Posts Tagged ‘Oxfordshire’

Beer Review: Wychwood Fiddler’s Elbow

3 March, 2009

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.

Wychwood Fiddler's Elbow bottle

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.

Wychwood Fiddler's Elbow neck label

Down on the main front label, and it’s another Wychwood fantasy treat.

Wychwood Fiddler's Elbow front label

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.

Wychwood Fiddler's Elbow back label

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.

Wychwood Fiddler's Elbow poured into a glass

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.

Rating: 4.3

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.

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 www.wychwood.co.uk.

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 www.wychwood.co.uk. 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 http://www.wychwood.co.uk/beers_wychcraft.htm.

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: Duchy Originals Organic Ale

3 September, 2008

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.

Duchy Originals Organic Ale front label

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.

Duchy Originals Organic Ale back label

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.

Rating: 4.175

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.

Beer Review: Ridgeway Brewing of Oxfordshire Blue

30 March, 2008

SOUTH of the border this time for a bottle of beer from Oxford. This one is called Blue and it’s from Ridgeway Brewing of Oxfordshire.
Ridgeway Blue bottle

I usually ignore the neck label when in the shop, so it wasn’t until I got home that I noticed this…
Ridgeway Brewing of Oxfordshire Blue neck label

It turns out that this won ‘best beer’ at the Tesco ‘brewing awards’. That makes this the second I’ve tried, with Broughton Champion Double Ale was the first Tesco winner I tried. And very good it was too. This upshot of which is that I now have higher than usual expectations going into this one.

The front label is round. And features mainly blue text. I’d describe what the illustration is of. But I can’t tell what it’s supposed to be. Can you?
Ridgeway Brewing of Oxfordshire Blue front label

The bottom edge of the label has their address. The full address. Post code and everything. And that’s unusual, as the address normally goes on the back label. It does prove that this one comes from South Stoke in Oxfordshire however. Also down there, in tiny writing is “Alc 5% vol.” It’s so small, you’d think they were trying to hide that fact.

Either side of the roundel are a couple of facts. On the left, it says “whole leaf hops”. And on the right, “maris otter malt”. How that will affect the taste, we’ll find out soon enough. If you think you can explain what it means, do by all means leave a comment at the end of the post.

The first thing that jumps out at you on the back label is the “CAMRA says this is real ale”. That’s not something I’ve seen on any other bottle I’ve reviewed so far, and it’s a welcome sight. Always good to know that the Campaign for Real Ale gives it’s approval to something, so that clueless drinkers, like me, can enjoy with one less thing to worry about.
Ridgeway Brewing of Oxfordshire Blue back label

Ridgeway open the rear label with some marketing speak about sharing this bottle or drinking it at a barbeque. Fortunately, they have some useful advice in there too, in the form of a description of what the drink will be like. As always, that’s immensely helpful, as it gives me something with which to judge the success of the drink. This one includes words such as “distinctively hoppy”, “lively” and “refreshing”.

They also suggest “drinking cold”. Whether they mean that the bottle should be cold, or that you should drink while feeling cold is unclear. Assuming they mean that the bottle is the one that should be cold, the include a nice touch underneath it in brackets saying that it’s not compulsory. I like that sort of touch.

The, the label goes on to explain something really rather interesting. And something I’ve met before without realising it. You see, Ridgeway helpfully explain what “Bottle Conditioned” is all about. It turns out, that live yeast sediment goes into the bottle, so that it can ferment some more while it waits for you to open it. And that all Ridgeway beers are bottles that way because it makes the flavour “brighter” and “fresher”. I’m not sure about those two adjectives, but I do know that Hoegaarden does something similar, and that it is one of the best I’ve ever had. And yes, looking closely into the bottle, you can see some of that yeast sediment. There go my expectations up a few more notches. Not just for Blue but for all Ridgeway bottles.

Down to the small print, and this is a moderately priced, 500 millilitre bottle from my local Tesco. It contains malted barley. And the web address given on the bottle is www.ridgewaybrewery.co.uk. Which doesn’t work. Why do so many bottles feature web addresses that are wrong or go to sites that aren’t there? Come on chaps. You’re making bottles of beer for Tesco now. Not just for the county fair.

In a glass, it has a thin head. And yes, while pouring, a small lump of that yeast sediment plopped in. The colour is a cloudy dark gold. And the smell is… quite nice. It smells almost citrusy. But I could be wrong about that. There’s definitely something ‘clean’ and ‘fresh’ about the way it smells. You’ll also pick up hints of the malt, hops and yeast that are in there too, if you sniff hard enough.
Ridgeway Brewing of Oxfordshire Blue in a glass

First thing that hits me is the smoothness. Then the light and palatable bitterness. And a taste and aftertaste of hops and yeast. If you don’t have ale very often, and want to try something that typifies the entire category of drink, this is looking like a good choice.

What else can I say about it? Well, it’s not to gassy. It’s easy to drink, being inoffensive to all but the most beer averse taste buds. And you needn’t worry about the sediment. This is not like drinking orange juice with bits, if that’s something that worries you. Instead, it’s more a smooth cranberry juice, of a beer. Refreshing, but with a sharp bitterness.

Towards the end of the bottle, and I’m growing to quite like Blue. It’s something you’d probably have with a pub meal. But it’s nor without its problems. I like ales to have character and complexity. But Blue is lacking both. The tastes and flavours are straightforward. It does what it does, very well, but ‘best beer’ award winning? I’m not entirely sure.

I liked Ridgeway Blue enough to want to try Ridgeway‘s other bottles. In fact, I will definitely be looking out for them on the shelves. This is a good, decent, quality, solid ale. But it just couldn’t reach my lofty expectations. It’s still worth your money trying though.

Rating: 3.5

Have you tried Ridgeway Blue or any other Ridgeway beers? Let the world know your thoughts and opinions in the comment box below.
Also any ideas for what you think I should review next.

Beer Review: Wychwood Brewery Hobgoblin Ruby Beer

3 February, 2008

MOST ales are aimed at the same people. With their utilitarian brown bottles. And their labels describing a heritage going back to the ice-age. And countryside ingredients scraped off the head brewers boots. The types of people that type of packaging is aimed at, is the ale aficionado. Someone with mutton-chop facial hair and a green Land Rover.

It is with some glee then that I found this unusual ale at my local Tesco.

Wychwood Hobgoblin bottle

What Wychwood Brewery Hobgoblin does is to stand out. And to do that by appealing to a different group of people entirely. Here are the signs. See if you can spot the image being built up by them…

The Wychwood Brewery logo is a witch riding a broomstick.
That logo is embossed around the shoulder of the bottle.
The ale is called ‘Hobgoblin’.
There is a prominent illustration of a hobgoblin on the front label.
Wychwood Hobgoblin front label

Any guesses from these observations, whom this bottle may be aimed at? No, it’s not young women heading out to the town centre in a pink stretch-limo for a hen night.

The target I think this drink is aimed at, is that noblest of social groups: the nerd. Where this bottle is apparently designed to fit right in, is next to a game of Warhammer. Or next to the keyboard of someone playing World of Warcraft. Or beside someone reading a Tolkien or Pratchett novel. You get the picture.

Let me know if you agree in the comments.

What does it tell us about the drink? Unlike my last review of Jamaican Dragon Stout, Wychwood tell us quite a bit. We learn that it has a decent 5.2% volume. That it is a “Ruby Beer” (whatever that is). And that Wychwood hails from Oxfordshire. The one message that gets constant reinforcement is that this drink, and the brewery, have “character” and “mischievous character”. How a drink can be mischievous, we’ll learn with the taste test.

Wychwood Hobgoblin back label

We are also treated to a thorough description of the ingredients and flavours to expect. Always a good thing as it means we can compare it to what we actually taste. In this description, “chocolate and crystal malts” receive a mention. What crystal malts are, again I haven’t a clue. In between references to familiar words like “bitterness” and “citrus aroma”, things take a turn for the peculiar. If you know what an “English Fuggle” or “Styrian Golding” is, can you please leave a message at the end of this post explaining what it is please?

Poured into a glass, this 500ml bottle stops short of producing a full pint of liquid. The colour is like that of cola and the head very tiny indeed. Unusual as I would have expected to see a big head to reflect the boastful label.
Wychwood Hobgoblin poured into a glass

The smell is definitely one of barley. But not overpowering. Nor unconventional. Maybe the character is in the taste, not the smell? Let’s see…

Upon your first gulp, the first thing that hits you is the fairly strong taste of bitter. This is swiftly followed by a sour aftertaste. Bear this in mind if you prefer your drinks largery.

Working through the bottle, it was easy to get used to this bitter/sour taste combination. In fact, I would go so far as to describe it as quite drinkable. A fact evidenced by it all disappearing surprisingly quick. Surprising because I don’t normally like drinks on the bitter end of the scale.

Summing Wychwood Hobgoblin up isn’t easy. It’s not a bitter, but it has bitter qualities. This must have something to do with that mischievous character we heard so much about on the label. Did I like it? Yes. Why? Because it aims to be something unique and achieves it. Will I buy it again in a hurry? As I’m not a fan of bitterness, probably not. That said, I will look out for it for just the right occasion. Does anyone want to play Dungeons & Dragons with me?

Rating: 4 or thereabouts

Have you tried this beer? What did you think?
Any suggestions of what I should look at next?
Leave your comments.


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