I recently had the good luck to try some Newcastle Werewolf. I was sent a few bottles for which I'm very appreciative.
Newcastle is an interesting brand. They're owned by Heineken, and for better or worse, "brown ale" is synonmous with the name. I don't mind at all - brown ales have always been one of my favorite beer styles and Newcastle Brown was one of those gateway beers that led me down the path to beer that doesn't taste like PBR (I thank them for that), but I suspect in the changing world of beer, it may seem like a liability. It's usually interesting, if nothing else, when a brand that's defined itself with one beer or one beer style decide to branch out and try something new. Will it be Bud Light, or New Coke?
Enter Newcastle's new line of beers. Werewolf is the second (after their Summer Ale, which I've missed but apparently has been around for a little while). Following along will be a confusing sounding Founder's Ale, and a Winter IPA which sounds like a grand idea. Being right after the hop harvest, winter has always seemed like a better season for IPA than summer when they seem more prevalent.
I think Newcastle have been very smart about several things. First, they aren't pretending so be something they're not; faux-craft seems to be the lamest way big brands have approached the changing market and it almost always falls flat. Second, they haven't stepped so far outside their own history as to seem absurd (a la Guinness lager or Stella Black). Third, the new beers are in brown bottles. I can not emphasize enough what a simple and really good idea this is.
The beer itself does pour a dark ruby red color. The nose is surprisingly biscuity-malty and the cherries-and-fruits aroma that the label promises is right there are well. The body is very light making it easy to drink and there does seem to be a touch of that bready rye flavor, but the aroma and color imply a much deeper flavor than is there. Each sip seems to sort of fade out. This is not a bad thing necessarily, but there could be more going on.
All in all not a bad beer at all and very much what I would have expected if someone told me "red ale. brewed by Newcastle*". The color and use of rye in a potentially big commercial beer like this is potentially interesting, though, as it does seem like they might actually be paying attention to craft beer. I suspect this will make a nice gateway beer for less adventurous yet curious drinkers.
*Note: Newcastle Werewolf is actually brewed by the Heineken owned Caledonian Brewery in Scotland. The flavor profile is remarkably similar to Newcastle Brown Ale, though.