Posts Tagged ‘brewery’

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.

Beer Review: Wychwood Wychcraft Blonde Beer

31 January, 2009

MERE weeks before I started writing beer reviews for this blog, I had much fun comparing Wychwood Hobgoblin Ruby Beer with its cousin, Wychwood Wychcraft Blonde Beer. Both bought from my local Tesco. Making sense of their differences was one of the things that inspired me to start the thing that you’re now reading. But before I could get another bottle of Wychwood Wychcraft, Tesco ran out of them.

That was very very sad. Not just because it left a hole in my project. But because I know from the statistics that a lot of you come here looking for beers from the Wychwood Brewery.

Riding to the rescue is an off-licence from Kingsland Road. An off-licence that doesn’t just sell this, but two other Wychwood ales. They’ll appear here in a few days, but this is the place to pick things up with Wychwood. So, a year overdue, here is Wychwood Wychcraft Blonde Beer.

Wychwood Wychcraft Blonde Beer bottle

It’s exactly the same bottle that Wychwood use for all of their bottled ales. And already, it’s showing Halloween character that made Hobgoblin such a hit. Look closely, and you’ll notice a witch riding a broomstick embossed around the shoulder of the bottle.

A theme continued on the neck label.

Wychwood Wychcraft Blonde Beer front of neck label

For this is where we learn that the witch on a broomstick must be their logo. And that “Brewers of Character” must be their slogan. Honestly, I’m amazed that no other brewer took that slogan first. If you’re a small brewery making bottles of ale that have character, surely “Brewers of Character” would be the obvious choice for a slogan.

That’s not all from the neck label though.

Wychwood Wychcraft Blonde Beer side of neck label

“Thrice Hopped” sounds interesting. I don’t know what it means. But it sounds technical and like it will make it hoppier and more interesting. If hopping once is good, how much better will triple-hopping be? I’m looking forward to finding out.

The front-label of Wychcraft is another masterpiece of fantasy novel imagery.

Wychwood Wychcraft Blonde Beer front label

Or, it’s completely unnecessary and detracts from what bottles of beer should be. Personally, I love the Wychwood style. This one has all manner of mythical folk beautifully drawn around what it essentially, a traditional roundel. Kudos goes to anyone who can name what the various folk on the front label are.

The label isn’t just brilliant artwork and Dungeons and Dragons style. It gives you some clues about what the beer will be like. And on a bottle of beer, that’s important. “Blonde Beer” gives you some hints. Although experience tells me that Blonde Beers can take almost any form.

Maybe the almost unreadable red script in the middle of the label will help? I think it says “The four Elements combined to create a Truly Magical brew”. An enigmatic response there to the question of what Wychcraft will actually taste like. It might explain the four characters on the label though.

Maybe the back label will supply the answers that we crave.

Wychwood Wychcraft Blonde Beer back label

The back label couldn’t be much more different to the front.

Most prominent is the T-shirt offer. Send them five Wychwood bottle tops and a cheque or Postal Order for £7.99 pence, and they’ll send you a T-shirt that would normally cost more.

For the curious, they have a website that you can visit at It’s a relatively good website compared to the Flashy marketing that most brewers fob off on us. A bit of poking around reveals a very informative page about this bottle of A bit of poking around reveals a very informative page about this bottle of Wychcraft Blonde Beer at

Back on the label, and Head Brewer, Jeremy Moss, does what he can to sum up this complicated ale in a quick quote. He describes it as “A pale golden potion with delicate red hues, Wychcraft has a heady burst of fresh citrus aroma derived from three infusions of Styrian Goldings hops”.

As the only brewer I’ve ever seen who describes their beer as a “potion”, Jeremy immediately scores points for style. As for the three infusions of hops, I can’t wait to see how that squares with the taste he describes. Surely it’s going to taste like a hedgerow with that much hopping.

Down to the small print now, and Wychcraft Blonde Beer has a reasonable 4.5% alcoholic volume. In this regular 500ml bottle, that brings it to an equally reasonable 2.3 nanny-state UK units of alcohol. If you want to get sloshed, best look elsewhere.

For those who like to know where their beer comes from, I can tell you that Wychwood Brewery Co are in Witney, Oxfordshire. It has their address and everything in case you want to get in touch with them.

With that out of the way, we get to the fun part. What does Wychwood Wychcraft Blonde Beer taste like? Do I like it and should you buy it? All questions I shall attempts to answer because it’s time to open the bottle.

Wychwood Wychcraft Blonde Beer poured into a glass

Straight away, Wychwood starts to surprise. The crazy head makes it tricky to pour into a pint glass. It does settle down are a few minutes though into a thick layer of froth. It’s a much darker amber than the light gold that I was expecting, too. That’s no bad thing however. Jeremy Moss mentioned “delicate red hues” though and I’m just not seeing them.

Head Brewer, Jeremy Moss, also mentioned a “burst of fresh citrus aroma derived from three infusions of Styrian Goldings hops”. Whatever it smells of is certainly pungent. This has the strongest odour of any beer I’ve tried for a long time. I’m going to describe it as bursting with hops and citrus. Spot on, Jeremy.

But what does Wychwood Wychcraft Blonde Beer taste like? In a word, hoppy. Not surprising for ale proudly “thrice hopped”. A couple of gulps down, and I’m finding it tasty and delicious. Beware though if you don’t like hoppy bitterness.

How can I describe the flavour of eware though if you don’t like hoppy bitterness.

How can I describe the flavour of Wychcraft? With difficulty. It’s swamped by the aftertaste. What my untrained palate is picking up on are traces of malt, biscuit and twigs and leaves.

The aftertaste is what Wychcraft Blonde Beer is all about. The website describes it as having a “dry biscuit note and a counterpoise of bitterness”. I’ll go along with dry biscuit. Bu that changes, smoothly, into hoppy bitterness. Not a strong or overpowering taste. Just a pleasant one that you get used to quickly.

What am I enjoying about Wychwood Wychcraft Blonde Beer? A great big list of things. The flavours and tastes are delicious. There are a few different flavours and tastes all melded together. That makes Wychcraft complex and interesting. Those are qualities you want your ale to have.

It doesn’t stop there. Wychcraft is also rich and smooth. It’s full of flavour and taste, yet none seem out of place. It only takes a gulp or two for you to get used to it. After that, it’s very easy to drink. All of which evidence just how well made it is. Not too gassy either. Then there’s the brilliantly quirky packaging.

What am I not enjoying about Wychwood Wychcraft? Not a lot. If I had to nitpick, the flavours and taste are quite dry. Something to moisten it up would be welcome. Some people could be put off by the strong-ish taste. Also, the pleasantly hoppy ale has been done before by many other people. That loses it marks for originality. It’s also not easy to get hold of. Besides that, nothing really.

If you’re wandering what it’s similar too, you’ve got a few options. The only one I can remember at the moment is Hardys & Hanson’s Olde Trip. But most of the hoppy bottled ales stand around where Wychwood does.

How can I sum up Wychwood Wychcraft Blonde Beer? Simple. This is an excellent, hoppy ale. A bit on he dry and malty, biscuity side. Very high-quality and easily drinkable by all but the most timid drinkers. I like it and I think you should try one yourself.

Rating: 4.2

Have you tried Wychwood Wychcraft Blonde Beer? Do you work for Wychwood?

Then do please leave your corrections, opinions, requests, recommendations and places to buy, here in the comments section. And remember to check back soon for two more Wychwood beers!

Beer Review: Young’s Champion Live Golden Beer

16 April, 2008

THIS one got my attention as soon as I saw it on the shelves of my local Tesco. That’s because it is Young’s Champion Live Golden Beer.

Young\'s Champion Live Golden Beer bottle

First it got my attention because I enjoyed Young’s Special London Ale. Secondly, it got my attention because of the big mentions of “Champion” and “Live” on the front. “Champion” hints at the winning of prizes. Always a good thing. And “Live” and “Bottled Conditioned” beer are always my favourites. In fact, I’ve yet to try a live or bottled conditioned beer I’ve not enjoyed. And that means that you’ll probably enjoy them too. But will Young’s Champion reaffirm or disappoint? I’m looking forward to finding out.

The neck label is where you’ll find a surprising amount of marketing. Or should I say background to the Ram Brewery. It’s also got a reassuringly large “Bottle Conditioned” on it. If it were up to me, that whole Ram Brewery text on the neck label would be replaced by a list of the virtues of bottle conditioning. Maybe one day, eh?

Young’s Champion Live Golden Beer neck label

The front label keeps things simple, yet stylish. Lots of sweeping lines dominate this one. And the result is quite different to Special London Ale. Which, by the way, I recommend you read now, so I don’t have to repeat myself over all the little details. The Ram logo is in tact again. But this time, the word “Champion” takes centre-stage, plus a small illustration of hops. The 5% volume is on there, but tucked away in a corner so you need to be looking for it. The colour scheme is light and bright, but looks a bit odd on the dark glass of the bottle.

Young’s Champion Live Golden Beer front label

Over on the back, the layout is much the same as with the Special London Ale. The CAMRA logo is on there. As is the symbol telling you that this 500 millilitre bottle has 2.5 UK units of alcohol. And what’s that I see? Amazingly, this is the first time that I’ve bought a recently stocked bottle from Tesco, only to discover that it has passed its “Consume By” date. I didn’t realise it in the shop, but no it’s clear as day. This went ‘off’ after the 31st of January 2008. Outstanding cock-up, Tesco. Readers; check the date on your bottle before you put it in your shopping basket. Or live on the edge. Like me.

Young’s Champion Live Golden Beer back label

The correct procedure here would be to return this bottle and obtain a refund or replacement. But having come this far, I don’t want to turn back. Just how bad can it get in those few weeks? That’s what I want to know. So, in the name of investigating blogging, let’s push on.

The story part of the back label describes Young’s Champion as “light-golden”, with a “full-flavour” and “refreshing bite”. It uses “malted barley” and “Styrian hops” for a “well-rounded floral flavour” with “hints of fruit” and a “dry, hoppy bitterness”. Again, they suggest serving cool, pouring gently to keep the yeast in the bottle. And that the website of this Wandsworth based London brewer is at

Time to open the bottle to see a few things. One: if I’m poisoned from out of date beer. And two: if Young’s Champion is as good as I’m hoping it will be.

In the glass, there’s a good frothy head. But it’s controllable, staying within the pint glass. It’s light golden and it looks like none of the yeast sediment made its way in there. That said, it is still fairly opaque.

Young’s Champion Live Golden Beer in a glass

Like the good live bottles I’ve tried before it, the smell is good. Definitely above average. That yeasty, malty, hoppy smell is mouth-watering.

A couple of gulps in, and I’m not dead from this out-of-date bottle. But I am enjoying the make-up of the flavours here. None of which really dominate, and thus making it a very inoffensive experience. The malted barley and hoppy, bitter aftertaste are most noticeable. And yes, as you work through it, you do begin to notice a tiny floral hint, as promised by the label.

This is turning out to be a well-balanced and well-rounded beer. It’s also easy to drink. And that’s important, as it makes this bottle of beer even more accessible to the casual drinker. Like you. And let’s be honest here, me too.

It’s also fairly crisp and refreshing. This isn’t a big heavy drink at all. But it isn’t the lightest and most refreshing out there either.

If I had to level a criticism at Young’s Champion, it would be that it’s too inoffensive. It’s not the yeasty, malty explosion of taste that I adore. And you could even describe it as being ever so slightly watery. But then this calls itself a beer rather than an ale, so it can get away with that up to a point.

This bottle may be a few weeks out of date, but that didn’t stop me from liking it. If you want a decent live bottled beer, try it. If you want a tasty, refreshing, quite strong beer with little to complain about, try it. If you want a live beer but are too squeamish about bits floating in it, try it. There’s no bits of yeast sediment if you pour carefully. If you want a big, heavy, strongly flavoured brew that scares away teenagers, have an ale instead. This won’t quite satisfy you. I however liked Young’s Champion, so you might to.

Rating: 4.2

Have you tried Young’s Champion? What did you think?
Or if you’ve got any suggestions for other good live beers, or ones to avoid, leave a comment!

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