Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Day 111, Beer 111 - Woodforde's "Headcracker"

Today's Beer

Name – Headcracker

Brewer – Woodforde's

Classification – 'Golden barley wine' (Strong ale)

Strength – 7.0% ABV

Verdict - At A Glance

On the eye – I just can't bring myself to talk about it. (Read on...)

On the nose – Fruit punch. And by 'punch' I mean 'left hook to the jaw'.

On the tongue – Intensely fruity and unashamedly 'boozy.' Great stuff, but needlessly flawed... (Read on...)

On the subject – I like Woodforde's. I have done for many years. I'm perfectly serious about that. I hope that's all very clear before you read on...

On the market – 'Somewhat elusive' is how I might describe this bottled beer. I'd say some small but significant changes need to be made before its availability gets any wider. The full review will explain why. Those who doubt what they are about to read can place an order via the brewery's own online store.

On the
whole6.5/10* (*I should be giving it 8/10, but I just can't...)

Full Review

I really don't know how to begin.

My strong affection for this brewery makes me want to start on a positive note, but that same strong affection is also willing me to be brutally frank, in the hope it might make a positive difference in the long run.

So I'll do both.

The positive beginning goes like this...

Headcracker is another great Woodforde's beer. It's a hugely robust fruit-packed explosion of a brew, with a vibrant orange-citrus intensity, some faint darker-fruit twangs, and an enjoyably 'boozy' feel.

Essentially, it's a beer that lives up to it's name. It's a trainload of highly-strung satsumas on PCP who have all just been told they've been fired.

This is citrus on the rampage.

Fruit fury.

And it's all rather wonderful.

Sadly though, this is where the positive beginning slams into a wall.

A big, and distinctly lumpy wall.

Yes, you've guessed it, we've got another 'yeast beast.'

Another poorly bottle-conditioned beer.

Another needlessly compromised fine ale.

And, therefore, we've got another unavoidable rant from yours truly.

But this particular rant carries slightly more weight than most, because we've pretty much been here before with Woodforde's, and when patterns start to develop, it suggests a genuine problem.

The good news is – this problem is 100% solvable. And the reason I know it's solvable is because when this brewery aren't getting it wrong, they are getting it more right than most other breweries in the industry.

This bottle of Admiral's Reserve, for example, they bottle-conditioned with astoundingly successful results. It felt like pub-served beer, which is arguably the principle aim of bottle-conditioning. So there's no question that they can hit the spot in this department.

The problem is clearly just one of consistency, as this other beer from their range demonstrated with unsettling ease.

So, what we have here is a company with all the right ideas, who achieve great results when things go well – but who are not getting those results often enough.

From my reviews alone, it seems the chance of getting unacceptable amounts of 'matter' floating around in a Woodforde's bottled beer stands at exactly 50/50, and from a consumers point of view those odds are just too risky. Bottled craft ale is already too expensive long before your start rolling those kinds of dice.

The truly unpalatable ingredient here is that Woodforde's are brewing exciting beers of very high quality indeed, and these are products which deserve better. One highly preventable little hiccup at the end of an otherwise highly diligent and painstaking production process is spoiling these wonderful creations. In my view, this is tragedy on a Shakespearian scale.

The reality is that I'm in now a position where I can't enthusiastically recommend this beer to people – when it is clearly a very recommendable product. That's enormously frustrating.

And so, to Woodforde's – to my precious Woodforde's – I would say this. Given your considerable size relative to many other craft breweries in the UK, is there any way you could divert a few extra coins in the direction of this pesky issue? I would put money on there being a bunch of people out there who, like me, are currently fearful of buying your bottled ales – and I'd bet even more money that tinkering with this small problem will quickly win these people back.

The issue is simple. I would like the essential yeast to be far less abundant are far more refined.

I'd like to see 'fine dust' rather than 'massive boulders'.

'Delicate additions' rather than 'bloated floaters.'

I believe in your ales. They're special.

I think they deserve better.

In fact, I know they do.

If I didn't feel so passionate about these beers I'd dismiss them with a low score and no explanation.

But I do feel passionate about them, and this review should be regarded as my passionate plea on their behalf.

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