Sunday 15 December 2013

It's Christmas! A Selection Of Christmas Beer For The Festive Season ...

It's Christmas!
A Selection Of Christmas Beer For The Festive Season ...

Christmas time is here again!
I love Christmas, but sometimes it throws you a festive curve ball that you have to deal with.
I've had a few this past week, culminating with the complete loss of notes on 15 festive beers. Oh well, time to crack on.
Christmas is a season that certainly divides people. There are those that plan  their seasonal activities well in advance with a military precision that enables them to tell you that they've finished all their Christmas shopping, and that it's all wrapped, at the beginning on November.
Then there are the rest of us.
It's a medically proven fact (probably) that one or two beers enhances your mental creativity, enabling you to tune in to your Yuletide psyche and get into the Christmas groove, coming up with superb and imaginative presents and ideas that will impress your family and friends.
That's the theory anyway.
To enable you to achieve this, both myself and Matt Curtis have come up with a few suggestions to help you plan your drinking. Incidentally Matt's post is his 100th (congratulations Matt) and his I Don't Like Christmas Beer should help you do just that. Probably.
So, without further ado here are my selections but with notes drawn from memory this time (them's the breaks) but I hope to give you an idea of their flavour, with my thoughts on food pairing and some general musings as well.

First up is BrewDog - Santa Paws 4.5% not to be confused with the Wolf Brewery beer of the same name. This festive Porter pours a deep rich brown with a ruby red edge and a thin beige head. The aroma is big with milk chocolate and coconut, coffee and burnt toast. Tickling the tip of the tongue it unleashes a wave of roasty toasty flavours that I would expect from a Porter but it has more carbonation and is thinner than I would typically expect from that style. It's very full-flavoured, there's even a hint of rum-soaked raisin in there too, with some burnt toast and bourbon biscuit flavours lasting long into the finish. It's very good indeed. Pair this with a good quality mince pie or a good slice of chocolate Yule log. It works extremely well with both.

Wentworth Brewery - Snowman's Revenge 4.1% is one that I picked up on my travels recently. An independent brewery based in Rotherham, they have quite a portfolio of beers of which I'm sure many are very good, it's just that I found this to be a very standard beer sporting a Christmas label. It pours a chestnut brown with some ruby edging and a thin beige head. The aroma has snatches of chocolate and a light fruitiness with some burnt sugar. Disappointingly that's almost all there is to it with the flavours mirroring the aroma without much elaboration. The finish is weak as well, but having written all that it's not a terrible beer, just that it doesn't really have anything remotely Christmassy about it. This needs some stronger flavours to compliment it, with Christmas pudding or Christmas cake being obvious contenders, you might want to opt for cheese straws and candied nuts as an option too.

Shepherd Neame - Christmas Ale 7.0% is a beer that I was fortunate enough to be sent directly, and it's a beer that I particularly enjoyed. Pouring a deep rich amber and a fluffy pillow of an off-white head it has a sweet aroma filled with boozy raisin and Demerara sugar. Smooth over the tongue like a fine Amontillado, there are some sherry notes in the flavour that merge and combine with date and raisin and a brown sugar caramel sweetness that lasts long into the finish. Another beer to combine with Christmas cake, particularly if it has that crunchy icing and marzipan with it. I know that I was sent this beer but it's one that I would happily drink again and again during the Christmas period. If you don't want to take my word for it then you can read the views of Three Wise (?) Men here.

The second BrewDog beer of this review is a reprise of last years Christmas IPA Hoppy Christmas 7.2% and it's a very fine beer indeed, currently my favourite beer of that style at the moment which was a very pleasant surprise to me. Pouring a pale amber with an orange inner fire and a head as pure and white as the driven snow, the aroma buzzes with tropical fruits and a pine background that gets the taste buds tingling. Prickling the tongue with a good carbonation it explodes with passion fruit and papaya with some good bitterness. There's some pine here too, but it's not overpowering and I got a lovely burst of tangerine juiciness that was very welcome. The finish is lasting and a little oily with lots more of that tangerine flavour drying nicely at the end. It's simply a wonderful beer, and one I anticipate I'll be drinking a lot more of this Christmastime, and indeed I've already had another bottle and drunk it on keg at BrewDog in Camden since I wrote my initial review. Pair with oily fish or strong cheese for a real festive treat.

Weird Beard - Hit The Fairy Lights 4.6% describes itself as a Festive Pale Ale using fresh orange juice and a twist of spice to bring out some seasonal charm. I'm a big fan of Weird Beard beers as you'll have gathered if you're a regular reader of my blog, and one I could have easily used for my Beers Of London Series but it sits rather well here. It pours a cloudy orange/yellow with little clumps of yeast held perfectly in suspension, it's head is a bright glowing white making it a very inviting beer indeed. The aroma has some nice fruity flavours with peach and orange being the most easily recognisable but there's an undercurrent of stale fruit peelings at the back which is actually not that unappealing, if you'll excuse the pun. It's quite sharp over the tongue, but fills the mouth with more of those lovely orange and peach flavours that I picked out in the aroma with the merest hint of spiciness that is more akin to some crushed coriander seed than the star anise it is said to contain. The finish is dry and a little powdery with the orange lingering a while and as bottle says it is best enjoyed with roast turkey and all the trimmings, and it will certainly be accompanying my Christmas dinner.coming

All of Stroud Brewery's bottled beers are certified organic and vegan friendly too, with Ding Dong 4.5% being their bottle-conditioned festive Porter. It helpfully has the 'Cyclops' system of See, Smell, Taste, Bitter and Sweet on the side of it's label which has nudged my memory and taste buds enough to recall this beer almost perfectly. Pouring a dark brown with some ruby red highlights a thin beige head it has the unmistakable aroma of flat coca cola. It's one that I remember well from visiting my grandparents at this time of year, when a screw-top bottle of coke would be produced from the cupboard and poured into some exquisite diamond cut lead crystal tumblers only it was from the same bottle that had come out our last visit some two weeks before and probably two weeks before that as well. It's surprisingly rough over the tongue but when the kola nut flavour kicks in it has all become a little thin with some cinnamon and nutmeg coming through with a little white pepper. The finish disappears with the ghost of those flavours hanging around and it's a beer that I'd happily pair with any of those rich chocolatey delights that happen to find their way into the house at this time of year.

The first of my Belgian beers is Brasserie du Bocq - Gauloise Christmas 8.1% Gauloise, of which this is the 'winter version' was the first beer brewed at the brewery back in 1858, with its name being inspired by the many Gallo-Roman sites in the Ardennes region of Belgium, which is where it is situated. It pours a wonderful ruby red colour with its billowing beige head filling the glass and requiring further pourings. The aroma is a nice combination of toffee apple, maple syrup and figs and it positively sings as you drink it, maybe being a little sweet. There's a little creaminess here and then the fruits, plums, dates, raisins and figs all kick in and combine with a burnt sugar caramel. The finish is full of these flavours too which fade rather nicely making this a very pleasing beer at this time of year and certainly one you'd want to be drinking in front of the fire after a trek through the snow.

Wold Top - Shepherd's Watch 6.0% is a beer that I can cheat a bit as with as it was actually the Beer Bods beer of the evening for 12/12/2013 and I've been able to draw on my online tasting notes to help me along. It pours the colour of a ruby red port with a gentle off-white head and a dominant espresso aroma but there's hints of dark chocolate and Christmas spice lurking behind. It has a deliciously full mouthfeel with flavours of coffee, milk chocolate, raisin coupled with some faint nutmeg and cinnamon spiciness coming through nicely. The finish falls away a little too quickly for my liking with kola nut and Kahlua floater coffee hanging around before dissipating into the ether like the Ghost Of Christmas Past. Perfectly paired with a warm mince pie as long as you add a big dollop of double cream on top.

Christmas beers are often notoriously boozy and Ridgeway Brewing - Insanely Bad Elf 11.2% is a big bad barley wine which is not trying to be subtle in any way shape or form, just look at the label. Ridgeway have a whole series of 'Elf' beers that they release each Christmas and this 2013 version is the biggest alcohol-wise. Ideally I'd age a bottle like this to round off the sharp edges which are evident in the drinking but for the purposes of this blog I'll forego that luxury, and save myself a space for something else in my beer cellar. It pours a bright shiny liquid gold with quite a large and amazingly sustained snow white head for such a big abv beer. The dominant aroma is grassy and is akin to that which you get from biting into a fresh green apple, with a little honey sweetness and a light sherry note in the background. Smooth and oily with the faintest caress of carbonation as it passes over the tongue before some boozy apple strudel, pastry and all kicks in. There's honey and raisin in there too and it's all steeped in a little far too much sherry with a lots of sweetness. I've got quite a sweet tooth and I would be enjoying this more if were all a bit more but it's rather in-your-face and is a beer that pulls no punches. The finish is where the booziness really takes hold with perhaps a slight whisky peatiness but that apple flavour still lingers. This is great on it's own and makes a superb night-cap of a beer, that's what I used it for after a long day but if you really wanted to indulge yourself than a single square of the darkest bitterest chocolate you have is sublime with it.

The Orkney Brewery - Clootie Dumpling 4.3% is a beer based, I'm assuming, on the traditional Scottish pudding of the same name, made with flour, breadcrumbs, dried fruit, suet, sugar and spice, with the 'clootie' being the strip of cloth used to bind the mixture while it's simmering. Orkney Brewery is based in a former school house in the wonderfully named Quoyloo, where the owners father actually went to school. It is owned by Sinclair Breweries Limited who also own Atlas Brewery in Kinlochleven. I've never had a clootie dumpling as far as I'm aware but from the description I'm expecting something that's a cross between a Christmas and bread pudding, but the only way to find out is to open the bottle. It pours a tawny colour with a thick beige head and the aroma of burnt sugar, raisin and a little freshly baked brown bread. Rougher over the tongue than I was expecting and drier too, there is more of the that raisin, caramel and bread in the taste with a touch of nutmeg grated over it and a subtle clove note, but it's all a bit thin and wishy-washy when really I was hoping something a bit more definite. The finish is thin as well but this is where it is at its most 'cakey' and I'm sure with a good helping of Christmas pudding this would fit the bill nicely.

Christmas puns abound in the names of Christmas beers and Bristletoe 5.5% by Bristol Beer Factory combines the way that the locals pronounce the name of their home town with the traditional decorative plant commonly used as a decoration this time of year. It pours a beautiful hazelnut brown with some ruby red highlights and big beige head, and hardly any aroma to speak of, perhaps some raisin and cherry but it's quite faint. Some nice carbonation over the tongue gives way to more cherry and raisin, far more pronounced this time and with plum and blackcurrant for good measure too a background spiciness of white pepper and cinnamon dances just out of my reach but it's presence (or should that be presents) is felt nonetheless. The finish is a bit of a disappointment after the tasty playful flavours felt when drinking with only the ghost of a sticky cherry cough sweet hanging around for a while. Due to the sweet flavours this beer would work rather well alongside your festive cheeseboard. Best drink a few bottles to get the cumulative effect.

Time for a beer from my home county of Essex and Maldon Brewery Company (Farmer's Ales) - Wassale 3.9% brewed just behind the Blue Boar Hotel in Maldon, fits the bill nicely. Wassail, or 'Waes Haele' meaning 'be you healthy' was traditionally a drink made with mulled cider drunk, supposedly, to encourage the apple trees to wake up in winter and drive out evil spirits, thus promoting a favourable harvest in the coming year. There is a variety called Lambs Wool made with beer and containing baked apple, sugar and spices and it will be interesting to see if this beer is anything like that. Pouring a deep ruby red with a deliciously creamy looking beige head the aroma has some musty beady yeastiness and a little milk chocolate and nutmeg. A smooth and gentle carbonation tickles the tongue leading to some coffee and chocolate notes wrapped up in a little fruity caramel with dates and figs rolling around the mouth too. It's all a bit thin but not unpleasant with the finish dry and drawn out with the fruitiness and chocolate lingering faintly. You could drink this with a little chocolate if you were feeling safe but I plumped for twiglets and matchmakers and it went very well indeed with both.

Compass Brewery - Tannenbaum 6.0% is a Christmas beer that excites me just by looking at the bottle. Brewed with sour malt from Germany and flavoured with spruce needles from Christmas Common (an inspired choice) in Oxfordshire, this beer pours a rich chestnut brown with some deep red highlights and big voluminous head that requires a slow pour to fill the glass. I can't say that I've had spruce in a beer before, but I do know that you can make a beer with it and it is most definitely not the same as pine. It has the most wonderful aroma of carnation milk and vanilla custard that is simply divine and I can't wait to taste it. Gently and deliciously creamy over the tongue this has the most wonderful flavour that of a slightly lactose vanilla custard swirled with a little chocolate pudding and lightly spiced with a faint dusting of nutmeg, it's simply stunning and unlike any beer I've had before. the finish is creamy with a sweetness like good white chocolate, though not the overly sweet kind and I couldn't resist plucking a few milk chocolate ornaments from the tree in the hall to eat alongside, which I have to say were an absolute treat. A properly good winter/Christmas beer and one to most definitely look out for.

My second beer by Ridgeway Brewing is Lump Of Coal 8.0% which is primarily brewed for export, mainly to the USA, but available in sufficient quantities in this country to be able to find some this time of year. I rather like how it's described on the label: 'Dark Holiday Stout', 'Much More Than You Deserve For Xmas This Year ...' and 'liquid consolation' and certainly ticks all the boxes in that area but as with any beer it has to be opened before it reveals its true worth. It pours a dark dark brown, very much the colour of the lump of coal it is named after, with the thinnest of off-white bubbles adorning its rim. The aroma has plenty of milk chocolate, though not the high quality variety, as well as some espresso coffee, a hit of liquorice and a smell reminiscent of syrup of figs lurking at the back, whistling and trying to look inconspicuous. Bitter over the tongue, and low on carbonation the espresso coffee pushes along more of the milk chocolate flavour but it's slowed down by some molasses and date flavours but it's not a thick unctuous stout, just a tad thin. The finish is sweet with milk chocolate and more coffee, a little oily too, and this is certainly a beer that releases its flavours more fully as it reaches room temperature. Best served with a big slice of fruit cake in front of a roaring fire.

Last but most certainly not least in my festive selection selection, and the second Belgian beer to feature here, is that Christmas crowd pleaser Brasserie D'Achouffe - N'Ice Chouffe 10% Pouring a deep plum red with a big beige head this has a wondrous aroma of cherries and plums coupled with some spicy bready Belgian yeastiness and a hint of clove. It has a good body and a lovely tickle of carbonation releasing more fruity raspberry, fig and cherry with a spikey stab of thyme that works supremely well with it. The caramel flavour has a little sweet fudginess and maybe some liquorice and nutmeg but this is all swept away rather quickly leading to an elegant finish with a little spicy pear and more thyme ensuring that this beer is beautiful enough to drink purely on it own. Why spoil it.

So there you have it. Fifteen festive beers to get your Yuletide juices flowing. I've plenty more Christmas beery treats to get through this year, but part of the fun is in finding a beer and trying it for yourself. I picked mine up from the Ales By Mail and Brentwood Brewing shops in Billericay where I work, as well as S H Jones in Bicester, Shenfield Wines in Shenfield and UtoBeer in London's Borough Market, with the one exception being the Shepherd Neame Christmas Ale which was sent to me as I mentioned.
My memory has served me rather well I think and I'm rather happy that I've remembered the essence of all these beers faithfully, if not their exact nuances. I hope you've enjoyed reading it.
I may well publish a follow up to this at some point as there are other goodies that I have tucked away but that very much depends on how much time I have.

All that remains for me to do is wish you a very merry Christmas drinking some fine beer, always remembering of course that quality is infinitely superior to quantity.

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