Halloween is synonymous with disguise. We’ve gone all hyper-materialistic in the good ole’ US and as a result, can pretty much find (or easily make) any costume.
Seriously, anything. Video game characters, 1890s Railroad Tycoons, types of trees, types of lunchmeat, you name it. The scary part is, there is almost always a sexy variant as well (See: Sexy Bacon!).
Why should beer be excluded? Who said that around Halloween, our favorite brews can’t don label-masks and try to fool us into believing they are something else? Why can’t they have some fun and go house-to-house, inebriating people under the pretense of being something strange, exotic, perhaps even scary?
This is what the Caledonian Brewery Company has done; dressed up their flagship brown ale as a wolf-man. He’s out for blood, sporting faux-scratches across the label to maybe scare the drinker into assuming this beer is somehow dangerous.
In fact, I couldn’t really tell with any certainty that this wasn’t just regular Newcastle Brown Ale in a different bottle. It claims to be a “blood red ale” which was more like a “burnt sienna ale” or red food coloring mixed with the natural brown of the malts.
But when the aftertaste settles in, and you start to wonder who is under the mask. This Irish Red homage is .2% ABV lower than the original, has a nice hint of rye and caramel, and it is less sweet than the Scottish brewed Newcy. It has a few nuances that make me feel like there was a lot of attention given to the styling and design of the costume, but I still can’t help but wonder that when the trick-or-treating is over, when the costume comes off, it will be a bright yellow and blue label sorting through his hoard of candy on the living room floor.
And maybe that’s not a bad thing.
Werewolf marks one of a few different attempts for Newcastle to reboot its brand after a few years of declining quality, being called watery and weak in comparison to other major British ales. I will note that I had fallen out of love with the beer after a long-lasting affair in college; probably due to the influx of powerful, hop-heavy beers that I started drinking once I had a steady income.
But from a marketing standpoint, I’m intrigued. All three variations I’ve tried (Founder’s Ale, Summer Ale, and now, Werewolf) have been stylistic variations on the main, no frills taste of the original brown ale, with just enough similarity to keep them consistent to the brand. Most American craft brewing offers completely different styles with completely different flavors (thinks Raison D’etre vs. Shelter Pale) making each beer stand alone, only connected by the name and logo on the bottle.
The amazing part is, they still remain specialized and unique, setting them apart from other brands who have attempted the same thing over the years (Bud Light Lime/Platinum, I’m looking at you) to the point where it actually restores some of my faith in the beer.
Newcastle has proven it isn’t just playing dress up. It’s inventing new identities to try new things. This Halloween, don’t be surprised if you see the classic yellow star dressed up like a vampire. It might be a very clever marketing ploy.
8 out of 10.