Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Day 72, Beer 72 - Woodforde's "Wherry"

Today's Beer

Name - Wherry

Brewer – Woodforde's

Classification – Session Bitter

Strength – 3.8% ABV

Verdict - At A Glance

On the eye - Golden, early summer promise.

On the nose - Fulsome, syrupy cereals.

On the tongue - A sharper, punchier version of their wonderful cask version.

On the subject - Norfolk based Woodforde's are spreading their message with increasing rapidity, and in terms of winning hearts and minds - none of their titles are having greater success than this particular ale.

On the market - Still frustratingly elusive in bottled form in spite of a greater general awareness. Try the brewery's online shop.

On the whole - 8.5/10

Full Review

This is a tricky one.

To begin with, I might as well confess that the cask version of Woodforde's Wherry is among my most fondly regarded beers in the world.

In a sense, I discovered the cask version at home. It's home.

To be precise, my first experience of Wherry was at the ludicrously lovely Hunny Bell pub in the small North Norfolk village of Hunworth. I'd been on a different beer for a couple of previous nights (I was in the area on an extended stay) until a knowledgable local discretely ushered me in the direction of a neighbouring hand-pump, and a love affair began a few sips hence.

What we have here though, is Woodforde's bottled version of this cherished favourite, and I don't mind admitting to being a little bit anxious about how this transition was going to effect this delicate and unassuming delight.

Well, before I go any further, let me make one thing clear. Be under no illusion - the transition absolutely does effect things.

Many in the beer loving community argue that ales below a certain alcoholic strength simply cannot cope with the perilous metamorphosis into bottled form without the aid of extra, character altering amendments (usually involving greater use of either hops, booze or both).

To a large degree, this widely held view is essentially correct. It really has to be correct based on the number of times these tweaks of recipe are found to have occurred, which strongly implies that the breweries have discovered and acknowledged certain transfer problems, and established various methods of countering them.

But does that necessarily mean these beers always suffer from such tweaking, either in terms of a drop in overall appeal or via a loss of 'personality'?

Well, ask me and I'll tell you without hesitation that some beers actually taste better in bottled form (perhaps having directly benefitted from these very same compensatory techniques) and in these cases, frankly, to Hell with any gripes about shifts in character. Better beer is better beer, however and it came to be so.

But Wherry, it seems, is in something of a brand new category when it comes to the success or failure of a shift from cask to bottle.

Basically, it fails - and it succeeds. Entirely simultaneously.

Where it fails (and I doubt that 'fail' is even the right word) is in the preservation of identity. There's little point in denying that the character of the bottled Wherry is noticeably altered. It's a lot busier, with the top-end flavours reaching higher than they ever felt the need to back in the Hunny Bell. And without doubt, the body of the drink is of a lighter, less substantial consistency - probably due to the higher, more overtly 'gassy' oxygenation.

But enough of any spurious talk of failure. The most significant aspect of this bottle transfer is in the various ways that it has been successful.

In fact, this taste-test has reinforced my belief that 'different' - even in the case of a favourite - needn't necessarily mean 'disappointing'.

Quite the contrary, in fact.

The real revelation at play here is that bottled Wherry, very much in it's own way, is quite inescapably delicious. It's every bit as drinkable, enjoyable and memorable as it's cask cousin.

Yes, the hops are slightly up, but in the most hypnotic and rewarding way. It makes for a more 'summertime' experience than the more obviously 'year round' cask version, but how could that be deemed a negative factor, especially when it works so wonderfully well?

It's a sharper, crisper experience, it's somehow more alert in the glass, but these are small degrees of difference and they lead the drink experience in a deliciously new direction - one that I wanted to continue travelling along far beyond the single bottle I had with me.

It's just not going to be possible to turn even the stubbornest of noses up at this highly appealing session ale.

For the cask Wherry purists out there - be warned - even though you might want to rename this drink, you must prepare yourselves for the inevitable. Sooner or later, you will set aside all trivial matters such as 'appropriate branding' and admit that - whatever it's name is - you've gone and fallen in love with this beer.

I was a cask Wherry purist - and that's exactly what happened to me.

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