The Hops: Devilishly Good

  • Brewer: Wychwood Brewery, Witney, Oxfordshire, England.
  • Style: English brown ale.
  • Alcohol content: 5.2 percent ABV.
  • Food pairings: Meat stew, steak and ale pie, barbecued or roasted meat, char-grilled vegetables, and milk chocolate Halloween goodies.
  • Where to buy: John’s Grocery and most area Hy-Vee stores.
  • Price: $11-13 per six-pack, or $4-5 per 500 ml bottle.

Harvest is the traditional time to drink saison, a pale ale from Wallonia, the French-speaking region of Belgium. Though perfect to quench the thirsts of workers toiling in the fields (circa 1880), saison is not ideal for the October tradition I’m in the mood for. Instead, I feel like wearing my fake-blood stained mad scientist smock for Trick-or-Treating.

My October recommendation needed to fit well into the month’s spooky vibe and link to mysterious folklore, the supernatural, and slasher films. I wanted a Halloween beer, something Jason Voorhees and Michael Myers would drink after a long night of hunting idiotic teens, or of-age All Hallows’ Eve revelers could enjoy while finishing off left over chocolate.

Hobgoblin, brewed by the Wychwood Brewery, embodies October in both character and taste. Though it may not bring to mind classic ‘70s horror flicks, the name and imagery evoke more traditional Halloween symbols like witches, ghosts, and jack-o’-lanterns. Flavor-wise, Wychwood claims Hobgoblin is “ideal for Halloween,” and I agree.

Though the label classifies it as a “ruby beer,” Hobgoblin is more like a hybrid of English brown, bitter, and pale ales. Topped with two fingers of lightly tanned foam, it looks like a dark maple syrup: deep caramel brown with ruby undertones. Depending on the age of the bottle, minor specks of harmless sedimentation may hover in the brew.

Though the appearance is reminiscent of Newcastle Brown Ale, Hobgoblin’s aroma and taste are similar to Fuller’s London Pride and Fuller’s ESB, the standard bearers of British pale and bitter ale. Hobgoblin smells of toasted caramel, honey, toffee, and chocolate. The taste follows the nose: toasted caramel dominates and is complimented by toffee and chocolate malts, while the honey makes it a hair sweet. An adequate amount of hop spicing adds a nice bitterness that tickles the back of the tongue.