Tag Archives: Extra Strong Beers and Bitters

161. Wychwood Hobgoblin

I’ve been scandalously neglecting the Threehundredbeers project recently, but I’m still here. That this beer was consumed back in March will tell you how far behind we are, and so the time has come to get things back on track.

This particular beer was consumed at the London Palladium, more specifically at one of the finest gigs I’m ever likely to attend. This was the night Glen Hansard nearly took the roof off the place with a three hour set (setlist here) including six encores, a guest appearance from Dublin poet Stephen James Smith, and even some death-defying balcony-dangling from Glen himself.

Glen Hansard poster outside the London Palladium

The choice of beers at the Palladium is, to put it politely, limited. So unless you fancy a Stella Artois (I didn’t) it’s a Hobgoblin for you tonight. Fortunately, that’s one we’ve yet to tick off The List, and doubly fortunately, it’s the stronger, 5.2% bottled version and not the watered-down cask offering.

Wychwood Hobgoblin

Furthermore, the good people at the Palladium are more than happy to let you take it to your seat while Glen makes whiskery love to your earholes with his big ginger acoustic face.

Glen Hansard onstage at the London Palladium

The beer itself is a bit of an English classic. It isn’t as strong as it used to be, even the bottled stuff, but it’s still welcome enough tonight. It’s a beautiful deep ruby colour with a small yet firm tan head, even in an idiotproof plastic pint pot. It still packs a punch at 5.2%, but that strength is well backed up by big, fat fruits and juicy malts. There’s almost a wine-like finish and it all goes down very easily indeed, especially if you’re on some sort of musical cloud nine as I clearly was by this point in proceedings.

I’ll leave you with some shakily-filmed moments from the gig. Here’s Glen taking an old Frames song up a notch. The video doesn’t quite capture the walls of the Palladium visibly shaking in response to Glen’s bassist’s thumping great bass line:

Here’s Her Mercy from the 2015 album Didn’t He Ramble:

This is the sort of thing you don’t want to see when your vertigo is already playing up from being way up in the cheap seats for the last couple of hours:

And finally an unexpected highlight of the night. This is Stephen James Smith performing perhaps his best known poem, Dublin You Are, which had about 2,500 people on the edge of their seats, hanging on his words in quiet awe:

It’s impossible to put into words how good this show was: the cameraderie and warmth and love in the room, the audience participation and the sheer spectacle of the last night of the tour. All in all, a pretty magical evening, and Hobgoblin did a fine job of accompanying it, even if I did later have to run to The Lyric for an emotion-calming pint of Magic Rock Cannonball just in time for last orders.

Facts and Figures

Brewery: Wychwood Brewery, Witney, Oxfordshire, England
Style: Extra Strong Beers and Bitters
Strength: 5.2% ABV
Found at: The London Palladium, Argyll Street, London W1F
Serving: 500ml bottle

134. Arkell’s Kingsdown Ale

It’s time to hit the road again, and you certainly can’t say I don’t treat you, because today we’re off on a day trip to Swindon.

Whilst not always considered to be the most glamorous of English towns, Swindon has been home to Arkell’s since the brewery was founded in 1843. That makes Arkell’s two years older than London’s oldest brewery, the venerable Fuller’s.


We’re on the hunt for Arkell’s Kingsdown Ale, an ESB-style brew, and where better to try it than the Arkell’s brewery tap, the pub after which the beer is named. And so an eye-wateringly cold day sees Threehundredbeers, armed with a rigorously-researched knowledge of Swindon’s bus system and the correct change for a DayRider, make its way to the The Kingsdown.


The Kingsdown is a lovely big old-fashioned pub. It was all but empty on the Saturday lunchtime that I visited, though I imagine it to be busier during the week when the adjacent brewery is at work. Of course, at the brewery tap, Kingsdown Ale—brewed a matter of meters away from the pub—is always available and in excellent condition.


Served in an oh-so-nearly appropriately-branded glass, it’s a handsome beer, dark copper in colour and with a smooth tan head. It’s blooming drinkable stuff too. A little lighter than Fuller’s ESB, it’s still a weighty beer and full of raisin and sultana fruit. There’s that rich caramel sweetness so typical of the style, and big, moreish tangy notes at the end.

There’s an almost wine-like character to the Kingsdown Ale, which reminds me a little of the Fraoch Heather Ale. It all goes down easily enough that a second pint is inevitable. We’ve come all the way to Swindon, we might as well.

Good stuff, and definitely one to try if you happen to find yourself on the outskirts of Swindon, as I’m sure you regularly do. For now though, DayRider at the ready, we’ve another Wiltshire-brewed beer to track down.

Facts and Figures

Brewery: Arkell’s Brewery, Swindon, Wiltshire, England
Style: Extra Strong Beers and Bitters
Strength: 5% ABV
Found at: The Kingsdown, Upper Stratton, Swindon, Wiltshire
Serving: Cask, pint

105. Ridley’s Old Bob

This is another convenience store beer that has sat neglected at the back of the cupboard for too long. Unlike the Ringwood Old Thumper, though, this one does at least have a few months left on the clock.

Ridley's Old Bob

Ridley’s Old Bob is very much in the same category as the Old Thumper, being an ESB-style beer. As such it pours a very appealing reddish chestnut brown colour. There isn’t a great deal of head beyond a small layer of tan froth.

There’s a big old aroma though, full of dates, raisins and all the other dried fruits you can think of, so no deviation from the style there. It’s clearly as fresh as a daisy, despite the extended time on the shelf.

To taste, that fruit is front and centre. It’s a really full flavoured beer, tangy and with a strong, malty caramel sweetness. After a long week at work it’s quite the thirst quencher too, going down very easily indeed despite the big flavours.

A light smattering of peppery English hops prevent the sweetness from becoming overbearing, and leaves a satisfying, lightly bitter finish to round things off nicely.

It’s not entirely clear why I tend to keep overlooking beers of this style, because I always end up enjoying them greatly. Maybe it’s just that they’re so commonplace and easily found that they’re easy to take for granted.

I won’t have that problem with the other Ridley’s beer I need to track down, the Witchfinder Porter. That one went out of production not long after bloody Greene King bought the Ridley family out in 2005. How to resolve that little obstacle I’m not sure. Stay tuned to find out.

Facts and Figures

Brewery: Greene King, Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk, England
Style: Extra Strong Beers and Bitters
Strength: 5.1% ABV
Found at: Londis, Westow Hill, London SE19
Serving: 500ml bottle

91. Ringwood Old Thumper

Whoops. I must have bought this one at my corner shop quite some time ago, because I found it in the kitchen last night, and it’s almost five months out of date.

In a way, that may be no bad thing, because as those with a keen eye will recognise, this is the old Old Thumper, a beer which was last year watered down from 5.6% to 5.1% and rebranded.

This could then be one of the very last bottles of the older, stronger stuff. Whilst it would be unfair to review a beer that had gone off, let’s give this one a chance. It’s long overdue that we should crack it open, pour it into an inappropriately-branded glass, and see if it has survived.

Ringwood Old Thumper

Pouring a rich, burnished bronze colour with a smallish tan head, I’m a tiny bit concerned that this one looks a little cloudier than I remember Old Thumper being. That said, it’s a long old while since I’ve had one, so I could be imagining it.

It smells just fine, with a peppery yet sweet and malty waft that’s highly reminiscent of Fuller’s ESB, perhaps no great surprise as Old Thumper belongs firmly within the same style of beer, and indeed the same chapter of The Book.

I’d better taste it. Well, there’s certainly nothing wrong with this one. It’s a good, strong-tasting beer, again very similar to the ESB. It’s rich and dark and and full of chewy malts and dried fruit.

There are citrus notes too, particularly mandarin, tangerine, that sort of thing. It’s actually a really tasty beer, and I’m wondering how on earth it managed to avoid getting drunk for so long.

I’m even starting to wonder if the extra time in the bottle might even have improved it, as there’s a robustness and a rich caramel sweetness that remind me strongly of another Fuller’s beer, the Vintage Ale. It’s lovely stuff, and I could drink another one, if it were still possible to buy it.

I suppose at some point I should try a bottle of the newer, weaker Old Thumper, but I do worry that it could be quite a disappointment if it turns out they’ve compromised it at all.

Facts and Figures

Brewery: Ringwood Brewery, Ringwood, Hampshire, England
Style: Extra Strong Beers and Bitters
Strength: 5.6% ABV
Found at: Jolly Good News, Rosendale Road, London SE24
Serving: 500ml bottle

83. Pauwel Kwak

Beer number 83 is one of those ones that you really do have to travel to enjoy properly. Pauwel Kwak obviously has to be served with its unique glass and wooden stand, and quite frankly you’d feel a bit daft sitting in a boozer in South London with one of these, even if you could find it.

Fortunately, in Brussels no one bats an eyelid, though I suspect this may be more as a result of the number of tourists who order a Kwak just for the glass, rather than the number of Bruxellois who would regularly drink it.

Pauwel Kwak

I ordered this one at the rather wonderful Poechenellekelder—“the puppet cellar”—in Rue du Chêne, an instant favourite bar lined floor-to-ceiling with masques, marionettes, ventriloquist’s dummies and all sorts of black and white photos and assorted historical memorobilia.

Helpfully for 300 Beers, it also has a truly impressive beer menu running to something like 130 beers, almost all of them Belgian.

Poechenellekelder, Brussels

The legend behind the glass, by the way, is that it was designed in the early 19th century by innkeeper Pauwel Kwak—”Fat Paul” to his mates—to be served to coachmen to slip into their stirrup as they rode away on horseback. That’s plainly nonsense, of course, and the truth seems to be that it was invented in the 1980s as a marketing gimmick.

Which is a bit of a shame really, because the fame of the glass tends to overshadow what is in fact a rather wonderful beer.

Pauwel Kwak is a warm, deep, reddish ambrée colour with a big foam head that froths all over the place when poured, but quickly calms down.

It’s thick, rich and a little sticky, and is quite reminiscent of a Barleywine. It’s low on hop bitterness, but full of treacly malt sweetness and warming alcohols.

Kwak is pleasingly strong at 8.4%, though admittedly that’s only the third strongest of three beers I tried in Poechenellekelder that night, thus making the delicious, restorative black coffee I enjoyed there the following day particularly welcome.

All in all, a lovely beer, and one I look forward to trying again some day, perhaps even as part of a return visit to Poechenellekelder before long.

Facts and Figures

Brewery: Brouwerij Bosteels, Buggenhout, Belgium
Style: Extra Strong Beers and Bitters
Strength: 8.4% ABV
Found at: Poechenellekelder, Rue du Chêne, Brussels, Belgium
Serving: 330ml Bottle

67. Moorhouse’s Pendle Witches Brew

A recent spell out of the office due to a minor injury left me keen to get away from daytime TV and back into the real world. Or at least the pub. Tell you what, shall we go to the pub?

We shall. The Grape & Grain up in Crystal Palace is a great little boozer, and very much one for the real ale purists. I like it. I want to love it, but I don’t yet. With a dozen hand pumps, knowledgeable staff, and discounts for CAMRA members, you know where you stand, and it’s a huge improvement on its previous incarnation.

That isn’t terribly hard, since as a “Jack Beard’s” it was part of a chain of utterly hopeless pubs that were a scourge on the entire South London area.

That’s no longer the case. Excellent management is now in place, the ales are plentiful and in prime condition, and you can even get a salad here if you ask nicely. My only real reservation is that the selection of beers tends to be quite conservative. With that many pumps, a pub can afford to take a few risks and whack on a good craft Black IPA, Barleywine or Imperial Stout, whereas here you’re usually going to be choosing between ten or so inoffensive, sessionable English bitters.

Today at least, one of those bitters was one that we need to cover here on Three Hundred Beers: Pendle Witches Brew.


Pendle Hill is well-known to anyone who, like your author, grew up in Lancashire. It has a long history of association with witchcraft and other supernatural activities, and so it gives its name to this beer.

“Witches” is fruity, vinous, bitter and floral. It’s pleasant enough, but it’s deeply, deeply unexciting. It has won all the CAMRA awards, yet you can drink it without actually noticing it, which, inconveniently enough, leaves you rather short of words if you’re trying to describe it on a blog later.

This is a beer very much from the old guard: safe but boring. It’s beers like this that are the very reason exciting new breweries like The Kernel and Beavertown exist. Breweries that challenge you to think about what you’re drinking.

Facts and Figures

Brewery: Moorhouse’s, Burnley, Lancashire, England
Style: Extra Strong Beers and Bitters
Strength: 5.1% ABV
Found at: The Grape & Grain, Anerley Hill, London SE19
Serving: Cask, pint

37. Fuller’s ESB

There are several Fuller’s beers in The Book, and given their ubiquity here in London, I’m a little surprised it’s taken so long to get around to covering one.

Fuller’s ESB is something of a classic: there aren’t many beers that have inspired and indeed given their name to a entire style of beer, but ESB has.

Fuller's ESB at The Mad Hatter, SE1

ESB is very easy to get hold of in London, especially in bottles, but to be enjoyed at its very best, it really needs to be tracked down on cask, ideally in one of the better Fuller’s pubs, where it should be served to perfection.

This one certainly was, and compared to the bottled stuff, it’s a revelation. There’s a whole new depth to it, with rich treacle toffee notes, bittersweet marmalade fruit and a vinous, lightly bitter finish.

It’s a weighty pint in many ways, but Fuller’s ESB slips down a treat and is incredibly moreish. At 5.5% ABV it isn’t exactly what one would call sessionable, but two or three won’t do too much damage.

Great stuff, and I’ll be back for more.

Facts and Figures

Brewery: Fuller, Smith & Turner, Chiswick Lane South, London W4
Style: Extra Strong Beers and Bitters
Strength: 5.5% ABV
Found at: The Mad Hatter Hotel, Stamford Street, London SE1
Serving: Cask, pint

34. Jennings Sneck Lifter

Amid the vast sea of Belgian beer I’ve been obliged to drink my way through recently, it’s nice to have a change of scenery, and head back to Blighty and to the Lake District for a big old bottle of this famous ESB-style beer.


Jennings Sneck Lifter pours a very deep, dark ruby colour with a smallish tan head. The nose is all christmas cake fruits and toasty malts.

To taste, there’s even more fruit and rich caramel from the black malts, followed by a strong, peppery bitter finish courtesy of the whole flower hops. It’s dark and complex, though perhaps not to the same extent as Theakston’s Old Peculier.

All in all, a good winter beer, best served at toom temperature to let all those flavours emerge. I’d be happy to see this on cask in more pubs, but sadly it doesn’t seem to be widely available down here in London.

Facts and Figures

Brewery: Jennings Brewery, Cockermouth, Cumbria, England
Style: Extra Strong Beers and Bitters
ABV: 5.1%
Found at: Bossman Wines, Lordship Lane, London SE22
Dispense: 500ml Bottle