It's All Hallow's Eve and there are plenty of themed offerings about. I realise that the actual day/evening isn't until tomorrow and that there are plenty of other names for this particular thing (Samhain springs to mind, but was lunar, so not on the same date every year) but I digress. Themed brews means a good excuse to crack open some beer and have a review, doncha think? Also, if I review tonight you may just have time to pick some of this up for yourselves should you so wish.
For reasons that aren't entirely clear to me, this all means that I am pitting Moorhouse's and Wychwood against one another in a kind of battle royale. But, you know, without the Japanese schoolchildren trying to kill each other with a variety of weapons. Oh, and Hunger Games which is the sanitised and slightly badly plotted western film version (no, I haven't read the books).
Now that I have alienated some of my audience of three, would you like to know more?
First up was the contest of the blondes. Specifically, Blond Witch from the Moorhouse stable and Wychcraft from Wychwood that I think I have reviewed before (here).
The first to feel the wrath of my overly purple prose approach was Blond Witch, and I'm struggling to forgive the Americanisation of the spelling of blond, but this passed. Instant dry and citrus-y aroma on opening that had a definite hops note even if I couldn't place exactly what and how I knew this. The colour on pouring was clear and quite limited, as you can see in the image, at 4.5% ABV this wasn't going to knock my socks off. First taste revealed instant hops that were dry and sharp on the tongue rapidly giving way to a light and fizzy malt before fading neatly to a bitter hop finish. That blonde dryness continued throughout and was not changed, remaining in the aftertaste. It was rather heavy on the carbonation and there was a skein of head present throughout proceedings. Overall, not unlike a cider but much dryer. I quite like this, but the dryness did mean it punched above its apparent weight. This was somewhat surprising, but no bad thing I guess.
Second was the offering from Wychwood, Wychcraft. Also a 4.5% ABV offering, I thought that it would be tough to drive any kind of wedge between the two of these brews. However, the colouration on pouring was much deeper and coppery overall. The aroma was anonymously hoppy without any kind of 'zing' to it. Nothing of note and, compared to the first drink, a little disappointing. Head was briefly exciting and then went back to that kind of head that I appreciate the most - something that has obvious brewing style to it and mostly unobtrusive. Unfortunately the taste was similar to the aroma - anonymous. Oh, there were bitter notes to this that were not unappreciated, with a log flume of malt that followed but the highs and lows were less than the Blond Witch and, as such, a little less interesting. There was also less carbonation in this brew, which was welcome, but it just highlighted the lack of character and verve that this ale had in comparison to who it was against. I was a bit disappointed but this remained decent overall. A little heavier and thicker than it looks too, this is the sort of brew that may well lead to headache later and sneak up on you if you decide that the 4.5% ABV is fine to session.
Next up was the competition between the heavy-weights of the stables on offer for the All Hallow's Eve night.
Feeling that I was giving short shrift, I thought I would give the Hobgoblin from Wychwood the first taste this time. At 5.2% ABV this is the strongest of the bunch that I was trying and, being ruby, I suspected that it would look it too. Sure enough, the musty spice aroma spoke of something a little more strong and powerful than the blondes and the pouring revealed a chestnutty aspect to the ruby beer that had been promised. Here we had the full power of the yeast and malt over the hops, and they very much kept centre stage in terms of aroma. First taste was dominated by that yeasty spice with flashes of heavy and deep malt, there was little to play with in terms of hops on this one. Obviously a big hitter and it tasted like it, no fear of this being something you accidentally session, you must make a conscious decision, and no danger of it sneaking up on you. As one drinks this gains in strength and the taste does improve over time too, the aftertaste seeming to add an extra dimension to the taste as one goes. Anna suggested that this verged toward the stout side of things and I think she may have a point there, there's a definite reliance on the malt over hops.
For Pendle Witches Brew I confess that I rather lost my head and completely forgot to take a picture, but hopefully the rest of this review can explain why. Lovely golden colour on pouring that left an amber aspect to the glass. Decent head fizzed up and then departed as I like them to, without losing any of the liquid. At 5.1% ABV this was slightly less strong than the Hobgoblin but that was no detriment. Indeed, the aroma here seemed better and more carefully balanced. Light hops on the nose, vague sharpness that denoted some aspect of citrus flavour but considerably less yeasty. The taste was full of obvious spice, calling to mind the ash and smoke of a bonfire night but without going the whole hog into a simple autumn brew, which was nice. Carbonation was at a good level, enough to bring the yeast through the malt and over the hops but no more. Less sweet than the Hobgoblin too. Anna pronounced it "slightly nutty" and the malt did take more of a back seat to the bittering hops that rounded things out leaving a faint spice vestige of yeast on the back of the throat and that was no bad thing.
The fact that I immediately followed the Pendle Witches Brew with a second and was so totally lost in the enjoyment of it means that I have to say that it was the winner for me. A lovely ale all round and did a good job with being themed toward a famous witch trial (that may have had more to do with matriarchal clan structures than beliefs in witchcraft in Lancashire) which made it more local to me. I obviously enjoyed it a great deal and I shall be repeating the experience as soon as I am able, when I may well make good the lack of image on here!