Witch hunt

Beer: Hubble, bubble ... to drink it means trouble. Some brews for Halloween

With Halloween approaching, I decided to trace the source of the Witches' Brew. The easiest way to do this is by InterCity to Preston, Lancashire.

After that, one takes a boneshaker, almost a ghost train, high into the Pennines by way of places like Oswaldtwistle and Accrington, to an unmanned station called Rose Grove. The windy platform there has several shrubberies, but the flower of Lancashire is conspicuously absent.

Near Rose Grove, on the edge of Burnley, is a rather curious brewery. Although it was established by William Moorhouse in 1865, and has operated on its present site since 1870, it spent most of its life making sugar-based, hopped brews that were allegedly non-intoxicating. Although these products actually contained a good 3 per cent alcohol, that modest level was thought to qualify them to be served in temperance halls in the robust days when everyday beers were much stronger. There were many such halls in the days when most Pennine mill towns lived under the glare of the chapel.

Moorhouses still makes such hop bitters as an ingredient of proprietary shandies, though there were none in stock when I called. Things have changed considerably since the last Moorhouse sold the brewery in 1978. That was during the first resurgence of "real ale", and the new owner, a local businessman, decided to brew some.

Several owners since, the present incumbent, also a businessman, added the refinement of a "premium brand": Pendle Witches' Brew. The name is owed to the 19 alleged witches tried at Lancaster Castle in 1612, 10 of them sent to the gallows.

Although the ladies were said to have haunted the nearby Pendle Hill on Midsummer's Night, their brew has become more strongly associated with Halloween. During October, its sales triple and it has, year round, something of a cult following.

There is nothing sinister about the brewery. The small, two-storey building shares a terrace, called Moorhouse Street, with three or four houses originally built for its workers. Having myself grown up in a similar Pennine town, I have a soft spot for such small local industries. I am always reminded of Pledge's Pickle Factory, in a television series featuring long-gone Northern comedians Hylda Baker and Jimmy Jewell.

No pickles were made by Moorhouses, but one of its brew kettles originally saw service in a jam factory in the Thirties. It looks like an inverted top hat made of copper. It is not quite a witches' hat, but I have never seen such an odd-looking brew kettle, and it was the high spot of my visit.

This open kettle may contribute to the juicy freshness of Pendle Witches' Brew. The more common closed type can "stew" the barley malt. Moorhouses uses barley malt from Nottinghamshire and East Anglia, hops of the Fuggles variety from Worcestershire, water from the Lake District, and a famously robust yeast from the Thwaites brewery in nearby Blackburn.

The result is a pinkish-amber ale with a slightly oily, smooth texture. It starts with a sweetish, barley-sugar maltiness, develops a strawberryish fruitiness, and finishes with an aniseedy hop dryness. It is perilously drinkable for a beer of more than 5 per cent alcohol. "It creeps up on you," warned brewery manager Bob Lee. I requested another pint, and began to see what he meant.

I think I will give myself a sober moment to deal with trick-or-treaters on 31 October before I risk the Witches' Brew. If you feel tempted, the beer can be found in Northern store chains such as Booth's and Morrison's. Speciality beer stores also offer some scary brews from elsewhere:

l Hexen Brau is the Swiss-German way of saying "Witches' Brew". This is an earthy, nutty, chocolatey dark lager of 4.5 per cent made by the Hurlimann brewery of Zurich. It is brewed only at full moon. The custom arises from beliefs in some Alpine valley that the pull of the full moon favourably affects natural processes - including fermentation.

l Old Nick, with the Devil on its label, is the strongest beer from Young's brewery in London. At 7.2 per cent, it is dubbed barley wine, though at this potency the fermentation naturally creates flavours reminiscent of a banana liqueur.

l Duvel is a corruption of the Flemish word for devil. This world-class beer from Belgium has the innocent colour of the palest golden lager but is actually an ale, made with Scottish yeasts. It is devilishly deceptive drinking, far lighter than its 8.2 per cent. The Belgians serve it lightly chilled, in a Burgundy sampler, as an aperitif. I like it after dinner; its flavour reminds me of the brandies made from Williams pear in Alsace. Duvel has many lesser (but equally strong) Belgian rivals, with names like Satan and Lucifer.

l La Biere du Demon is a similar brew, with a more lager-like palate, at a mighty 12 per cent from the frightening sounding brewery Les Enfants de Gayant, in Douai, northern France. The brewery's name, "Children of the Giant", is a reference to local folklore.

l Pete's Wicked Ale, devised in California and produced in Minnesota, is not as sinful as it sounds, but the nutmeg-spiced Pete's Wicked Winter Brew at about 5 per cent has the right nationality and seasonal allusion for Halloween.

My American favourite for this season is Blackened Voodoo, a treacly dark lager of 4.5 per cent from New Orleans, the American city most given to ghost lore. There was a threat to ban this "blasphemous" beer in neighbouring Texas, much of which is Bible Belt. The state of Louisiana responded by saying that it would outlaw Lone Star, the famous (but anaemic) lager of Texas.

The Lone Star brewery has since gone out of business

The New York chapter of the American Institute of Wine and Food is for the first time to award a scholarship to a brewer of beer. The award will be known as the Michael Jackson Scholarship, after The Independent's writer on the subject.

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment

photography
Arts and Entertainment
Adolf Hitler's 1914 watercolour 'Altes Rathaus' and the original invoice from 1916

art
Arts and Entertainment
Scare tactics: Michael Palin and Jodie Comer in ‘Remember Me’

TVReview: Remember Me, BBC1
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Hope Fletcher
booksFirst video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Arts and Entertainment
Damien Hirst
artCoalition's anti-culture policy and cuts in local authority spending to blame, says academic
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden and Edwina Currie are joining the I'm A Celebrity...Get Me Out Of Here! camp
tvThe two new contestants will join the 'I'm A Celebrity' camp after Gemma Collins' surprise exit
News
The late Jimmy Ruffin, pictured in 1974
people
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
News
Northern Uproar, pictured in 1996
people

Jeff Fletcher found fame in 1990s

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the new Paddington bear review

Review: Paddingtonfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Tony stares at the 'Daddy Big Ears' drawing his abducted son Oliver drew for him in The Missing
tvReview: But we're no closer to the truth in 'The Missing'
Arts and Entertainment
Henry Marsh said he was rather 'pleased' at the nomination
booksHenry Marsh's 'Do No Harm' takes doctors off their pedestal
Arts and Entertainment
All in a day's work: the players in the forthcoming 'Posh People: Inside Tatler'

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne plays Stephen Hawking in new biopic The Imitation Game

'At times I thought he was me'

film
Arts and Entertainment

books
Arts and Entertainment
One Direction go Fourth: The boys pose on the cover of their new album Four

Review: One Direction, Four

music
Arts and Entertainment
'Game of Thrones' writer George RR Martin

Review: The World of Ice and Fire

books
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Bean will play 'extraordinary hero' Inspector John Marlott in The Frankenstein Chronicles
tvHow long before he gets killed off?
Arts and Entertainment
Some like it hot: Blaise Bellville

music
Arts and Entertainment
A costume worn by model Kate Moss for the 2013 photograph

art
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Len Goodman appeared to mutter the F-word after Simon Webbe's Strictly performance

Strictly
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie T makes his long-awaited return to the London stage
musicReview: Alexandra Palace, London
Arts and Entertainment
S Club 7 back in 2001 when they also supported 'Children in Need'
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Bruce Forsyth rejoins Tess Daly to host the Strictly Come Dancing Children in Need special
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Dornan plays Christian Grey getting ready for work

Film More romcom than S&M

Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

Review: The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment
The comedian Daniel O'Reilly appeared contrite on BBC Newsnight last night

comedy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    In a world of Saudi bullying, right-wing Israeli ministers and the twilight of Obama, Iran is looking like a possible policeman of the Gulf

    Iran is shifting from pariah to possible future policeman of the Gulf

    Robert Fisk on our crisis with Iran
    The young are the new poor: A third of young people pushed into poverty

    The young are the new poor

    Sharp increase in the number of under-25s living in poverty
    Greens on the march: ‘We could be on the edge of something very big’

    Greens on the march

    ‘We could be on the edge of something very big’
    Revealed: the case against Bill Cosby - through the stories of his accusers

    Revealed: the case against Bill Cosby

    Through the stories of his accusers
    Why are words like 'mongol' and 'mongoloid' still bandied about as insults?

    The Meaning of Mongol

    Why are the words 'mongol' and 'mongoloid' still bandied about as insults?
    Mau Mau uprising: Kenyans still waiting for justice join class action over Britain's role in the emergency

    Kenyans still waiting for justice over Mau Mau uprising

    Thousands join class action over Britain's role in the emergency
    Isis in Iraq: The trauma of the last six months has overwhelmed the remaining Christians in the country

    The last Christians in Iraq

    After 2,000 years, a community will try anything – including pretending to convert to Islam – to avoid losing everything, says Patrick Cockburn
    Black Friday: Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

    Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

    Britain braced for Black Friday
    Bill Cosby's persona goes from America's dad to date-rape drugs

    From America's dad to date-rape drugs

    Stories of Bill Cosby's alleged sexual assaults may have circulated widely in Hollywood, but they came as a shock to fans, says Rupert Cornwell
    Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

    Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

    As fans flock to see England women's Wembley debut against Germany, the TV presenter on an exciting 'sea change'
    Oh come, all ye multi-faithful: The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?

    Oh come, all ye multi-faithful

    The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
    Dr Charles Heatley: The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

    The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

    Dr Charles Heatley on joining the NHS volunteers' team bound for Sierra Leone
    Flogging vlogging: First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books

    Flogging vlogging

    First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
    Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show: US channels wage comedy star wars

    Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show

    US channels wage comedy star wars
    When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine? When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible

    When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine?

    When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible