You can’t go wrong with a beer from the Celt Experience’s core range, always solid and dependable, and one or more of their beers should sit in your cupboard waiting for any number of occasions. Dependable isn’t always exciting of course, and so the Celt brewery of Caerphilly have launched the Ogham series of beers, representing their push into ‘craft’ beer territory.
Ogham refers to an ancient script, of old runes scribed onto rock by Celtic druids in times of yore. The bottle label is minimalist and simple, allowing the Ogham rune to take centre-stage; meanwhile, beneath it, Celt Brewery list some of the ingredients used and even the IBU of each beer. Definitely craft beer territory now, as who but a beer geek would care about the type of yeast used and the bitterness measurement?
There are three expressions Willow, Ash, and Oak, each of them exaggerated expressions of their own style.
Willow: “Majectic IPA – American yeast, big world hops and Euro malt, 95 IBUs, 8.8% ABV”
It pours a beautiful, reddish-brown colour topped with a generous white head. In spite of the ‘big world hops’ there’s only a gentle tropical aroma, with caramalt, toffee and thick, syrupy, caramalized brown sugar capturing the flag.
It’s not the taste but the body that first makes an impression as part-way through the first mouthful you’re very aware of how big bodied Willow is – it’s like trying to fit the entire door of a bank vault in your mouth.
Brown sugar sweetness rolls over the tongue before it is battered away by a metric ton of bitterness. Surprisingly for the style and ingredients, Willow doesn’t overdo the hop aroma or taste, this is not another tedious fruit bowl description of lychees and papaya; rather, it’s a stripped back IPA, focussing on a big malt profile and sheer hop bitterness.
The emphasis on bitterness makes Willows a curiously sado-masochistic brew: the crisp, more-ish IPA style of the beer seduces you and insists you take another mouthful, but then the bitterness punishes you fiercely, cramming hops into all manner of unspeakable places. Then, as you wonder why you’re doing this to yourself, the bottle is finished and you pine for another beating.
It’s not bottle conditioned. An IPA of this nature wouldn’t age well, so it’s nice to enjoy every last drop out of the 330ml bottle rather than sacrificing the last mouthful to avoid the yeasty dregs.
Ash: “Imperial Russian Porter, ale yeast, herb + spice hops and 7 inspiring malts, 55 IBUs, 10.5% ABV”
Ash is black with a clear, ruby red glow around the edges when held to the light and a thick, tan head. There are warm, toasted malt aromas with umami and soy-sauce qualities.
This is a beer that makes itself comfortable in your mouth, immediately lying down across your tongue and redecorating your lips and gums with its hints of spice, whispers of clove, cinnamon and liquorice, suggesting it ought to be savoured in a big armchair with a big book in a warm room on a cold day.
The roast malt finish isn’t overpowering and acrid in the way these big, beasty dark beers can occasionally be. In fact, Ash practically tickles all the major taste senses in equal amounts, leading to a beer that is slightly sweet, slightly spicy, slightly umami and slightly bitter. It’s more like a sensation-beer than a flavour-beer.
It’s lovely, but it didn’t quite knock me over in the same way that Willow did. It’s all a bit too slight with everything muddling together into a generic, boozy mass before the drink is done. Whilst I appreciated Willow for being filtered, I couldn’t help but wonder what Ash might have tasted like if left at the back of a cupboard with time and yeast for company.
I bought Oak but never tried it. At the end of Great Welsh Beer Festival, before Chris Hall took his train back to the Big Smoke, I put the bottle into his left pocket for later, and a bottle of Bristol Beer Factory Milk Stout into his right pocket for the train journey. With the Ogham series scoring one-nil out of the two I’ve tried so far, the Oak will be the decider. Stay tuned while I find another bottle.
(On a final note, every other beer I drank after trying the Ogham series seemed pathetically thin and weedy by comparison. By God, they have some muscle on them!)