Monday, 1 December 2014

Advent Calendar - 1st December 2014

Beer Advent Calendar 2014

I love Christmas. The Season of Goodwill, spending good times with friends and family, feasting and celebrating, and generally making merry.

Taking off my reindeer antlers and mistletoe-rimmed rose-tinted glasses for a moment, Christmas can also be bloody hard work. Making sure you've got enough food in the house, deciding who to visit when without offending everyone, who's cooking Christmas dinner (that would be me again - nine to feed this year), shopping for food, shopping for presents, wrapping presents, in fact everything to do with presents can be a huge headache, so it's nice when some things are already done for you. If you could have a different beer to keep you going every day, something to look forward to after you've braved the shops and catered for the visiting hordes, your own completely selfish moment of beery indulgence, well that would be something wouldn't it?

My love of all things Christmassy and particularly Christmas beers is fairly well known, and I've been known to blog a little bit about. In January of 2013 my first post was entitled Christmas 2012 - Words and Pictures which was exactly what it says it is, a selection of (seasonal or otherwise) beers that I drank during December 2012 with every picture having a festive flavour. I followed that up in December last year with Its Christmas! A selection of beer for the festive season ... where I tasted beers that were exclusively Christmassy and offered my verdict on whether or not I thought they were worth investing in. This however almost ended in disaster when I accidentally deleted the whole thing as I was writing the closing paragraph and subsequently spent four fraught hours piecing the whole thing back together again. Finally my most recent post on the matter formed part of my Beers Of London Series, and featured my only seasonal beer from a London brewery to date when I reviewed London Fields Black Frost Stout. Part tasting notes and part rant in which I bewailed the dearth of Christmas brews from London breweries, a situation that I've sadly seen scant evidence has changed at all this year.

I wanted to do something Christmas themed again for this Yuletide season, something that I hadn't done before but would still ensure that I drank more Christmas beer. Thankfully I didn't have to think too hard about it as those good folk at Ales By Mail kindly gifted me one of their beery Advent Calendars, containing twenty-four different beers, some festive some not, to mention in a post or on twitter. Full disclosure here, I did not pay for this, however nor was I asked to do what I have subsequently decided.

This year I will be opening that days window, taking out the beery treat contained therein and writing a review that is relatively short and to the point. If you want long rambling reviews of beer then my regular (i.e. non-Christmas) posts should make up for it as many of you will already be all too aware. In addition to this I might include a little bit of festive fun to help you along the way, and as today is the 1st of December then I'd better get started with ...

Hogs Back - Advent Ale 4.4%

When I pulled this one out of the box I was particularly pleased to see that Ales By Mail have decided to kick-off the season with a beer named for it. It's also a beer that I've not actually had before despite being a big fan of Hogs Back Brewery beer. A mild ale that can be found as a cask seasonal in December, the brewery website describes it as a "deep chestnut ale, perfect for enjoying by the fireplace on those crisp wintery evenings leading up to Christmas" with the additional information that it is brewed with "local hops" being found on the bottle. I have not however been able to ascertain what those hops are, and Christmas is stressful enough without worrying too much about IBUs or ABVs (obviously unless you are driving).

Pouring a thin dark brown with a meagre off-white head although flashes of ruby red are apparent when held up to the light. The aroma is full of creamy coffee, candied peel, raisin, chocolate, and proving bread dough, and it really reminds me of a beery milky way chocolate bar. With a surprisingly full mouthfeel, it's lightly creamy over the tongue, and flavours of chocolate coated raisins and vanilla cream with a dab of liquorice fill the mouth before a wave of cherry and cranberry juice washes the palate clean. With a fine but thin red berry finish this is quite a complex beer, in fact far more complex than I was expecting and genuinely tasty too. The only disappointment for me is that thin finish but for a beer of this strength I really should have expected it. Overall though it's a deliciously fitting way to get Advent under way.

Normally I'd finish my review here and quietly finish off what ever there happens to be left in my glass, but, this being Christmas and all, I'm going to give you a few beery quiz questions that I've shamelessly culled from 'The World Of Beer' board game. So it's five questions with the answers tomorrow although if you want to tweet me your answers @1970sBoy then I'll let you know if you're right.

1. The Swedish beer Spendrups Export that was famously available at IKEA stores is brewed with a combination of Magnum, Perle and Saaz hops. In which country were Magnum hops originally cultivated?

2. Which saint from the following list is NOT a patron saint of brewing: Amand, Arnulf of Soissons, Augustine of Hippo, Boniface, George, Dorothy of Caesarea, Luke the Apostle, Nicholas of Myra, or Good King Wenceslas?

3.In 1874, Danish socialite and storyteller Hans Christian Andersen wrote in a letter, "The Countess and I drink it, and I cannot praise this beer enough; it is refreshing, tasty, and rich." Celebrating the Andersen bicentenary in 2005, the brewery has launched an Andersen beer. Name the 'fairytale' brewery that did this.

4. What nation is home to the mildly alcoholic rye beer called kvass?

5.In 1992, the old aristocratic Lobkowicz family regained the brewery which they had originally founded in 1466 but had later lost to socialism. Now their brands - Baron, Prince and Lobko - are sold worldwide. Which country is home to the brewery?

Not too easy are they, and remember that this game was released in 2005 so some of the 'facts' may well have changed. Get your thinking caps on.

And finally ...

What Christmas-themed blog would be complete without a terrible Christmas cracker joke, so here goes one of my favourites:

What do you call a woman balancing three pints of lager on her head whilst playing snooker?

Beatrix Potter (Beer-tricks Potter)

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