Willy Nilly, the Great British Beer Hunt entry from Brains Brewery, is reviewed by Craig Heap.
“If you hold up the glass to the light you’ll realise why they call it ‘ruby ale’: the colour is so bright and clear you could be forgiven for examining it with a jeweller’s loupe.”
Willy Nilly was delivered to Sainsbury’s stores on Wednesday 12 September. The postman did make an early drop-off here in Cardiff ahead of the release, with brewer SA Brains putting it on cask at selected pubs. However, I failed to answer the door and had to go the depot to collect it.
Willy Nilly is Brains’ entry to the Great British Beer Hunt. This is Sainsbury’s competition to find the greatest British beer, which will be stocked in every Sainsbury’s store up and down the land for at least six months from November. The value here is the priceless potential for a regional brewer to be stocked nationwide.
The name is in reference to the postman from Dylan Thomas’ Under Milk Wood, and as well as demonstrating regional culture, it is perhaps a link to it being a ruby ale (rubies are red, like post boxes, stamps and Royal Mail. Get it? No? I’m probably reading too much into it…)
From the bottle neck, Willy Nilly gives out an aroma of rich, red berries, summer pudding, and hints of shortcake and treacle. In the glass, the aroma opens up, with the hop profile taking centre stage. It’s also supported by a spicy, boozy warmth – not unlike the smell of piping hot coffee flavoured with cinnamon and whisky.
When poured it presents a foaming, cappuccino-coloured head, with steady carbonation from start to finish and some lacing on the glass. If you hold up the glass to the light you’ll realise why they call it ‘ruby ale’: the colour is so bright and clear you could be forgiven for examining it with a jeweller’s loupe.
From the first mouthful it is immediately full-bodied and spicy, followed by rich, dense flavours of currants and raisins which carry on through to the finish. The end is rounded off by dry, shortcake notes, toffee and a hoppy, tingling bitterness that catches on the tip of the tongue.
Willy Nilly has an autumnal feel: dense and warming in anticipation of the longer nights and cooler days, but with a refreshing edge in memory of summer’s glory days. Brains have played it clever here: the style is ideal for this time of year, when it will be judged, and if successful in winning the overall competition it will carry well through autumn, winter and early spring.
The label offers food pairing suggestions – unsurprising, given the host of the competition, and also describes itself as ‘more-ish’. In today’s age of Drinking Responsibly, words like ‘more-ish’ and ‘sessionable’ are PR-speak for ‘you’ll neck this down before you know it, sunshine’. And with Willy Nilly, you just might. I happily downed two bottles before realising it.
Willy Nilly is presently available in the following Sainsbury’s stores from Wednesday 12 September to Wednesday 3 October.