Thursday, September 11, 2008

From the Cloister to the Coven

A couple of days ago I came across a place selling ales from the Wychwood Brewery in Oxfordshire, available at the time of writing were Wychcraft, Circlemaster, Black Wych and the acclaimed Hobgoblin. Having to run an errand for Mrs Velkyal which put me in the vague general direction of the shop, well ok then I was in the same postal district, I endeavoured to pop by and pick up some treats. Once I had found the shop, cunningly disguised by shared floor space with a comic shop, I bought myself a bottle of each of the aforementioned beers, for just over £5. Happy days.

Last night I decided would be a good time to try out my new acquisitions, having taken them from the “little cellar” and bunged them in the fridge to get down to just the right temperature. When I have my little tasting sessions I like to go from the weaker beers all the way through to the stronger – so I started with the 4.5% ABV Wychcraft. The label describes Wychcraft as a blonde beer combining the four elements to “create a truly magical brew”. Wychcraft pours a fantastic amber colour, with a nice head that doesn’t fade too quickly and leaves some slight lacing down the glass. The first thing which hit me was a very citrusy smell, probably from the fact that this is “thrice hopped” – eventually that citrus would define itself more clearly as a combination of grapefruit, lime and marmalade, getting sweeter as time went on. There is a nice refreshing tartness to the beer, and having been hopped three times, hops are clearly at the forefront of both nose and taste. With such a citrus element to the beer it is unsurprisingly zingy on the tongue, although I found it left a slight catch in the back of my throat. In general though it is a nice refreshing beer I could happily imagine drinking in a beer garden over a Ploughman’s lunch.


Next up was the 4.7%ABV Circlemaster, an organic pale ale. Like the Wychcraft this poured amber, although the head failed quicker and left very little lacing on the glass. There was a very faint smell in general from this, touches of grass and hops but otherwise very little to get my nostrils going, almost the same with the taste, yes it was nice, but in a rather bland “at least it is better than most mass produced stuff” sense. In the mouth the overarching feel is of softness with just a touch of bitterness and yes I can imagine it being refreshing, but by the time I got two thirds of the way down it was thin and lacking in flavour, it has no staying power. The best thing about this beer was the label.

Leaving behind the lighter beers, it was time to try the Black Wych, described on the label as a “Spell Binding Stout”. I am a big fan of stouts, having been brought up by my eldest brother to think of Guinness as the height of manly drinking – thus it was no surprise that my first ever legal beer was a Guinness. These days I steer clear of the Liffey Water, say it quietly but I prefer Beamish of the mass produced Irish stouts – although I am yet to try the O’Hara Stout, but it is high on my list for stuff to try for my birthday weekend in Ireland. But I digress, back to the idyllic English countryside. Black Wych pours dark, very dark, so dark it is practically opaque – I even put it right up next to a light and couldn’t see through it. The head was the same colour as comes on an espresso in an Italian café, and boy is this stuff thick. The coffee theme continues in the nose, lots and lots of roasted coffee beans, with a subtle burnt chocolate undertone, which almost smothers a burnt caramel twist. I was excited about this one, and the first mouthful didn’t let me down, with the espresso theme of roasted bitterness bursting on to my tongue. However, it wasn’t the “velvety smooth stout” that the label promised, it is very dry, perhaps some oats would have smoothed it out. Not that it was bad, just not what I was expecting. This was a very fine pint, one that would go well with bowls of stew and open fires in the middle of winter.

Last but by no means least came the 5.2% Hobgoblin and this was the crowning glory of my evening, although I have to admit that the smell of Mrs Velkyal’s shortbread wafting from the oven put up a brave fight. Pouring it into my 600ml IKEA glass, it was deep red, when held up to the light it was like a fire ruby, and had an ivory head. The smell of this beer was sweet, reminding me of three of my favourite things in life, condensed milk (loved condensed milk sandwiches as a kid), tablet and povidla – the English translation of “plum jam” just doesn’t do povidla justice. On drinking, this was just an explosion of fruit, big juicy amounts of fruit – was about to say buttery but that is most likely the nearly ready cookies Mrs Velkyal is baking. In the mouth this was a wonderfully smooth beer, like liquid jam that had just the barest trace of bitterness. Is it obvious yet that I enjoyed this beer lots and lots?

So there we have it, four very good beers all available in Prague at decent prices.

10 comments:

  1. Hobgoblin is excellent and restored my fate in UK brews. Not that I've tasted many.
    O'Hara's is brewed in my home town and is terrific. The celebration brew is the business. I had it before I started my blog but will post review soon. Might have to get another bottle....

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  2. Great to know that on the other side of the globe these are getting great reviews.

    I can actually get all 4 of these brews in the US (Chicago, IL). Next beer run I will definetely snag a few.

    Cheers!
    Brian

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  3. beer novice - I am heading over to Ireland in November (finally!) and O'Hara's is up there on my list of stuff try with the aim of bringing back to Prague, that and black pudding.

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  4. I quite like the Wychwood beers, and was a particular fan of Hobgoblin, although I haven't had it for ages. I used to travel to Aylesbury for work, and there was a bar there called the Hobgoblin, owned by Wychwood. I was thrilled to see it, but inside you found that they had mostly macro lagers and alcopops (catering for the denizens of said establishment), and you'd be hard pressed to get more than two types of Wychwood brew.

    O'Hara's is definitely worth trying. I prefer the bottled variety to the draught though. I never managed to get a bottle of the Celebration before I left Irelnd :(

    (I'd love some black pudding now!)

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  5. Can't beat a black pudding supper and pint......

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  6. I hate black pudding! The only Wychwood beer in my town is Hobgoblin in the local supermarket but the others are on my wish list now too.

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  7. Thank goodness then this blog is about beer! ;)

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  8. ..well I for one love black pudding.....just decided I'm going to go defrost some blood sausage rings from the freezer for dinner tonight ;)

    Cheers!

    Oh and I had a few Hobgoblins this weekend-very tasty!

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  9. Picked up a 'Fiddler's Elbow' from the range yesterday. It was the only one my closest/best offie had. Looking forward to it.

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  10. I am hoping to try the rest of the range when I visit my brother near Oxford in a few weeks, although with the beers of Hook Norton to enjoy as well, and trips into Oxford itself to visit the Lamb and Flag, not to mention the Eagle and Child, this may be a fairly pickled weekend.

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