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Black Sheep Riggwelter

Riggwelter, next to sister beer, Black Sheep Ale

Riggwelter, next to sister beer, Black Sheep Ale

I have to apologise to you all for today’s post. I was planning on writing about a couple of speciality American brews, but I was heavily distracted on the way back from a trip to Oregon back in July. We were travelling down I-5 and decided to stop for a snack and a coffee at Granzella’s deli, in Williams (California). While we were there we did a little shop for some groceries to take home for a light supper, so we had a look around at their breads, cheeses and so on. It was during my meanderings that I discovered their beer selection (which is quite fine and varied!) and was stopped by one bottle in particular.

Here’s a beer that I’ve loved for years, and I make no apologies about singing its praises. It’s a perfectly delicious brown ale brewed at the Black Sheep Brewery in Yorkshire’s Wensleydale (yes, the place where the other great English cheese comes from).  I’ve visited the brewery (the original Theakston’s brewery) and sampled all their ales, which are very good, but this is so far, their flagship ale for me.

The word Riggwelter itself originates in the Yorkshire Dales, and comes from two Old Norse words: rygg, meaning “back” and velte, basically meaning “overturned” or “tipped over”. A sheep which has fallen over and unable to get up is said to be “rigged” or “riggwelted”. I have seen farmers helping their stricken sheep to their feet following a tumble, and considering the reputation of this beer, it is likely that any farmers imbibing too much of it may on occasion need some help to get up themselves.

The Review.

The appreciation of Riggwelter

The appreciation of Riggwelter

Now, to describe it. Well, it’s brown of course. The brown of dark chestnuts, topped by a dark-cream head. Lift the glass to your nose and get that roasty-toasty nuttiness, a hint of coffee and some brown sugar. There’s little floral about this one, it’s a little more rugged, and that ruggedness continues as you sip your way down. There’s the dark malt, there’s the slightly warm-bread flavour, and at the back of it all is a nicely balanced sweetness, and then the hop. Not to forget the caramel, coffee and (did I dream this?) cinnamon.

The body is smooth and creamy, the slight carbonation makes your cheeks laugh, as my Grandpa would say. In short, it’s a delightful drink, and at 5.7% alcohol, not too strong. The flavour is full enough to satisfy, and yet it’s light enough to enjoy daily, assuming you’re lucky enough to get it. It was enough for me to go back to the Davis Co-op and ask Tom Nolte to get it in on a regular basis, which to his great credit, he did.

Of course, this tasting was from a bottle imported from England, and whilst it’s very good, my best memory is of Riggwelter on draught at the pub. There it’s better yet, smoother and easier to drink. One of these days I’m going to work out (or have someone tell me) why beer on tap is usually so much better than bottled. Presumably, there’s some science involved, possibly a little art and certainly a lot of magic.

Meantime, go out and find this A-rated strong English ale and forget forever about Newcastle Brown. You’ll thank me, I have no doubt.

Parts of this originally published by me at Everything2
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  1. loulou
    31 August, 2009 at 13:44

    Mmmm. Wensleydale cheese….

    In other news; damn, you’re looking good Mr Perch!

  2. 31 August, 2009 at 14:25

    Why, thank you! I’m missing Wensleydale cheese though.

  3. BSI
    10 February, 2010 at 11:19

    A fine review of a fine elixir. I just discovered it myself during a desperate beer run during a nasty blizzard (washington dc, feb2010) and as I tend to gravitate towards any English browns, gambled wisely on this one. And now the snow continues to fall and the dog is snoring at my feet and I’m suddenly very pleased that I’ve got a source for Riggwelter in the neighborhood. Will definitely look for this one served fresh next time I’m on the other side of the big water…

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