The Spirits of Wychwood

_MG_5490.JPG

While beer may not be an indigenously English beverage, the English sure seem to have perfected it. And of all the 1400-something breweries that exist today in the UK, there’s one particular brewery that stands out as the UK’s largest producer of organic ales and the maker of ‘the unofficial beer of Halloween’– Wychwood, Oxfordshire. The name comes from Oxford’s local Wychwood Forest and for those who are wondering what I’m on about, they’re the blokes responsible for the phenomenon that is Hobgoblin – the Legendary Ruby Ale. They weren’t always called Wychwood, though – the site belongs to an ‘Eagle Maltings’ from 1841, and they malted barley for another brewery here back then. In 1990, ‘Eagle’ was renamed to ‘Wychwood’ and the rest, as we know, is history. There’s a story behind the name, ‘Hobgoblin’, too – the beer was being served at a wedding where someone attempted to draw the bride’s face on one of the casks and its highly likely this person had consumed more than they should’ve, because what they’d drawn looked like a Hobgoblin and the name stuck. At least that’s the story we were told by Chris, our brewery tour guide.

_MG_5491.JPG

Speaking of which, this blog is the tale of one such brewery trail that traces the journey of a humble grain to the brilliant beverage it transforms to – The Wychwood Brewery Guided Tour. However, you may sometimes find me reeling off about random nonsensical gibberish, so please excuse my ADD.

_MG_5508.JPG
Left: malt in sacks | Centre: Rolling mill | Background: whirlpool separator | Right: hops in boxes

Let me start with the very basics of brewing – grains are ‘malted’ and ‘mashed’ to release fermentable sugars, which are fermented to produce alcohol (the thing that causes you to uncontrollably reveal your darkest secrets to complete strangers) and carbon dioxide (the bubbly thing that…never mind).

_MG_5494.JPG
Our ‘welcome drinks’ –  cask-poured Brakspear Oxford Gold and a Wychwood Hobgoblin Gold
_MG_5495
Note the huge embarrassment that is the King Star lager. I was reluctantly offered some and it wasn’t nearly as good as their ales. Obviously!

Based on the type/strain of yeast you use, the temperature you brew the beer at, and a few other parameters, you get either an elegant Ale or generic rubbish (lager). I won’t bother explaining lagers (for obvious reasons 😉) because this is a blog about Ales.

tumblr_m9s7mwhske1r97w8wo1_1280PC: Wychwood.co.uk 

Ales can be broken down into Milds, Bitters, Goldens, Pale Ales, Porters & Stouts and what I like to call ‘miscellaneous’, or ‘everything else’.

And now that we’ve established what Wychwood brews, let’s move on to how they do it.

We were shown about four different types of malt that are used as the first ingredient in their brewing process –

_MG_5527.JPG

Pale Malt – produced by roasting the Barley for a lower amount of time in the kiln

Crystal Malt – produced by roasting it a little further; this had little bits of white sugary residue released from the process and so was a little sweeter than the Pale Malt

Chocolate Malt – produced by roasting the barley till it’s a dark brown, causing it to taste like cocoa, and smell like coffee from the time spent in the kiln. Most sugars are burnt away, and using more of this malt therefore produces darker and stronger beverages like porters and stouts

Black Malt – I think you know where this is going, right?

_MG_5519.JPG
Foreground: Whirlpool separator | Background: Mash tun

These malts are milled in this roller mill to break apart the kernel (not Col. Sanders, he’s unbreakable just like his franchise). This makes it easier to extract the sugar during ‘mashing’, which is the next step in the brewing process. This milled grain is mixed with hot water in a large vessel called a mash tun. The plates in the mash tun allow the resulting mixture called ‘wort’, to seep through the vessel’s plates to produce a sugary concoction…which Chris pronounced as ‘wert’, but since he’s the expert, I’m not going to challenge that. Although I would’ve pronounced it like ‘court’.

Fun fact – The Brakspear mash tun filter used to look like this, and is now adorns the brewery’s floor.

_MG_5502.JPG
What used to be the Brakspear Mash Tun floor used to separate the solids from the liquid wort

Anywho, moving on – this ‘wort’ is moved to a copper tank much like this one where its boiled with hops (the second most important ingredient in brewing), of which we were shown two varieties but I’m sure Wychwood use more – English Fuggles (no that’s not the name of the owner’s cat) and English Goldings. Mr. Fuggles was grassy and mild, whereas Ms. Goldings seemed to have a sexy perfume on and smelled like Spring. After all, it was almost April. Both tasted like sh*t, though. Yeah, we ate some. We weren’t supposed to, but I couldn’t help myself. If you’re a blithering idiot like me, you’ll probably not heed Chris’ advice and regret it after approximately 45 seconds of putting it in your mouth.

_MG_5501.JPG
This is what hops look like. Of course, these are past the stage of being useful but they have them there for effect, anyway

Now to accent the hops, brewers add sulphates to the water, in a process called Burtonisation. The name comes from the town of Burton upon Trent – where the local water’s chemical composition had these sulphates naturally occurring in the water, leading to a lot of hoppy local beers and presumably, a lot of happy drunks. Wychwood sources their water from this town to avoid having to add these minerals artificially.

Right – so the resulting mixture is then separated in a whirlpool separator and cooled through a heat exchanger for cooling it to a temperature suitable for fermentation (18 degrees Celsius). Cold water and the warm wort flow through pipes in this heat exchanger in opposite directions exchanging heat, and the resulting hot water is re-used again, thus conserving energy. This wort is then fermented by adding yeast. If the wort is too hot the yeast will die; too cold and the yeast won’t activate. The temperature needs to be just right for controlled fermentation and not too (allowably) warm, or you’ll have yeast growing all over the brewery! Also, there’s different types of yeast for the different ales they brew, and its little differences like these that give each of their ales a distinct character, too. I wonder if that’s where their tagline of ‘Brewers of Character’ comes from.

_MG_5512.JPG
A fermentation vessel

Wychwood use a method called ‘double dropping’, which basically means that the fermentation happens in two stages. In the first stage, the wort is fermented in a vessel and is then, ‘dropped’ to another vessel (typically under the first one). This results in the inactive yeast being left behind in the first vessel, and in the second vessel – activation of yeast from the dripping and splashing about, of the wort. This method is unique to the Marston’s brand of breweries.

_MG_5546
The unique and efficient double-drip filtration system

Anyway, so Wychwood tend to do their brewing in two batches, one at 3 AM and another at 9 AM, for which they store almost 3 tons of malt, the wort and all of these ‘intermediate ingredients’. The resulting beer is bottled off-site whilst been taken away in large trucks labelled ‘Fosters’. Strange. But then again, I’ve seen stranger things.

_MG_5548

The tour ended with us sampling six of their beers in thimble-sized glasses. Not that the size of the glasses mattered, because we were helping ourselves from the bottles anyway!

_MG_5553

All this was after the half pint of Hobgoblin Gold I was welcomed with. Full marks for hospitality! And if this wasn’t enough, we were each presented with a Wychwood-embossed half-pint glass as a keepsake! 😊

_MG_5549

What a way to spend a lovely sunny Saturday! And off we were, back to the Oxford City Centre for a course of world food at Oxford’s street food market.

The brewery is located at –
10-12, Eagle Maltings, Eagle Industrial Estate, The Crofts, Witney OX28 4DP

How to get there – 
By Road – via the A420
By Bus – Stagecoach S1 from Oxford City Centre

More details of the brewery can be found on their website – http://www.wychwood.co.uk/

If you liked this blog, please let me know in the comments! (If you didn’t, please click the small red ‘x’ on the top right corner of this window and pretend the last 15 minutes of your life never happened). Cheers!

_MG_5505
Sorry for the long post – here’s a Hobgoblin shaped bottle opener

A wee slice of Irish awesomeness at the Irish Village, Pune

For a place that welcomes you with a Leprechaun and a menu touting loads of potatoes and a craft-brewed dark ale (among others), the Irish Village is about as much Ireland you’ll get without having to board a flight. Not to mention all the green you see inside and outside; it certainly helps bring out the Irish spirit as well.

leprechaun

Speaking of spirits, that’s basically what this place is famous for and after my experience, I know why, too. Now if you don’t know your beer that’s not a problem here because samplers were invented for a reason. I know my beer all too well but I still asked for a sampler (because that’s how you get an extra 50 ml of beer absolutely free!) and called for a pint of everything anyway. Everything but their Lager.

samplers

To add to the super-chilled vibe this place oozes, there are dozens of speakers spread out across the huge vastness of this property that play great commercial house at just the right volume so you can enjoy your conversations just like you’re enjoying that pint.

And back to pints, we come.

The Wheat O’Mullins is a ‘Hefeweizen’, or wheat beer (obviously)  and is full of those malted wheat flavors you’d expect.  I also found it to be comfortably devoid of the hoppy flavors that I didn’t need in my Weissbier, too. I didn’t watch it pour so it was all lacing by the time the beer reached my table, which wasn’t much for a wheat beer. I’d say it was light-bodied and not heavy on carbonation either. A fairly straightforward thirst-quencher if you ask me.

ambers

Same as the wheat beer, this pint of the Ale O’Connor had also reached me some time after it was poured so the head had dissipated to a thin lacing. The color was a beautiful golden and there wasn’t much in the way of hops on the nose. Carbonation and mouthfeel were light and made for an easy-drinking beer; the amount of alcohol also ‘seemed’ less, so this may even pass as a decent session beer.

_mg_3222

Then came the star of the show – the Irish Stout. A beautiful dark brown ale, this; the Stout O’Sullivan sat in that tall glass with a half inch lacing. Complex on the nose with the roasted malt and coffee notes, the ale tasted of toasted wheat with a coffee-ish aftertaste and had just the right amount of carbonation for that ‘neat’ mouthfeel. Sláinte mhaith!

Disclaimer – but Guinness is Guinness. Amen.

Now I like to feel that I’m not an alcoholic so I tend to order food as well…Sometimes.
Here, I’d called for –

_mg_3221

Garlic Mushrooms – Button mushrooms. Garlic, herbs and butter. Deep fry. Simple. So tasty. Oh, so tasty!

Breadcrumbed chicken.jpg

Chicken Goujons – You can’t go wrong with Dijon mustard and dry herb marination on mini-fillets . You just can’t. And when you crumb-coat and deep-fry those little bite-sized bits you’ve got yourself a winner. God bless the French for this.

_mg_3217

We went a little off-course and called for Peri Peri wings too. Because you know, why not? Succulent meat falling off the bones that had soaked the tangy-spicy marinade so well. ‘Twas one of those times I wished I had a spare stomach.

_mg_3226

And because the evening was supposed to be about Irish specialties, we went ahead and called for the Irish Drunken Potato. Now mushy baked potatoes aren’t for everyone so you’d want to get your expectations right before ordering a portion of an entire potato full of veggies floating in a creamy gravy. I, on the other hand, loved it.

_MG_3235.JPG

Dessert had to be a sticky toffee-based something so we called for the sticky o’brown which was a date cake drizzled with sticky caramel and served with a generous dollop of vanilla ice cream. Such elegance exists in simplicity and this plate was testament to just that.

All in all, you’re guaranteed a whale of a time here if you even remotely enjoy beer, good music and great food so in all honestly there’s hardly any reason why your arse is still so firmly planted in that Goddamn chair and you’re not booking an Uber to Mundhwa or Baner right now. Like, why? And yes, they’ve opened in Baner as well, now. Cheers!

In summary –
Food – 4.5/5
Service – 4.5/5
Ambience – 4.5/5
Value for money – N/A (invited) but it’s still pretty good value for the whole package

The Irish Village Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Healthy Brekkies @ Fahrenheit Custom Pizza

Picture this – it’s 6:30 AM and you’ve been snoozing that damn alarm for the past thirty minutes, the music deviously blending into your dream and your brain refusing to believe that it’s well past time you had woken up. You wake up to the sight of the clock, now showing 7:00 AM, and you suddenly have all the motivation you need to finish most of your morning chores faster than Usain Bolt can do 40 yards. You jump out of your ‘jamas and put the kettle on with the toothbrush in your mouth, already. Twenty minutes pass and you’re done taking a shite and a shower (in that order, hopefully) and you’re halfway into your undies. Within the next ten minutes you’re back at the dining table to pick up the bus pass/car keys which you’d forgotten, but remembered when you got to the main door. You pick up two digestive biscuits and stuff them in your mouth. ‘Breakfast’.
Timecheck – 7:30 AM. Booyah! I’m gonna make it! Awwyiss… you tell yourself, but did you notice that you’ve forgotten to properly break your 8 hour fast just to beat the 8 AM rush….AGAIN?

_MG_3194.JPG

It’s plain sad that we (me inclusive; I try not to be a hypocrite) don’t give the most important meal of the day its due importance. I’ve promised myself that I’ll manage at least one fruit and a huge bowl of wheat flakes with milk, in the least; if I can’t manage anything serious. So far so good.

However, there’s much better options available to Punekars thanks to ‘on-the-way-located’ restos like Fahrenheit. I happened to sample one such breakfast, one fine weekday, and it fit perfectly into my schedule too. Yep, that’s right. They open at 8 AM.

What I had was a breakfast fit for a king, and lasted me till 2 PM solid.

_mg_3180I started with a round of a watermelon based refreshment, designed to counter the effects of the potations you’ve had the night before. It’s a crying shame that they dropped it ‘cos I don’t see it on the menu anymore. Loved how it was all grainy, fresh, just the right amount of sweet and about enough to wash down whatever else was on the table.

_MG_3185_edited.jpg

Then, I moved on to the waffles with maple syrup, apples, bananas, pomegranate and a generous dollop of fresh cream. The waffles were a tad too thick for my liking but I’m sure they can make them to your liking if you just ask nicely. The rest was right on point.

_MG_3189_edited.jpg

Then came the real deal – a fluffy Mexican Omlette replete with veggies (could’ve used some more veggies in the Omlette, though) in a subway-style sandwich bread served with with delicious, crisp potato Rosti, juicy chicken sausages and boiled veggies on the side. There was broccoli, green and yellow zucchini and cherry tomatoes – the good stuff. And just to make sure it’s not too healthy or anything, there was a nice helping of table butter on the side 🙂 Exactly how I like it. I think you can call for margarine as well, but I know I wouldn’t.

_MG_3193_edited.jpg

So there you have it. A sweet breakfast option that isn’t expensive or anything and can kick-start your day the right way, just around the corner (Baner is pretty much on everyone’s route to work).

All in all –
Food – 4/5
Service – 4/5
Ambience – 3.5/5 (hope they’ve solved the housefly issue)
Value for money – N/A (invited; but I’d still rate it at a 4.5/5 had I paid)

If you liked this post (or even if you didn’t), do leave me a comment below…I’d love to know what you think of the most important meal of the day!

Fahrenheit Custom Pizza Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato