EUROPEAN wheat beers are some of the best in the world. Erdinger Weißbier and its Dunkel cousin were superb. Kronenbourg 1664 Blanc White Beer was tasty, and personal favourite Hoegaarden Belgian White Beer is a wheat beer as well. Sure, the Guinnesses have wheat in them, but they are stouts, and as comparable as apples and parsnips. All of which begs the question, where are the British wheat beers? We have the best little brewers in the world, yet many seem preoccupied with making summery pale ales for the seven days of the year when the sun shines. Where are our quirky, interesting, niche filling and delicious wheat beers?
Bravely answering the call is Oxfordshire’s Wychwood Brewery. From an off-licence on Kingsland Road in London, the only place I’ve ever seen it on sale, comes this bottle of Wychwood Fiddler’s Elbow.
If you don’t know what Wychwood are all about, then now would be an excellent time to read my other posts. Their style is original to put it mildly. Nowhere else will you find beer bottles adorned with artwork of characters you’d normally see on a magical quest to locate mystical crystals so that the goblins and Mr. Tumnus can live in peace. Wychwood Hobgoblin Ruby Beer is easiest to find as Tesco stock it. Wychcraft Blonde Beer is harder to find. And Circlemaster Golden Pale Ale and this one are very hard to find.
The neck label was instrumental. If it didn’t say “Wheat Brewed”, I might have passed it by. An interesting little detail like that, about the beer, is just the sort of thing a neck label should have.
Down on the main front label, and it’s another Wychwood fantasy treat.
I’m normally a cynical misery guts about why some ales got their names. But the fabulous illustration of a little old country fellow playing a fiddle makes you forget that. It’s hard to tell from the picture, but it’s even possible that he’s suffering fiddler’s elbow. Whatever that is.
There’s not much real detail on the front label roundel sadly. Only the alcoholic volume. At 4.5%, Fiddler’s Elbow is going to be reasonable. Neither strong nor weak. Hopefully the back label will answer more questions.
The T-shirt offer takes centre stage again. I’ve carefully saved up five Wychwood bottle tops. That means that if I post them, and a cheque for the reduced price of £6.99 pence, I can get an official Wychwood T-shirt. Because I now have five Wychwood bottle tops, expect to see a post about one of their T-shirts in the not to distant future.
Like the other Wychwood ales, we get a good, full paragraph quote from Jeremy Moss, the Head Brewer. Past experience tells me that his descriptions are spot on. That means it’s worth reading what he’s got to say.
He describes it as a “refreshing beer”. One that’s brewed with “wheat, malt & hopped with Styrian Goldings”. Always good to know what variety of hops go into an ale. Even if the name means nothing to you. He then describes it as having an “earthy hop aroma balanced by juicy malt”. I don’t know what that’s going to smell like, but I’m looking forward to finding out. He goes on to describe the flavour as “tart citric fruit” and the aftertaste as a “long quenching hoppy finish”. Sounds yummy.
The small-print is helpfully rounded up into a box. Here, you can read that this 500ml bottle of 4.5% volume drink corresponds to a Scottish Executive friendly 2.3 UK units of alcohol. They have their full Oxfordshire address in case you want to write them a letter. And a website at the usual address of www.wychwood.co.uk.
Expectations are high for Wychwood Fiddler’s Elbow. How will it compare to the Continental big-names? Very well I hope. But there’s only one way to find out.
A pint glass turns out to be exactly the right size. Even though 500ml is less than a pint, the head fills it out completely, before settling down to a thick, frothy layer. The colour is a light, semi-opaque brown. Kind of tea or varnished chest of drawers colour. I couldn’t make out any cloudiness, or any sediment for that matter. It doesn’t mean that there wasn’t any. But could mean that this isn’t a ‘live’ ale. Experts, leave your wisdom at the end of this post as usual please.
Does it have the hoppy and malty smell that Head Brewer Jeremy Moss described? A few big sniffs reveals yes. He’s right again. It’s a strong smell too. Even I could smell it. And my nose is mostly ornamental. I would describe it as smelling of a blend of spicy and citrusy hops and malt. Very ale-like.
What does it taste like? A couple of gulps in, and I’m enjoying Fiddler’s Elbow. Head Brewer, Jeremy Moss, described the flavour as “tart citric fruit” and the aftertaste as a “long quenching hoppy finish”. As usual, he’s pretty darn good at this. But then he would be. He made it.
I must admit though, I’m not really getting a citric fruit flavour. There is a teeny tiny bit of citrus flavour, but it gets swamped by the malty and hoppy aftertaste. That finish though. What an aftertaste. Usually, a bitter aftertaste is where you wince and try to convince yourself that it’s distinctive. Fiddler’s Elbow however, the citrusy, malty tastes turn into one of the best hoppy finishes out there. It tastes a little spicy. It arrives as gently as an artefact for the British Museum. Once there, it somehow stretches that taste out until next week.
What am I enjoying about Wychwood Fiddler’s Elbow? I’m enjoying a lot of things about it. The flavours and tastes manage to be strong, delicate, rich and delicious, all at the same time. It’s as well made as all the Wychwood ales I’ve tried, and that makes it easy to drink. Even if you don’t normally drink ale. Fiddler’s Elbow also scores marks for being something different. It’s wheat brewed. And the taste, although I’m sure I’ve had something similar before, is not all that common. That makes it somewhat distinctive.
Nearly at the bottom of my glass now, and there are one or two issues troubling me about Wychwood Fiddler’s Elbow. The first is that it’s not at all what I was expecting. Anyone expecting a beer like the big-name continental wheat beers is in for a surprise. Although it tastes great, it’s not as packed with complex layers of flavour as some ales. And that might disappoint some bottled ale fans. There’s also something rather familiar about the taste. That means it’s not as outlandishly original as I was hoping. It’s not as refreshing as the label said it would be, either. Down to the niggles, and it’s a little gassy, dry and hard to find in shops. But they are trifling complaints.
So what it Wychwood Fiddler’s Elbow all about? I would describe it as an excellent example of an archetypal British ale. If you’ve got a stereotypical view of what an ale is, you’ll find a delicious example here. Nothing about it is too strong to put you off. Even if you swear by tasteless lager. I’m not sure what the wheat has added. But this is an excellent, ‘meaty’, hoppy ale. It might even surpass Wychcraft as my favourite Wychwood bottled ale. On that basis, if you can find it, treat yourself to a bottle.
Have you tried Wychwood Fiddler’s Elbow? Do you work for the Wychwood Brewery? If so, do please leave your corrections, opinions, requests, recommendations and share your places to buy with other readers.