over the top of the bottle. Either way, it took some swift action to get what was left into the glass before my counter got covered with any more spilled beer. After all that, the head you see in the photo only lasted half a minute. As I write, it’s disappeared into a few odd groups of bubbles.
It certainly looks ruby in colour. It looks like it will be very dark and rich. The smell backs up that theory. It smells, strongly, of hops and malted barley. But the way they both blend together makes it smell like a field of mixed arable crops. Organic of course.
A couple of gulps in, and I’d forgotten just how strong and full of flavour good ale is. The flavour is malty and hoppy. And that flavour eases smoothly into a hoppy aftertaste. It is exceptionally rich. The flavour is strong. As is the bitterness which is tangy and lingering. When whole recipe seems different to a lot of other ales. It reminds me of Hobgoblin Ruby Beer so I’m going to guess that it could be what they call a Ruby style ale.
There’s a lot for the ale fan to enjoy about Duchy Originals Organic Ale. For a start, it has that distinctive ruby flavour. That blend of malted barley and hops is delicious. And the transition to the lingering hoppy bitterness is smooth. All this makes it rich, full bodied and drinkable. It ticks all the boxes then for an exemplary ale?
Not quite. At least not by my taste buds. Probably because I’m not a Ruby style fanatic, that blend of flavours seems… what’s the word? Narrow. As if it’s missing some of the unexpected oddness that makes other types of ale so interesting. Then there’s the lingering bitterness. I know a lot of you love a strong bitterness. This one is well balanced, that’s for sure. But for me, that bitterness is just a little harsh for my liking. But that is a minor niggle. As is the slight gassiness.
Overall, Duchy Originals Organic Ale is a super-high-quality ruby style ale. The flavour and taste, in fact everything to do with the recipe is strong and excellent. There are some things that weren’t to my liking, but if you like British ales and interesting beers, this is one to try. If for no other reason, then for the novelty value of this being an organic Duchy Original product with some of the ingredients possibly from Prince Charles, HRH The Prince of Wales’ very own farm. If you like your flavours to be very easy to drink though, you’ll want to look elsewhere.
Have you tried Duchy Originals Organic Ale? Or any other drinks from the Duchy? What did you think of them?
Do please leave your corrections, opinions, thoughts, requests and recommendations below. Thank you.
Tags: alcohol, ale, beer, bottle, duchy of cornwall, Duchy Originals, Duchy Originals Organic Ale, highgrove, home farm, label, organic, Oxfordshire, prince charles, prince of wales, rating, review, ruby, witney, wychwood