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Hobgoblin Runs Riot

Added: Thursday, December 1st 2011

Wychwood Brewery in Witney, Oxfordshire, has reported a steep rise in sale for its flagship beer, Hobgoblin. Total sales of draught and packaged versions are up by 22% while the cask-conditioned version has recorded a year-on-year increase of 24%.

It's a yet further example of the revival of the craft beer sector at a time when overall beer sales are in decline. InBev, the world's biggest brewer and producer of Stella Artois, has reported a 10.3% fall in its sales in Britain.

The success of Hobgoblin is all the more remarkable as it's a dark beer. The wisdom of marketing experts is that consumers only want to drink pale lagers or golden ales. Wychwood prefers to call Hobgoblin a ruby beer rather than a dark one but as head brewer Jeremy Moss says, If I put much more dark malt in the beer it would look like Guinness.

Hobgoblin is the fifth biggest ale brand in supermarkets and managing director Rupert Thompson's aim is to make it, in draught and packaged forms, one of the top 10 ale brands by 2010. The beer is brewed with a substantial amount of chocolate malt alongside pale. Crystal malt is also used to give a nutty character. The hops are English Fuggles and Styrian Goldings: Fuggles are used early in the copper boil, with a late addition of Styrians. Three new hops have been added in small amounts and they include American Cascade, which give a lemon and lime note.

The cask-conditioned version (4.5%) has a chocolate, smoky and spicy hop aroma, with roasted grain, chocolate and spicy hops in the mouth. The finish is roasty, hoppy, and fruity with continuing chocolate notes.

The bottled version (5.2%) has a pronounced pear drop fruit aroma with smoky malt and spicy hops on the nose, juicy malt, and tangy fruit with an intensely bitter hop finish balanced by smoky malt and fruit.

Wychwood also produces a 4.5% keg draught version for the North American market and a 3.5% bottled version for Scandinavian beer shops that are not allowed to sell strong beers.

For the British market, the draught and bottled versions are promoted with the powerful image of a hobgoblin and the slogan, "What's the matter, lager boy - afraid you might taste something?" Rupert Thompson says the slogan has been immensely successful and chimes with the times, with more and more beer drinkers looking for characterful brands rather than bland global ones. Sales of the beer go through the roof at Halloween. In medieval times the dense forest that surrounded Witney was believed to be the home of many hobgoblins.

The cask version of the beer has been scaled down from 5% to 4.5% as a result of genuine consumer demand. Many publicans told the brewery that drinkers felt it was too strong and they couldn't drink more than one or two pints.

Since filing this piece at the end of March 2008, it was announced that brewing giant Marston's has bought Refresh UK, owners of both the Brakspear and Wychwood breweries. This was covered extensively in my blog entry for April 3rd 2008.