Brewsday: Wychwood Hobgoblin
Wychwood Hobgoblin has declared itself as the unofficial beer of Hallowe’en — so what better time to test it than Remembrance Day, the most terrifying day of the year? The reverence! The respect! The thoughtful contemplation of sacrifice and bravery! It’s enough to make your blood run cold!
Seriously, though, I had fully intended to review this beer sooner, except that two things happened:
- I got all distracted with with pumpkin–themed beers, and
- Tina and I went pounding through the samples that I bought, leaving me in no shape at all to write a review of anything other than a hangover.
Thus, we end up with a delay, leaving you with a couple of so-so recommendations for autumnally-themed beers that don’t-at-all conform with their theme, and me with a surprisingly delicious little ale from a brewery nestled in the Cotswolds. We can argue all day about who ripped off whom, but the important thing is that we’re here now, with Hobgoblin, and soon everything will be okay.
Despite being the number-one producer of organic beer in the UK, Wychwood Brewery appears to make beers I like. I’ve written before about how organic anything seems to have a flavor that’s designed to test the integrity of its consumers, but I’m encouraged to find that this might not be a universal pre-condition — indeed, I can’t find anything in Wychwood’s Hobgoblin to remind me of the dirty hands that might have participated in its crafting. Unlike many, for whom bruised peaches or beer that tastes faintly of mold is a sign of credibility, I view this as a comfort.
Hobgoblin, in particular, is their seasonal beer for October, though it’s available year ’round. I picked it up among a bunch of others (the regrettable Post Road Pumpkin Ale, as well as an unspeakable Swedish cider whose berry flavoring makes Wild Vines seem subtle), as part of a Hallowe’en night survival package to ensure that regardless of the number of kids, Tina and I would have a happy Friday Samhain. I didn’t have high expectations, since I found it dwelling on a big promotional skid among anything else even remotely associated with Hallowe’en, but what can I tell you? I spent a lot of time in high school playing Dungeons & Dragons, and who can resist a beer named after a classic monster? He’s even got his own longsword! How can you argue with that?
Oh right: With dignity and adulthood. But aside from that? Aside, I ask you?
Wrapped in the seriously cool shot of the eponymous imp, heavily armed and ready to do battle with your ravenous thirst, Wychwood Hobgoblin doesn’t appear all that different from any of the novelty beers you’ll find on the liquor store shelf. Let’s run the list:
- Colorful label featuring an eye-catching logo? Check.
- Gimmicky product name lining up with a seasonal hook? Check.
- Attractively designed bottle aimed to stand out against mainstream competitors? Check.
- Half-liter serving size at a budget price point? Oh, check and mate.
I consider these the basics of this type of product — the bare minimum to which they must conform if they’re ever going to spur me to buy them on impulse and suffer through them while watching Monday Night Football. If a brewer can’t even be bothered to align one of their brands with local mythology and hire a decent cartoonist, then why should I feel compelled to give them three bucks? It’s a competitive market out there, craft brewers, and I only have so much spare change.
Fortunately, Wychwood is more than willing to step up to the plate, delivering a dandy package for its tasty brew. Hobgoblin pours out as a nice, deep reddish-brown, with a slightly stiff head that can actually pile up on you if you’re not careful. It’s got an aroma of coffee, which is carried through on the first sip: You’ll notice pleasantly bitter chocolate notes in there, tempered by a nice sweetness and a warm stout-y finish. For a dark beer, it doesn’t sit heavily on the tongue at all, and you’ll find yourself going through the pint a lot faster than you usually might with such rich flavors.
That’s assuming you even pause to muse over your beer like it’s a bottle of red wine someone gave you for your dinner party, which I know most people don’t. Hobgoblin is fine with that, and you’ll be just as well served if you have it simply for something substantial to crack open when it’s dark and cold outside. The heftiness of the flavor is there to keep you company, but it’s smooth enough not to overstay its welcome.
This is the first beer I’ve ever tried from Wychwood, and it’s made me curious about the rest of their product line. If Hobgoblin is their seasonal feature, are their year-round brews that much better for being their mainstays? Or did I just happen to get lucky with a neat little sideline they’re running?
Whatever the case, we’re already getting into the season when Hobgoblins are old news and elves invade the shelves, so you’ll pardon me if I stockpile a little to get me through the winter. If you get the chance, I suggest you do the same.
Rating: Four hobgoblins out of five.