Each year, on the last night of October, millions of children all over the world dress up in costume and take to the streets for a spooky dose of trick or treat fun. But how much do we really know about this haunted holiday ?
The word itself, "Halloween," actually has its origins in the Catholic Church. It comes from a contracted corruption of All Hallows Eve. November 1, "All Hollows Day" (or "All Saints Day"), is a Catholic day of observance in honour of saints. But, in the 5th century BC, in Celtic Ireland, summer officially ended on October 31. The holiday was called Samhain (sow-en), the Celtic New year.
One story says that, on that day, the disembodied spirits of all those who had died throughout the preceding year would come back in search of living bodies to possess for the next year. It was believed to be their only hope for the afterlife. The Celts believed all laws of space and time were suspended during this time, allowing the spirit world to intermingle with the living.
Naturally, the still-living did not want to be possessed. So on the night of October 31, villagers would extinguish the fires in their homes, to make them cold and undesirable. They would then dress up in all manner of ghoulish costumes and noisily paraded around the neighbourhood, being as destructive as possible in order to frighten away spirits looking for bodies to possess.
Probably a better explanation of why the Celts extinguished their fires was not to discourage spirit possession, but so that all the Celtic tribes could relight their fires from a common source, the Druidic fire that was kept burning in the Middle of Ireland, at Usinach.
So there you are a bit of a brief outline of the festival of Halloween. But what dose this mean to the average beer drinker ? Its time for the breweries to look to the dark side and all those hauntingly devilish ales come to the fore front and its good bye to the light summer brews and a warm hello to the stout, porters and barley wines. Here are a few for my favourites;
Black Magic Stout: A mere 4.%abv, but with a rich, smooth, smoky dryness. From the Oakhill Brewery, Somerset.
Bloody Hell Fire: A chocolaty strong 6%abv draught. From the Barnfield Brewery, of Slaithwaite, near Huddersfield,
Bodysnatcher: "No more bodies?" asks the text on the pump-clip, in a sideswipe at the cream of Manchester. This is a more flavoursome, malty, ale, quite big-bodied for its 4.4%abv Made specially for Halloween, by the B and T Brewery, of Shefford, Bedfordshire
Gravedigger: A nutty Mild ale, with plenty of body for a mere 3.8%abv. From the Church End Brewery, of Shustoke, Warwickshire.
Hobgoblin: a medium-strong 5%abv ale, with suggestions of brown sugar in its flavours. From the Wychwood Brewery available on draught & in bottle.
Black Witch: "A beguiling dark, soft and seductive brew " Wychwood Black Wych Spellbinding Stout available on draught & in bottle.
Old Devil: a malty but well-balanced brew of 4.7%abv, with a fruity dryess in the finish. Also from Wychwood.
Old Nick: at 7.2, a warming barley wine, with a suggestion of banana liqueur, from Young's, of London.
Pendle Witches' Brew: a modest 5.0%abv, but with an intoxicating character behind its fruity innocence. Named after the witches that allegedly haunted Pendle Hill from Moorhouses available on draught & in bottle.
Black Cat : Dark, refreshing beer with a distinct chocolate malt flavour and a smooth hoppy finish. Also from Moorhouses available on draught & in bottle
Wizard's Wonder: a darkish, dry, fruity, Bitter made for Halloween. From the Coach House Brewery, of Warrington, Cheshire
Dead Guy Ale: Gratefully dedicated to the Rogue in each of us. Created to celebrate the Mayan Day of the Dead (November 1st, All Souls Day) for Casa U Betcha in Portland,
Quintine Amber: The Ellezelloise produces five regular beers, a blond and an amber ale, and a hardy Belgian stout. All of them are made in small batches and are lagered for ten days in German oak casks. They are strong, full-bodied, and very satisfying. The Quintine Amber and Blond are named for a witch of local legend.
Belzebuth : First brewed 1997. Served in a 10cl flute which encourages sipping. Probably the best approach. Not surprisingly for a 15% beer it is dominated by the alcohol. Behind this is a strong Barely Wine character and a full, very tangy, moderately fruity, amber malt. Drinking it is quite fun to start with but becomes hard. Brasserie Grain d'Orge
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