Wednesday, 1 January 2014

Beers Of London Series: 64 . London Fields Brewery - Black Frost Stout 6.0% ... and a few words on Christmas beer

Beers Of London Series
64. London Fields Brewery - Black Frost Stout 6.0%
... and a few words on Christmas beer

First of all I want to start off the New Year with a bit of a moan.
I think the majority of us would agree that there's something magical about this time of year. From the first Christmas lights appearing on high streets in mid-to-late November, preparing for he big day, buying the presents, suddenly having a diary full of social occasions and things to do, the Christmas Radio Times and the Christmas specials, and copious amounts of food and drink, the Christmas and New Year period is a time like no other. It feels special. There's a certain sense of anticipation and expectation mixed with frantic despair that turns into happiness when it all comes together. The relief when it's all over and especially the sense of warmth, relaxation and kinship with your fellow man when you are able to get some time to yourself and settle down to stare mindlessly at the television or for some quiet introspective contemplation as the wind and rain howls outside with perhaps a glass or two of something a little different, maybe stronger, darker, richer, spicier, or just a little more expensive. After all, it is Christmas.

I have to say that one of the aspects I enjoy most of all during the festive season, after the children are in bed and asleep, is being able to pour myself a thick treacly beer into a snifter and let it warm in my hands as I take in the aroma and, with smaller sips than, explore and investigate all the taste and flavours all around my palate, immersing myself in it's complexities. Some of the very best beers I've had have been at this time of year and lend themselves to that very experience. It's a time of year that I tend to spend more time indoors, and as the strength of the beer is generally higher than I would normally choose then I go for quality over quantity whenever I can. I'm also a sucker for a Christmas beer. Call it a silly festive name, stick a picture of a snowman on the label and I'm all over it like poorly draped tinsel on the Christmas tree. I simply love them. I've had many delicious Christmas beers over the years, and it's an area in which I think that Belgian and US breweries particularly excel, with most breweries having their Christmas offerings in the shops around mid-November, giving you plenty of time to make your selections to drink during the time of goodwill to all men, or to buy to give as presents to those who may appreciate them. Plenty of UK brewers have a Christmas offering too. Quite often they're spicier and sweeter than their standard fair, perhaps a little stronger too, and they tend to vary dramatically in quality which is a shame, but it's always nice to see some breweries making a bit of an effort. Two which stick in my mind from 2013 are Compass - Tannenbaum, brewed with spruce needles from Christmas Common in Oxfordshire, and Green Jack - Red Robin, a beer that was as red as it's namesakes breast. And here, at last, I get to my point of contention. There are around forty breweries in London right now, with about thirty three or thirty four producing beer on a regular basis and new brews being created month by month. Why then is this the only beer that I could find produced by a London brewer with even the most tenuous nod to Christmas and the wintry season? I find that quite astonishing.

Is it because we are all too super-cool in London to be associated with the festivities and crushing crowds of this time of this time of year, standing slightly aloof and smiling in a rather condescending way? If it is then produce a beer that references that for goodness sake. I personally think that all breweries should do a 'Christmas special' with brewers showcasing their talents to do something a little different, a little grander, than usual. I realise of course that Beavertown did just that this year, with both of their boxed and barrel-aged releases, but would it have been too much to ask for at least one of the boxes to have a seasonal reference? Aeroplanes, medals and skulls don't really do it for me this time of year. I realise that it isn't entirely practical for all breweries to do this, but something from the London breweries that I love so much would have been nice.

I'm not planning on starting a campaign or anything like that, I'm just asking for London breweries to do something a little seasonal. Quite a few of them managed it for Halloween, so I'm hoping for better things in Christmas 2014.

So, now that I've got that off my chest I'll move on to tonight's beer. London Fields Black Frost Stout has been the brewery's seasonal offering for the past two years, with it first appearing around the end of November 2012. I regretted not being able to get any last Christmas having heard good things, so when I saw it in Oddbins near London Bridge station I snapped one up.
The packaging alone signifies that it's something a bit different, it's like opening a present wrapped tightly in tissue paper, perhaps a little too tightly in my opinion as it took me a while to untwist and get to the cap. That was however only because I wanted to preserve some of the paper neatly for photographic purposes, and I could just as easily have torn into it with great enthusiasm and gusto in the same manner as my son did with his presents on Christmas morning. Finally reaching my prize I was eventually able to pour the jet black contents into my glass, and with it's thin beige head it most certainly was black, there was no light coming through this beer at all, not even when I briefly held it close to the bulb. It had the most delicious aroma too, full of liquorice and grapefruit peel, mango and chocolate, and the lightest dusting of orange zest adding a sharp oily citrus note. Smooth over the tongue and perhaps a little thin, it certainly doesn't hold back when it comes to flavour, with subtle coffee and dark chocolate at first, building slowly, grabbing some plum flavour here, some mango there, and a twist of black pepper too, becoming oilier and more bitter with some lovely chocolate and coffee flavours lasting long into the deliciously tongue-coating finish.

This is an incredibly smooth and flavoursome beer and I like it a lot. I'd also like to thank London Fields for brewing it again, and especially for brewing a beer with a seasonal theme. This is exactly the sort of thing I like to drink at this time of year, I just wish more London brewers did festive beers as I'd particularly like to do a 'Christmas Beers Of London Series' at the end of the year.


  1. London brewery Christmas beers: I really enjoyed Partizan Christmas Stout.

    1. Someone else mentioned that, but with around 50 London breweries, two beers seems a poor show to me.