Down in the the ancient town of Witney, there lies a wood; a wood ripe with legend where mythical creatures are a reality; a place where hobgoblins roam; a magical place where beer is brewed; Wychwood.
The hobgoblins that exist in the historical town in Oxfordshire aren’t the ones you may hear about in fairy tales. These goblins are a little more alcoholic, a little more ruby in colouring and a damn sight tastier (I’ve never actually eaten a hobgoblin, but I imagine it tastes like a seagull drenched in oil). These hobgoblins are the flagship beer of Wychwood Brewery. As well as the famous Hobgoblin, their arsenal of beers includes Wychcraft, King Goblin, Black Wych and Ginger Beard. Wychwood is steeped in legends but has also become one in its own right, and I was thrilled to be able to talk to their second brewer, Jon Tillson.
When did you start brewing?
I’ve been brewing now for just over 20 years. When I started at Wychwood it was a very small eight barrel Micro. Watching the growth of the brewery and in particular Hobgoblin has been a very rewarding experience.
How did you get into brewing?
I started work at the brewery when I was 15 on a two week work experience program. My dad knew the founder/brewer Chris Moss which is how I got my foot in the door. The work experience lead to washing barrels after school and in school holidays. The rest, as they say, is history.
If you weren’t brewing, what would you be doing?
After finishing a Business Degree, I flirted with accounts for a while. God, I hated it. Apologies accountants out there. Not sure why, but I’ve always fancied stone walling.
What is your favourite beer?
I honestly believe you struggle to beat a perfect pint of Hobgoblin. After spending all these years working with the little fellow, we’ve developed quite a bond!
To you, what makes the perfect beer?
Easy. One that people enjoy. One man’s pleasure and all that. The brewing world is a wonderful place to be at present. There’s lots of styles, innovation and influences from all over the world producing some great beers. We’re never all going to agree on the perfect beer, but it’s a great discussion point down the local.
What is your favourite beer style?
Way too many to choose from, it’s the variety I love. Traditional English Beer, Trappist, Gueuze, IPA, Stout I honestly couldn’t decide. But if you tell me I can only take one beer to a desert island with me, that would have to be Blackwych.
When you’re not brewing, what are you doing?
I love spending time with my two young daughters, but when I get chance, I enjoy getting out the bike and exploring the Cotswolds. I join the local cycling club on an annual trip to watch the Tour de France. We’re staying in Belgium this year, so really looking forward to that. Obviously visiting the pub and undertaking some market research is a regular pastime.
What’s the best thing about brewing beer?
The people. The brewing and pub industry has a wealth of interesting people who share experiences and never fail to amuse. Some may call us a little eccentric. I don’t believe a word of it!