Monday, November 16, 2009

The Power of the Label

"I like my humping like I like my martinis. Dryyyyy...." (Gandhi, Clone High)

Beer: Black Wych Spell-Binding Stout
Brewery: Wychwood, Oxfordshire
Type: Dry English Stout
Animated TV references aside, it's time to dive once again into the wonderful world of season-oriented brews. Next on the agenda is Black Wych, an English stout from one of my favourite brewers, Wychwood of Oxfordshire. Not only does Wychwood produce some impressive, full-flavoured brews, they also make wonderful use of the power of bottle and label design to give their product a truly unique feel. Take Black Wych for example:

Wychwood bottles are certainly different from most available in Canada. In this case, Black Wych bottles have little raised images of witches around the bottle, just above the main label. Although making the bottle part of the marketing scheme can be very expensive to the brewer (when empties are sorted out at the beer store, a brewer is less likely to receive new bottles to be reused if they are this brewery-specific, so they'll have to make more), it demonstrates fidelity with their brand and to their consumers, who will appreciate the added effort to make their beer drinking a more complete experience. Label design is another way to set yourself apart from other brewers, although it can be a bit risky. While it's common for brewers to produce beer labels using local art, innovative graphic design and through appealing to the brew's heritage, the result can backfire dramatically, making the design look gimmicky or unpleasant (anyone remember Red Dog Ale?). In the case of Wychwood, I feel their design department is doing a great job; their brews always look attractive, exciting and different from other brewers in a positive way. For this brew, Black Wych, the design is that of a sultry young witch, who entices us to sample the brew while displaying a frog for what I believe to be nefarious purposes. I wasn't planning on picking this one up, but the bottle certainly drew me in. You win this round, Wychwood.

As for the beer itself, Black Wych pours a very deep brown (nearly black) and leaves a thin, tan head. The head dissolves into a thin ring around the glass, which lasts throughout the sampling. There's a little bit of lacing around the glass, too.

The smell is strong, but not terribly complex. Roasted nuts, a bit of caramel and coffee. Possibly a bit of (very) dark chocolate, but that's about it. Becomes stronger as the temperature of the beer warms up. The smell is typical for this type of stout.

The taste is certainly intriguing: starts off somewhat sweet, with the nuts and caramel taking over. But just as suddenly as the sweetness hits you, the dry, bitterness comes through in spades. The finish is very long and dry, with the dominant flavour mostly of bitter coffee. Good, but man is this stuff dry. The texture is not particularly creamy, like Guinness is, but a bit thinner, since this bottle doesn't rely on nitro technology (those little widgets in Guinness cans that release the gas).

I did enjoy this stout, but its dryness prevented me from having more than one or two in a session. I really feel like my palate needs a break with something sweeter or crisper after finishing my pint. However, if you like particularly dry stouts, as I do, give this one a go. Definitely a great addition to a Halloween drinking lineup. I mean really, who can resist the temptations of a sexy witch?

Don't lie. You can't either. (Grade: B)

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