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November 22, 2003

Pendle Witches Brew

Beer of the Night

As with the Red MacGregor, the Pendle Witches Brew is something of a historical homage, though to a coven rather than a man.

As with all proper covens, the Pendle witches of Lancashire were thirteen in number. Eleven of them hung, one died in prison, and one got off relatively scott-free, being sentenced only to stand in pillory for four market days before being imprisoned for a year.

The eleven who died were convicted primarily due to the (ostensibly) freely given confessions of four of the main witches; Alizon Device, Elizabeth Southerns, Anne Whittle and James Device.

Their confessor, Thomas Potts, published a book detailing the confessions soon after the trial, The Wonderfull Discouerie of Witches in the Countie of Lancaster, beginning a long and honorable tradition of making money off the dead unfortunates that eventually came to include songs, a play, an opera, and at least two novels, as well as the beer. Technically, Good Omens, the best-selling fantasy novel by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett, belongs to this tradition, as two of the book's main characters, Anathema Device and Agnes Nutter, are not only witches, but witches with the same surnames as two of those executed in 1612.

Neil Gaiman is returning to the time and the theme with 1602; it will be interesting to see if he mines the Pendle story for more details.

What does the above have to do with beer? Not much, though you can be certain all of the Pendle witches drank beer. Beer was far better for you than the water was, back in the 1600s, thanks to the boiling of the wort required to produce it.

And who's ever heard of a witch without a wort?

Moorhouse's Brewery, the producer of the Pendle Witches Brew, wasn't around when the witches themselves were, having been first established in 1865. For most of its history the brewery was devoted to making low alcohol content beers for temperance halls and the Muslim market.

Several owners since, the present incumbent, also a local businessman, added the refinement of a "premium brand": Pendle Witches' Brew. The name is owed to the 19 alleged witches tried at Lancaster Castle in 1612, ten of them sent to the gallows.

Although the ladies were said to have haunted the nearby Pendle Hill on Midsummer's Night, their brew has become more strongly associated with Halloween. During October, its sales triple and it has something of a cult following.

The Witches Brew bills itself as a "a pale brown ale with a malty aftertaste." It's an odd appellation, in that pale ales and brown ales are significantly different beer types. Brown ales are dominated by malt and have a characteristic sweetness. Pale ales are defined by the hop, which gives them a dryer taste and a citrusy bitterness. There are other "pale brown ales" to be found, though since all the others I've seen originate in the U.K., it may be a style peculiar to the British.

The Witches Brew pour puts a small, bright white head atop a red-gold body. The ale is only mildly carbonated, so the initial froth disappears rather quickly. It solves the hoppy/sweet conundrum by having the two flavors appear consequentially rather than in tandem. The initial tastes are sweet, mango and honeydew melon with a touch of brown sugar. It finishes with a muted and fizzy hop note, which I suppose must be the "malty aftertaste" the brew claims, with none of the citrus overtones one would expect in a true pale ale. It's a fairly straightforward, simple beer, with an almost oily mouthfeel, and the switchover from malt to hop, though not as pronounced as the marketing would have one believe, is a pleasant experience nonetheless.

The Pendle Witches brews is imported to the U.S by Legends, Ltd., and at 5.1 abv, should be available in most states. Legends has a distributor list if you need help finding it. Internet buyers will find it at the ever-reliable Liquid Solutions, as well as at the Hive & Vine, Euro-Beer, and the BeerNetwork.

Posted by Bigwig at November 22, 2003 10:10 PM | TrackBack
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