Archive for February, 2009

Sweets Review: Devona Jelly Babies

27 February, 2009

IN for testing this time is a bag of Devona Jelly Babies. The same Devona that brought me nice-but-dry Toasted Tea Cakes last time. And from the same Brick Lane Sunday market stall. Though I’m sure you can get them from lots of shops too.

Devona Jelly Babies bag

Being a Devona brand of bagged sweets, it looks much the same as every other bag of Devona sweets. That means very little writing or labels to get in your way. And that’s a good thing, because you can see exactly what you’re getting.

Devona Jelly Babies print on front of bag

The print on the front and bottom-right corner suffers though. I’ts just too easily scratched off. Not as bad on this one, but Toasted Tea Cakes was almost impossible to read. This time, we can finally read that it comes from Appleton & Sons Ltd. And what’s more, they’re local, coming from Bow in E3. That makes these, and all Devona sweets, proper East End sweets, and that scores them bonus points.

Devona Jelly Babies barcode

The barcode and ingredients on the other side however are badly scratched off. Honestly, you’d think there was someone going over each bag with wire wool before they left the factory.

What I can make out is that this is a 160g bag. And that sugar, glucose syrup and gelling agent and lots of E numbers make up the bulk of these jelly babies.

What do they look like close up? Like this…

Devona Jelly Babies jelly baby close-up

As far as I can tell, they’re bigger than the more mainstream jelly babies out there. I’ve counted five different colours. And each one is covered in a kind of sugar that leaves white marks on your fingers. Like the sort that icing for cakes is made out of. What’s it called? Caster sugar? Is that it?

So, what are they like? The sugary surface gets them off to tasty a good start. There’s an almost hard surface. One you bite through, you get a soft, moist jelly interior. It tastes a little of the colour of the jelly baby. But not much. Mild sweetness and mild jelly flavour are where the flavours and tastes end. These jelly babies are all about the funny texture.

What do I like about Devona Jelly Babies? Quite a lot more than any I’ve tried so far. They’re not too small. The combination of solid-ish body and squishy insides make them an interesting eat. They’re not too dry. And there’s nothing too strong to put off even timid sweet fans.

What don’t I like about Devona Jelly Babies? For a start, there’s not enough in a bag. You’ll polish them off in moments. They don’t have enough taste or flavour. There’s little to surprise you. No explosion of fizz, crackle, tang or sourness.

To sum up, Devona Jelly Babies are very edible little sweets. Not exciting. Just satisfying and tasty.

Have you tried Devona Jelly Babies? Do you work for Devona? Then do please leave a comment. What did you think of them? Got any requests, recommendations or places to buy?

Beer Review: Wychwood Circlemaster Golden Pale Ale

26 February, 2009

THE Wychwood Bewery has been rather impressive of late. Hobgoblin Ruby Beer that I reviewed here a year ago was respectable and well made. Duchy Originals Organic Ale that they made for the Duchy of Cornwall is a well made, ruby style ale that is completely organic. Then the Wychcraft Blonde Beer I tried a few days ago proved to be another, very well made ale, with Wychwood’s brilliant, love-it-or-hate-it fantasy artwork on the label. Hopes are high, then, for this bottle of Hopes are high, then, for this bottle of Wychwood Circlemaster Golden Pale Ale.

Wychwood Circlemaster Golden Pale Ale bottle

It’s the same dark, glass bottle as the other Wychwood Brewery beers. Remember to look for Wychwood’s witch-on-a-broomstick logo embossed around the shoulder.

The neck label doesn’t say anything useful about what the beer will be like. But, it has a word that is going to make a lot of people interested in it.

Wychwood Circlemaster Golden Pale Ale neck label

Not all that surprising when you remember that the loudly organic Duchy Originals Organic Ale was made by the Wychwood Brwery. Wychwood it seems is a name to look out for if you like to buy organic foodstuffs. That makes this beer Islington friendly.

The main front label is another brilliant piece of fantasy artwork.

Wychwood Circlemaster Golden Pale Ale front label

This one features a scarecrow, in a circular clearing in a field, minding some hops, with an owl (?) perched upon one arm. Just a guess, but that circular clearing must be where the name “Circlemaster” comes from.

Some people will call the artwork gimmicky. Personally, I love the fantasy book style artwork of Wychwood. And Circlemaster continues that theme. Why do so few brewers show the imagination of Wychwood?

The roundel is clear and informative too. This weighs in at 4.7% alcoholic volume. Which is reasonable. Neither strong, nor weak. Andw e learn that it is a golden pale ale. Which tells us almost nothing. It’s going to be a golden hue. That’s clear enough. But pale ales can taste of almost anything. Maybe the back label will tell me more about what Circlemaster will taste like?

Wychwood Circlemaster Golden Pale Ale back label

The back is much the same as every other Wychwood Brewery beer. That is to say, the T-shirt offer takes centre stage. This is where, if you send five Wychwood bottle tops and a cheque, you get a T-shirt for less than the normal price.

Fortunately, there’s plenty of well laid out detail for you to read besides that offer. The top of the label opens with an excellent description of Circlemaster by Jeremy Moss, the Head Brewer. To chop down his typically idiosyncratic quote into tiny bits, he first tells us that Circlemaster (or should that be Circle Master – two-words?) is brewed with a unique blend of Plumage Archer barley malt. That whole leaf Target hops are added. And that it has a citrus and malt flavour with spicy bittersweet finish. The ingredients might not mean anything to me, but I love being bamboozled with brewing terminology like that. And I’m literally salivating at the description on the label.

In a green box under the T-shirt offer are all the small print details. Like, for instance, that the 4.7% alcoholic volume in this 500ml bottle brings it to 2.4 UK units of alcohol. And that it has the Soil Association Organic Standard symbol because it has organic certification. There is also the Wychwood Brewery address in Oxfordshire, in case you want to write them a letter. And their web address, which is the same as it always is at

Pale ales don’t get me excited. But I really want to try this one. What does it taste like? Will I like it? Do I think you should try it? Time to find out.

Wychwood Circlemaster Golden Pale Ale poured into a glass

In the glass, this cold bottle of Circlemaster Golden Pale Ale looks the part. It’s as golden as you could hope for. Easy to pour too, as there is hardly any head. Instead, just a smattering of bubbles cover on the surface. A bit more head would be welcome though.

I’m delighted to report that it smells as good as it looks. And, it’s pungent too, so you can’t miss it. I’m never very good at deciphering odours, but here’s my attempt. Citrus takes the lead, followed by malt and then hops. I like the blend. It smells delicious. But what do you make of it? Leave a comment at the end of this post.

But what does it taste like? The label described a “refreshing citrus & delightful malt flavour rounded off with a spicy bittersweet finish”. A couple of gulps in, and there’s not much more I can add to that. The flavour citrusy and malty. Neither really dominates. It seems like a well-balanced blend of the two, to me. Then the Target hops gently roll in to deliver a mildly hoppy “spicy bittersweet finish”.

What am I enjoying about Wychwood CirclemasterGolden Pale Ale? Nearly half-way through now and I’m enjoying it quite a lot. It looks good, both in the bottle and in the glass. It smells equally good. The blend and balance of the flavours and taste are good. It’s light, refreshing and easy to drink. And the Wychwood Brewery quality is as in force as ever.

But what of the downsides? If you don’t like bitterness, that “bittersweet finish” might put you off. Even though you get used to it quickly. It’s rather gassy too. But again, that’s but a minor complaint.

My main concern isn’t strictly directed at Circlemaster. This is a perfectly fine, easy to drink, refreshing, summery ale. The worry is that it’s yet another ‘ideal for summer’ ale. Not a problem on its own. They are perfect for temping lager drinkers to ditch the big names and try something new. But when you remember that nearly every independent brewer out there makes a summery pale ale, it starts to become one. There must be more summery pale ales than there are summer days in this country. It’s a bit like spending a whole year holidaying in new places. You’ll love the sun, the food and interesting destinations. But day after day for so long, and you get bored unless each one is spectacular. Circlemaster is perfectly good. But this, and so many other summery pale ales are in a tight spot if they want to stand out.

Wychwood Circlemaster Golden Pale Ale is a tasty, light, refreshing, summery drink. It it’s the summer, or even if it isn’t, and you like this type of beer, I highly recommend it. If you’re cynical or tried many different ales and want something with more character, then you might want something else.

Rating: 4

Have you tried Wychwood Circlemaster Golden Pale Ale? What did you think of it? Do you work for Wychwood Brewery? Do please leave your opinions, corrections, requests, recommendations and places to buy here in the comments. And check back in a few days for another Wychwood bottle.

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