In recent weeks we’ve hit a rough patch here at The Brew Club with a few disappointing ales; so I thought I’d turn to the beer that won the Sainsbury’s Great British Beer Hunt last year.
For lovers of historical dramas King John (the youngest son of Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine) is often cast as the villain, the younger brother of Richard I (the Lionheart) who spent much of his time away fighting crusades and generally being heroic, John was left at home to arrange the funding of the aforementioned crusades, while actually governing the nation. King John fell foul of the Barons who famously in 1215 forced the King to sign ‘Magna Carta’ which remains the closest we Brits have to a written constitution.
King John features heavily in the stories of Robin Hood and, in 1820 Sir Walter Scott wrote a historical novel called ‘Ivanhoe’ which not only features Robin Hood (and indeed is responsible for the popular image of Robin Hood), but includes Prince John as the villain. The story has been filmed many times, and was made into a TV series back in the late 50’s starring Roger Moore as the eponymous Ivanhoe.
The Ridgway Brewery sits alongside what is possibly England’s oldest road – The Ridgway – first laid by druids, and predating relatively modern Roman roads by several thousand years.
The brewery was founded by Peter Scholey, the former brewmaster from Henley’s Brakspear brewery – which itself started brewing in 1779 but was sold off in 2002. Brewing ceased at Henley (the name is now owned by Wychwood) and the premises are now an upmarket hotel complex.
One of Ridgway’s more popular beers is ‘Ivanhoe’ and Peter told me that it sells particularly well in Scandinavia, where (by all accounts) the Ivanhoe TV series is still popular, so when they decided to brew a ‘bad boy’ dark ale, it was to Bad King John they turned.
This brew makes its intentions quite clear on the label, describing itself as a ‘very English black ale’ and stating “Bad King John is Black… Bitter… Intense… like the ruthless man it honours. Do not come here looking for subtlety.” That sounds like fighting talk.
And to be fair, brewed to 6% ABV, bottle conditioned and unpasteurised it makes an interesting proposition.
It pours very dark, with a rich caramel coloured head that leaves a healthy lacing. Holding it up to the halogen it shows a rich garnet colour, but only just.
The nose is burnt toast, with dark chocolate and a hint of espresso coffee.
The flavour follows that nose, distinctly bitter chocolate with the merest hint of coffee and dark fruit. It’s medium to full bodied, and looking at my notes I wrote ‘goes down a storm!’.
I think that probably sums this up, it’s a badass ale that goes down a lot more easily than, at 6%, it should. This could make for a very dangerous drinking session.
I’m going to give this 4 stars, and keep a bottle or two on my shelf for those dark evenings when I need cheering up.
Bob the Brit