Tuesday, 30 December 2014

12 Beers Of Xmas - Day 6

The Twelve Beers Of Christmas
Beer Six
Bristol Beer Factory - Wheat Wine 10.0%

If you've been following the Beer O'Clock Show #12BeersOfXmas series on other blogs you will be enjoying their penultimate entries this evening whereas I am only half way through. This is because, as I have previously explained, I started on the official first day of Christmas, that being Christmas Day itself.

Tomorrow is New Years Eve, and I expect you have already sorted out where you are going and what beers you might be drinking even if you don't know for definite right now. The day before News Years Eve is traditionally known as New Years Eve Eve, and it's on this day that we remember the good things that happened in the year that has nearly passed. I'm assuming that you will be burning the candles on your New Years Eve Eve cakes this evening as we raise a glass and give thanks for the blessing bestowed upon us.

Of course, I just made New Years Eve Eve up. It's not really a thing at all, however it almost sounds both plausible and ridiculous like it could be a 'thing' but really you know it isn't and that's just like tonight's beer, a wheat wine. A Wheat Wine sounds like it could be something but not a beer. There's already a beer with a similar sounding name, you reason, knowing full well what a barley wine is, but not a wheat wine. That must be some sort of healthy low-alcohol grape-grain fusion surely, not a beer at all but a drink you might pick up in your local Holland & Barrett. It is, isn't it?

You might be forgiven for this is a concocted style, and I don't expect that there's too many of you that will have tasted one before unless you've had the good fortune to try the Mikkeller/Three Floyds collaboration Boogoop or, closer to home, Lovibond's Gold Reserve as it is a relatively new style.

Brewed with at least fifty per cent wheat malt, hence the name, this style originated in the United States in the 1980s and examples can vary in colour from gold to deep amber, and even brown in some instances. Alcohol levels can vary greatly too, and can be anything from 8.5% abv to 14.0% abv. 

This is obviously strong ale and it's similarities to a Barley Wine are apparent, but the Bristol Beer Factory have added their own particular twist. First it is oak bourbon barrel aged before being blended with cold brewed coffee provided by Extract Coffee Roasters in Bristol and fermented with the brewery's own triple-strain house yeast. As you may have gathered this sounds like it could be a very special beer indeed, I can't wait to get the bottle open.

It pours a hazy golden amber with a thin white head, it is quite a beautiful looking beer on it's own to be fair however the aroma is something else. Deep and musty with oak and bourbon you can actually smell the staves of the barrel they used to age this beast of a beer in. There's a little coffee in there too and the usual vanilla esters you would associate with the oak ageing process, but it's that bourbon soaked wood that does the most fantastic things to my nostrils. I really could sit here for a good few hours and allow this beer to warm in my hands as I enjoy this sensation. Silky smooth and really rather sensual over the tongue this beer absolutely oozes class. There's a big bourbon taste here but strangely, and rather dangerously, it doesn't seem at all boozy as the coffee sitting right at the back of the initial burst of flavour keeps a tight rein on the whole thing, restraining and controlling it wonderfully. A heather honey note comes in from the side, sweet and with a drop or two of pear juice in the mix before a big black pepper twist takes it right up to the finish. Damp musty wood drying by a fire next to which you have strategically placed the whiskey of American origin of your choice, and as you might expect it fades wonderfully like the closing bars of your favourite song caught on a balmy summer breeze as the sun sinks slowly over the horizon.

I don't use the word awesome to describe a beer often as there aren't that many that make the grade and excite my tired, jaded and often cynical palate these days but this more than fits the bill. There is so much in here, so many levels of flavour, subtle tastes and unexpected nuances to this bold yet cultured example of the brewers art that it simply has to be savoured to be believed. I urge you to get a bottle of this beer, or do as I have and get yourself  two or more. Drink one now, write down your thoughts the put the other away for a couple of years at least before opening it to compare. I can't wait to see how this develops.

Monday, 29 December 2014

12 Beers Of Xmas - Day 5

The Twelve Beers Of Christmas
Beer Five
Mikkeller + Bedow - Wild Winter Ale 6.0%

So that was my Christmas break over and done with for another year, it was back to work today with a bang. If, like me, it was back to the grindstone on this Monday morning then I trust that you had a good and restful time with lots of fun, happiness and the usual festive feasting, all washed down with some excellent beer of course. 

On Christmas morning I like to start the festivities with a good aperitif beer, something fruity and sour to get the juices flowing for the day ahead. In past years I have favoured Deus Brut de Flandres from Brouwerij Bosteels, with something from Cantillon, either the Geuze 100% Lambic Bio or the excellent Iris being in it's place on occasion. Looking for a beer to clean and refresh my palate I wanted something a little different this year, and as I had a bottle of Mikkeller's Spontanmandarin in a box that BeerBods did as a special limited release to subscribers earlier this year I had the perfect beer to fit the bill. I'm a big fan of Mikkeller beer, and my choice was made with knowledge of how good the spontaneous fermentation Spontanale series is as I reviewed the original release back in May 2012 as part of my mammoth twenty-four post "Mikkeller In May" series, the one that really cemented my passion for writing about beer.

The reason for my digression is clear when you learn that also in that BeerBods box was today's beer, the Mikkeller + Bedow Wild Winter Ale. Brewed as part of a four beer series that started with Spring in 2012, through Summer, Autumn and finally Winter of the same year, this one-off release was limited to 3,500 bottles. The collaboration with Bedow, a Swedish design agency and graphic design agency, features a label printed on heat sensitive paper so that when it gets warm the apple tree depicted loses it's leaves. It is brewed with the addition of apple, hence the apple tree, cinnamon and a good dose of brettanomyces and I'm rather excited to be finally opening this bottle.

It pours a beautiful deep amber honey colour, bright and clear, throwing a huge fluffy white head as you might expect for a beer of this style. It has a strong fresh apple aroma, the kind you get when you bite into a juicy fresh Golden Delicious, the unmistakeable whiff of brettanomyces, and a hint of cinnamon spice. Imagine a baked apple, a cinnamon stick in it's centre and a sprinkling of dark sugar and you won't be far off. It creeps softly over the tongue, pushing it's fizzy carbonation in a wave before it, releasing some of that stewed apple and cinnamon flavour all bound up in some deliciously light chewy caramel, but it's all so fresh and clean. There's a slight spike of cinnamon spice right before the finish, a hint of white pepper and coriander seed citrus too, but this fades away to leave that apple flavour, very like the aftermath of an apple sour sweet, it is simply delightful.

I would imagine that the two intervening years has diminished the cinnamon allowing more of the apple flavour to emerge, and even though it is now more balanced I would have loved to have tasted this during the 2012 festivities. I will end this post with another picture of the same bottle, this time with the addition of a little warm water, just so that you can see the effect it had on the paper. Not bad considering that the temperature in the conservatory where our Christmas tree is happens to be -1 Celcius. A wild winter ale indeed.

Sunday, 28 December 2014

12 Beers Of Xmas - Day 4

The Twelve Beers Of Christmas
Beer Four
Jacobsen - Golden Naked Christmas Ale 7.5%

I have to hold my hand up straight away here, I'm drinking Carlsberg tonight. 

You read that correctly this is a Carlsberg beer, but not one you're likely to find in the UK as this beer was brewed by Husbryggeriet Jacobsen in Denmark, Carlsberg's specialist brewery. Opened on the 31st May 2005, it was set up as a response to the growing microbrewery and craft beer movement and is located within Carlsberg's own brewery in Valby, Denmark. It has an annual capacity of around 1,700,000 litres, that's about 5 million 330ml bottles, and headed by brewermaster Morten Ibsen, it shows that it takes the threat very seriously. The beers were originally only available only in Denmark, but now distribute to Norway, Sweden, Finland and the United States. They were also briefly available in the UK shortly after the brewery first opened, I was able to pick up the earliest releases in my local Sainsbury's of all places, but I haven't seen them since which is a real shame.

It is also the brewery that brewed the world's most expensive beer trilogy. Selling for upwards of 250 euros a bottle on release the beers, called simply Vintage No.1 (10.5% abv, a barley wine brewed in 2008 and selling for 2008DKK), Vintage No.2 (8.7% abv, a Baltic stout brewed in 2009 and selling for 2009DKK) and Vintage No.3 (15% abv, a pale barley wine and selling for 2010DKK) were only brewed in very small batches, and had hand stencilled and signed labels from five different Danish artists for each Vintage, one artist for the first two releases and three for the last. There were six hundred bottles each of Vintage No.1 and Vintage No.2, and one thousand bottles of the Vintage No.3.

The beer I'm opening tonight for the Beer O'Clock Show #12BeersOfXmas isn't quite so rare and nor was it quite so expensive, in fact it didn't cost me anything at all as it was a prize in an online competition where the winner of the best festive photograph won six bottles of Jacobsen beers (two bottles each of three different beers), kindly organised by Beer Genie. I thought that I had drunk all six but when I was contemplating which beers I would choose I came across a bottle of each (and both of these) in a separate box under a blanket at the back of my 'cellar'. Golden Naked Christmas Ale is a Dubbel-style ale, first brewed in 2006 although this bottle is only just over two years old, and is inspired by the Nordic Christmas. Brewed with Golden Promise Pale Ale malt, often used for whiskey, and Naked Oats, those with loose husks that fall off during harvesting, it is easy to see how this beer got it's name. A typical run also uses one thousand two hundred oranges, two hundred cinnamon sticks and twenty one days to mature, so I'm expecting some big Christmas flavours. I can't wait to see how this tastes.

It pours a rich ruby red with plenty of carbonation that throws a creamy off-white head, it's a thing of beauty and certainly looks very inviting in the glass. The aroma is full of stewed prunes, raisin and cherry, it's like a wonderful dark fruit punch with slices of orange peel floating to the surface. It's the kind of beer that you could sit and hold in your hands feeling the aroma change as it warms, and indeed as it does so I'm picking up some of that cinnamon spice riding on the back of the prunes, giving it more of a sweet syrup note. A soft tickle of carbonation brings through quite a thin liquid but it's absolutely packed with prune and blackberry flavour, big, juicy and slightly tart, before on strolls the supporting cast; hints of raisin, a light dusting of cinnamon and a grating of orange zest, maybe a drop or two of port as well, and these really lift it. This is absolutely stunning. The finish is sweet and tart, with an intense blackberry aftertaste that reminds me of an excellent merlot, and this lasts long enough that you can savour it's rich juiciness before wanting to go back for some more. 

This may be a beer from a major player on the international beer stage, but it has so much flavour, so much nuance and is so beautifully defined that you can tell that this has been brewed with love, care and passion, and I defy anyone to tell me that this isn't a craft beer. I was hoping for a little bit of Christmas, but what I got was a joyously fruity, beautifully deep festive punch, so much more than I could ever have expected. It is simply astonishing.

Saturday, 27 December 2014

12 Beers Of Xmas - Day 3

The Twelve Beers Of Christmas
Beer Three
Siren Craft Brew / Stillwater Artisanal Ales
- When The Light Gose Out 4.6%

I love beer, this is a well known fact and pretty obvious really, but I also really like shopping for beer too.

There are particular places I like to go to to buy beer, most of which are in London, but I do have a few regular haunts a bit further afield. The place that I frequent most, and which conveniently just happens to be right around the corner from where I work, is the Ales By Mail Craft Beer Shop. I tend to go there when I know that they've got something specific in that I want, but occasionally I like to browse the shelves to see if something catches me eye, and you can guess the rest.

Considering they are a mere two years old, Siren sure have made one hell of an impact. For me they are *Golden Pint Spoiler Alert* producing the best beer in the UK at the moment, consistently delivering fantastic and exciting craft beer that get me excited with every release. So when I saw that they had brewed a gose with Stillwater Artisanal Ales one of America's most exciting and innovative and exciting breweries, not to mention having some awesome artwork on their bottles, I was quite anxious to get hold of a bottle. So, seeing that on the shelves at Ales By Mail, put their that very morning, I had it in my hand and was heading to the counter to pay.

A gose is a German top fermenting beer style that originated in the town of Goslar in Lower Saxony in the early Sixteenth Century. It is traditionally brewed with around fifty percent malted wheat, coriander and salt, and as such does not comply with the Reinheitsgebot, the German beer purity law stating that only hops, water and malt were to be used in brewing, however it was allowed as a regional speciality. It is a style that has died out and been revived on various occasions, however it seems to be experiencing something of a renaissance at present with breweries from all over the world taking an interest in it, along with many others that were previously forgotten.

Siren and Stillwater's take on this style is brewed with Hawaiian black salt and hibiscus, a popular ingredient in itself in 2014, with a good dose of brettanomyces to pull it all together, I can't wait to get that bottle open.

There's that unmistakable brettanomyces aroma as I open the bottle and it pours jet black, no messing about here it's as black as a solar eclipse with it's thin beige head fading as quickly as the light is extinguished when the moon passes in front of the sun. The aroma is very reminiscent of a dunkel, a dark German lager, with some harsh dry chocolate malt notes, but as is warms it reveals some wonderful black cherry notes combining to make it smell a little like a Black Forest gateau. It's quite thin over the tongue with the merest notion of fizz playing around the sides of the tongue but I am knocked immediately sideways by a burst of hibiscus, black cherry and raspberry when I was expecting a hit of chocolate and coffee, looks can certainly be deceptive. There is a hint of chocolate here though, a dark undercurrent carrying it all along rather beautifully to a dry but still fruity ending as the memory of those cherry flavours endure, and urge you to go back for more.

This is a wonderful beer with surprises at every turn, and to be honest I wasn't expecting anything less. When two great breweries, and I use the word great advisedly, come together to produce a beer sometimes the results cam be a bit hit and miss, but I'm very pleased to report that they've got it absolutely spot on here. In fact i'm going to see if I can get hold of a few more bottles as, despite it's relatively low abv, I have a feeling that this will age rather well.

Friday, 26 December 2014

12 Beers Of Xmas - Day 2

The Twelve Beers Of Christmas
Beer Two
Birrificio Toccalmatto - Noel du Sanglier 2009 9.0%

After having a beer that I've kept safely hidden for just over twelve months yesterday, and seeing as it's still Christmas, I though I'd push the boat out a bit further for my second post today and open a bottle that I've had for a little longer.

Birrificio Toccalmatto's Noel du Sanglier, which translates from Italian as 'Christmas Boar', is an Italian take on a Belgian Strong ale, and used to be the brewery's Christmas offering but hasn't been brewed since 2011. I fact it was only brewed for four consecutive years 2008 to 2011, and the bottle I have is the 2009 vintage, making it five years old, and as five years is considered optimal ageing for beers of this style I'd better not keep it, or me, waiting much longer.

It pours a hazy amber tinged dark brown with a thin beige head and an aroma that isn't heavy but rather subtly spiced nutmeg and cinnamon raisins and a box of freshly opened dates. Smooth over the tongue with a gentle fizz around edges this could possibly be the most delicious Christmas pudding beer I've ever had. Some pudding maltiness soaked liberally in brandy heralds more of that raisin flavour, it certainly has overtones of mince pie mince meat, and then in comes the spicing, nutmeg and cinnamon again but not overstated or overpowering in any way. The finish is long and has all the honeyed fruity hallmarks of a fine Pedro Ximenez sweet sherry, it's wonderfully satisfying and a perfect ending to a wonderful beer.

This beer has mellowed beautifully with age. I imagine that the spiciness may have been too intense masking it's fruitiness or obscuring those puddingy malts, but it's all come together superbly now. Some things are definitely worth the wait.

12 Beers Of Xmas - Day 1

The Twelve Beers Of Christmas
Beer One
Elusive  Brewing - BA Imperial Stout 9.0%

As much as I really wanted to join in with the Beer O'Clock Show #12BeersOfXmas 'official' start date on the 20th December, it was always going to be a practical impossibility as I was already deep into my Beer Advent Calendar series. However, the great thing about the Beer O'Clock Show event is that you can dip in and out any time you like. You don't have to start on the appointed day, you don't have to blog about it, just sharing twelve beers over the Christmas period using the #12BeersOfXmas hashtag on twitter or Instagram or even leaving a comment at the bottom of someone else's post all count as joining in.

Now I'm a bit of stickler for tradition, and for me the twelve days of Christmas don't start until Christmas Day, so that's when I had Beer One. If you follow me on Instagram (it's 1970SBOY if you don't already) then you will have already seen me review this beer on there late last night, so I'm sorry if you've already read that, but it does warrant a full review.

I had always intended this beer to be drunk on Christmas Day but unfortunately, or fortunately as you will see, it was the 25th December 2013 that I had originally earmarked as the one. Due to illness I wasn't actually up to it last year, so away it went to languish in my beer cellar for further twelve months. Sleeping. Resting. Getting to know itself a little better.

On of the best things about this beer if that was a gift, and a gift from the brewer, Andy Parker, home brewer extraordinaire, founder of Elusive Brewing (soon to begin an exciting new chapter), but most importantly a good friend.

This was a rare beer indeed, well it certainly was until I opened it, the last bottle in existence. Brewed around sixteen months ago using Pale, Dark Crystal, Light Crystal, Chocolate, and Roasted barley malts, and hopped with Centennial, you can imagine my anticipation as, late last night, I finally got around to opening the bottle.

It poured as black as night with the viscosity of engine oil and a serious amount of carbonation, making it fizz and throw a light brown head up the glass, and unleashing an aroma of burnt brown sugar and date. Medium bodied, there's a good dose of liquorice, black pepper, and whisky soaked prunes floating in liquid chocolate in the flavour, the booziness holding back but giving you a gentle nudge every now and again. it's very moreish. The finish has more black pepper, espresso coffee and chocolate in the slightly hot finish, the alcohol is more apparent but it doesn't dominate at any point, it's truly delicious.

I am so pleased to have got this beer to drink today as it is certainly an 'occasion' beer, and a Christmas beer is certainly that. Andy is a fantastic brewer, and if you've ever had any of his beer (his collaborations with Weird Beard met with universal praise) then you will know this already. 2015 is set to be a big year for him and Elusive Brewing, give him your support by buying and drinking his beer when it is available and you will be rewarded with something very very good indeed.

Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Advent Calendar - 24th December 2014

Beer Advent Calendar
Ilkley Brewery - Mary Christmas 4.7%
24th December 2014

It's the most wonderful night of the year, and it's the most wonderful night of the beer!

I'm sure you're all gearing up for the Big Day tomorrow, hustle bustle, panic and uncertainty, but I'm equally sure you have some great beers ready for this evening and the upcoming days. In the final of my reviews of the year (prior to my Golden Posts) I've picked a few of my favourite UK beers of the year. I hope you've had some of these beers, but if you haven't then I hope you can get them in 2015. Let me know what you think.

The first beer I'm going to bring to your attention is Siren's Whiskey Sour IPA. All (!) this beer consists of is there Limoncello IPA, a phenomenal beer in itself, barrel aged in bourbon infused oak and you get one of the most amzing beers of the year. It's simply stunning and brewed by (maybe!) my brewery of the year. they haven't put a foot wrong in 2014 as far as I'm concerned and I'm sure that they will continue this into 2015 and beyond.

Brew By Numbers 04/04 Berliner Weisse Lime was one of those beers that you could have served me for ever and I wouldn't have been tired of it. The huge lime zest twist works wonderfully over the mild Berliner Weisse base combining to make possibly the most refreshing beer that I've had this year. It comes in huge bottles too, so if you see it buy it.

Staying with the Berliner Weisse style, the next beer I want to bring to your attention is Beavertown's Lemon Phantom. Another superbly refreshing beer that is, I'm afraid, best drunk at the brewery. Get yourself down there and find out while I love this beer so much.

The final beer I want to mention is Quantum Brewery's Pineapple and Chilli sour, a little left field but most certainly removed from all the other beers I;ve had this year. There's a really good fiery prickle of heat here that settles itself nicely alongside the pineapple flavour. It's certainly gorgeous, but hot and gorgeous, with the heat actually giving something wonderful back to it.

And so, for the final tine, here are the answers to today questions. I hope that your did well here as, even though I know that few of you got any of them right you have enjoyed the concept over the last twenty-three days, I know that I've enjoyed setting them.

1. Bah Humbug!

2. Liefmans

3. Winter King

4. Mexico

5. It's brewed in Australia by Holgate, and Christmas is in Summer in the Southern hemisphere.

The final beer of my Ales By Mail Advent Calendar is from another West Yorkshire brewery, albeit a very popular one. Infused with Caribbean rum, this beer is described on their website as an 'amber ale with all the trimmings'. It is the beer that I've been looking forward to when I've heard it was going to be in this Advent Calendar, but I can't wait to see what it tastes like.

It pours a russet amber with a thin pure white head as clean as the driven snow and an aroma that is full of spicy Christmas promise with nutmeg, clove and cinnamon suppressing a some red berry notes struggling to emerge like snow drops in the Spring. Thin with a buzzy festive carbonation it flavour is sweet and sugary like a frosted nutmeg dusted gingerbread biscuit with a few blobs of raspberry jam decoration. the finish is fruity and heady, with the rum finally revealing itself, leaving some faint traces of alcohol on the tongue but combining wonderfully with the sweet Yuletide spiciness to bring it all to a sweet boozy Christmas cake conclusion. This is the most overtly festive beer I've had had in this box and possibly the most overtly Christmas beer I've had for a good few years. It is extremely fitting that this beer has ended this remarkable Advent journey, full of twists and turns and taste sensations, as it is the beer that defines Christmas more than any other. I hope Father Christmas stuffs a bottle in your stocking tonight.

And so for the last time, it's that Christmas cracker joke that I know you all love. Love to loathe perhaps, but it's an integral part of these posts so you're just going to have to lump it for one last time.

There was only one joke that would work for today, and I've had it in mind for today since the beginning of Advent. Whether or not you like it, you can't argue that it isn't topical.

Here we go.

I hope you are ready for this?

If you're not them I'm (not at all) sorry.

What did Adam say just before midnight on the 24th December?

Is it Christmas, Eve?

Now normally I would end here but there really is only one thing to add as this blog fades out of sight:
A Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night!

Tuesday, 23 December 2014

Advent Calendar - 23rd December 2014

Beer Advent Calendar
Naylor's Brewery - Santa's Dark Side 4.4%
23rd December 2014

One more post until Christmas! Surely you're excited by now?

Even though the last week and a half at work has been totally exhausting, I'm actually starting to feel a little festive. All my Christmas beer are now sorted, I popped into Ales By Mail this afternoon to pick up a few last minute bottles, including Siren's 'Fortuna's Gift' and 'When The Lights Go Out' and Weird Beard's 'Smoke' and 'Fire', and a couple of Christmas presents as well.

I don't know about you but I don't really feel that I can get properly stuck in to my Christmas selection until Christmas Eve night at the earliest as that for me is when the magic starts to happen and when I really feel that I can start to relax.

I know that I've got a decent selection to keep me going through the winter months, and I will be writing me Golden Pints and Golden Posts over the next week or so, but I just thought I would highlight a few of the overseas beers that really stood out for me this year without giving too much away.

Michigan brewers Jolly Pumpkin excel at open fermentation and oak barrel ageing and their Madrugada Obscura - Dark Dawn is a sour stout, and it sure is good. Tart and sour, then toasty with hints of vanilla and a big lactic finish it was the first stand out overseas beer of the year for me and i loved it so much I bought another bottle just to share with friends.

Another US brewer, Shorts Brewing Company provided me with my second overseas taste sensation with Bourbon Sustenance their Schwarzbier, but it's unlike any Schwarzbier I've had before or since. Big with boozy bourbon, soy sauce, mint jelly, espresso coffee, blackberry and burnt toast, it sounds like a total mess that wouldn't work under any circumstances but it actually combines to be something quite sublime instead.

Brasserie Cantillon from Belgium are world renowned for their traditional Lambic beers. They are simply masters at what they do, and looking through my beer list this year their Iris and that cask of Lou Pepe Kriek that they had at the Great British Beer Festival all scored highly, however it is another two of their beers, both of which were on cask that I had at the Kernel Brewery towards the end of September that completely blew my mind. Fou' Foune was simply Founetastic, a sour apricot blast that's smooth and cultured too, it's so good that I could hardly speak whilst drinking it, but even this was eclipsed by the Zwanze (2014) Cuvee Florian. Tart and bitter with sour cherries but it's smooth and subtle too, it goes straight up your nose and slaps you round the face, and is possibly the closest to beer perfection that I've ever had. Those present, around fifty, all received their third of a pint in immaculate glassware, returning to their seats with due reverence before savouring it's sheer beauty. It is unlikely that I will ever have this beer again, but I feel privileged to have had it even once.

The last beer is one I had recently at Hop Burns and Black in Peckham, a new beer shop that I will be featuring in a post in the new year. The Yeastie Boys 'Sly Persuader', part of their Spoonbender series, is an extra pale Blonde Ale brewed with Pacifica and Nelson Sauvin hops, but it is the addition of Botrylised Viognier Candi-sugar that gives it that special something. With the aroma of blackberry and apricot it has a gorgeously fruity red wine taste that I will be going back for very soon.

So there you have it, five of my favourites of the year. If you can find them I urge you to give them a go, they are all outstanding.

And so we move on to the answers to yesterday's questions, and it's a huge well done to Richard Hargreaves who got them all spot on first time. Those answers are:

1. Twelve Days

2. Staffordshire Brewery

3. Ohio

4, Celebration Ale

5. Ridgeway Brewery

I hope you got then all. It's your last chance today as there will be no questions tomorrow, so why don't you give it a go?

Today's beer is from Naylor's Brewery based in Cross Hills, near Keighley in West Yorkshire. They have been brewing since 2001 and they describe Santa's Dark Side as a menacing, strong, dark and rich ale with roasted flavours. Let me find out for myself.

It pours a dark brown with deep orange highlights and a thin beige head, but the aroma has some serious roasty toasty character going on with loads of burnt toast and roasted coffee, but there's also a hint of cream and black pepper which is really rather inviting. It's quite thin over the tongue with a good level of bitterness and some dark fruits, particularly dates and raisins making an appearance before a good twist of black pepper carries it along to the finish. That pepper flavour is muted here with a touch of liquorice wood as well then it all fades away with echoes of strong white coffee. This is a very tasty beer, and it certainly is dark, however it is the thin mouth feel that stops it being a great beer. When I have a beer this toasty I like to be able to chew it a little bit, but due to it's slender nature that manages to elude me. I would recommend giving this a go if you see it though as it has bags more flavour than many other seasonal offerings, and if you like it roasty toasty you won't be disappointed,

Here are the final set of questions as tomorrow is Christmas Eve, the last day of Advent. I  hope you've enjoyed testing your beery knowledge over the last few weeks and so we come to the final five.

1. What is the name of Wychwood's Christmas Ale that has a picture of Ebeneezer Scrooge carrying a candle on the label?

2. Which Belgium brewery brews Gluhkriek, a lambic beer produced for the Christmas season?

3. And staying with Belgium, Brouwerij Kerkom brew a festive beer called Winterkoninkske, but what does Winterkninkske mean?

4. Noche Buena is a Christmas beer brewed by Cerveceria Cuauhtemoc Moctezuma but what country is it brewed in?

5. Holgate Brewery make a festive brew called Black Forest Summer Porter, but why would a Christmas beer be so called?

A couple of teasers there, and the last one will be obvious when you know the brewery, but now it's the penultimate Christmas cracker joke, so let's make it a terrible one.

What does Santa call his little helpers?

Subordinate Clauses!

Monday, 22 December 2014

Advent Calendar - 22nd December 2014

Beer Advent Calendar
Saltaire Brewery - White Christmas 4.5%
22nd December 2014

So here we are, on the home straight. I hope that you're raring to go and having a very merry beery Christmas so far!

As I mentioned in yesterday's post, in these last few day leading up to the Big One I'll be taking a retrospective look at 2014, a year that I've enjoyed immensely as far as beer is concerned, and as I've already looked back on the best books I've read, today I'll be breathing a deep nostalgic sigh and remembering the best best pubs or bars I've drunk in over the last twelve months.

For me January 2014 was particularly forgettable, however that all changed on the 1st of February with the first ever, and I hope you'll excuse the language here, the first ever #CraftW*nkerDayTrip to the Swan in Stratford St Mary, Suffolk, and what a day that was. Sometimes you get a feeling when you're on the edge of something great and that day, admirably hosted by Mr. Ed Razzall was one of those days. Every single person gathered there has gone on to bigger and better things this year, spurred on, I have no doubt by the sheer quantity and quality of beer that was drunk that day. I have been back there several times since, and I'm absolutely convinced it is one of the best pubs in the country. With it's own brewery being installed as I write and guest rooms becoming available soon it simply is one of the best beer destinations in the country. If you're at all interested in the shenanigans that went on that day then you can do so here on the Crema's Beer Odyssey blog, and if you want to know a bit more about the Swan itself then this is the entry I wrote for the Beer East Anglia guide.

The next few months saw me travel to various beery events in many different venues, all of which were very good, but it wasn't until August and my only journey overseas this year that I made it to the next bar on my list of favourites.

La Capsule in Lille might not appear the most amazing bar you've ever been in when you enter, in fact it's a bit shabby but this is all part of it's charm. It's cramped and the other customers and staff turn and look straight at you the minute you enter, but look up at the tap list above the bar and you will see beers that will make you realise something that may not have occurred to you before, there is a blossoming French craft beer scene. Taking it's cue from their Belgian neighbours, France, and this area in particular, are quietly producing some rather amazing beers. I spent quite a few happy hours there, which you can read about here and here, and if you're at all worried about everyone turning to look at you don't be. As I was to discover it is because they want to talk to you about their beer, of which they are justly proud, it's simply a wonderful and friendly place to drink.

The end of October took me to Edinburgh, and I finally made it to somewhere that I'd been itching to go to for some time, The Hanging Bat. I loved it's character, it's styling and most of all I absolutely loved the beer. The food wasn't bad either. Two other pubs deserve a mention whilst I'm still dwelling on Auld Reekie and they are Holyrood 9A and Cloisters Bar and all three are well worth your time and money should you find yourself in that city.

I want to squeeze in a quick mention for the West End Tap in Lincoln that we called into on our way back from Edinburgh. We didn't stay long, but the beer and welcome was excellent (cheers Suzy) and I hope to get back there sometime in 2015.

The last place that makes it onto my 'best of the year' list is one I'm sure that you will probably know, but that I only visited for the first time just over a week ago. BrewDog Shepherd's Bush is one of the best, if not the best craft beer bar in London at the moment. Admittedly I was there in excellent company at the end of the Beer O'Clock Show Crimbo Crawl, but the beer selection, forty taps plus fridges containing such delights, including a five year old barrel aged dark mead (Stronzo - Precious Mjod) and a Canadian brettanomyces-laced blonde ale (Dieu de Ciel - Blonde a la Brett) that I had when I was there, it simply is a fantastic place. If you're ever in London then make sure this is on your list of places to visit, you certainly won't regret it.

I really want to get stuck into today's beer from my Ales By Mail Advent Calender but before I do there's just time for the answers to yesterday's quiz questions.

1. Anderson Valley

2. Yule Fuel

3. Underlig Jul

4. Belgian Strong Ale

5. Mauldon's Brewery

Based in Shipley, West Yorkshire, Saltaire Brewery have been brewing their hand crafted ales since 2005. Winners of more than seventy trade awards and two international gold medals for their Triple Chocolate Stout. Today's beer, White Christmas, is brewed with the addition of coriander and orange peel being added late to the boil similar to the traditional method for making a wheat beer. Let's get that bottle opened.

Pouring a pale amber, I was expecting a pale golden colour if I'm honest, with a tight off-white head and lemony honey shortbread biscuit aroma with perhaps the merest hint of sour milk or even blue cheese. Full and surprisingly smooth and fat over the tongue with a prickle of carbonation there's loads more of that honey and lemon flavour, but mixed up with a little orange juice and golden syrup it certainly doesn't lack taste. The finish is bitter, and this is where I pick up the crushed coriander seed as it dries to quite a dusty pithy finish with more echoes of that honey and lemon citrus following on behind. Truth be told given the information I got from the bottle and website I was half expecting, and maybe hoping for a kind of wheat beer hybrid. Sadly this isn't the case and although it's bright enough with a massive flavour hit in the middle I feel a little bit let down, but I can hardly lay that at the feet of the brewers. I think what really niggles me though that I wanted something a bit more festive, and with the name 'White Christmas' is that perhaps that's what I should have got.

Here are today's quiz questions:

1. What is the name of Hook Norton's seasonal strong dark porter that has a picture of a partridge in a pear tree on the label and pump clip?

2. Which English brewery makes the winter ale 'Bobbin Robin'?

3. 'Frosted Frog' is the Christmas offering from from Hoppin Frog brewery in the USA, but which state is the brewery in?

4. Sierra Nevada brew a festive fresh hop ale using the first Chinook, Cascade and Centennial hops of the season. With a picture of a snow bound log cabin on it's label, what is it called?

5. Criminally Bad Elf is a 10.5% seasonal Barley Wine brewed by which Oxfordshire brewery?

Good luck with those, but you know what's coming next don't you ...

That's right, it's another terrible Christmas cracker joke.

There is some good news though, there's only two more to go after this one:

Why are Christmas trees really bad at knitting?

Because they always drop their needles!

Sunday, 21 December 2014

Advent Calendar - 21st December 2014

Beer Advent Calendar
Backyard Brewhouse - Bad Santa 6.8%
21st December 2014

It's the final countdown!

No it's not the Europe song thank goodness, but the final countdown to Christmas, four days to go and counting. It is also the day of the Winter Solstice, or Mid-Winter, when the daylight hours are shortest and the night is longest. It is the pagan celebration centred around this day from where we get the word Yule, and from there Yuletide, which are though to have come from the Old English geola, or possibly the Old Norse word, jol

I had decided a while ago that some of my last posts for the Advent Calendar would be reviews of the year of sorts when I would take a look back at some of my favourite beer related things over the last twelve months. It is appropriate, for me anyway, that on the eve of the longest night that I start off with five of my favourite beer books of the year, mainly because it's on chilly evening like this that I love to curl of on the sofa with a book and a glass of good beer and wind down after the day's trial and tribulations.

I am a great lover of books, and books about beer in particular, although it by no means all that I read. Over the years I have amassed quite a library, but I'm always interested in new literary releases, much in the same way I look forward to new beer releases. I'm not a fan of the kind of beer books that spend their first quarter taking you though the ingredients of beer and brewing process in dreary detail as this is nothing more than filler as far as I'm concerned and don't want to be patronised in the first few chapters thank you very much, just get on with the reason I bought the book in the first place.

Thankfully none of these books do that, and I've enjoyed all of them because I have discovered many things in each that I didn't already know, talking to me in an adult way, all written by enthusiasts of the same things that I enthuse about, and I would recommend them all in a heartbeat. They were all released this year, and for the record I bought each and every one of them as, even though I do get beer sent to me to review, I haven't been sent a single book on the subject to write about. Without further ado then, here I five of my favourites.

The first book is Leigh Linley's Great Yorkshire Bottled Beer, and while not exactly a follow up to Great Yorkshire Beer, it is has many of the same elements and breweries, but obviously focussing only on their bottled output rather than the brewers and their core beers. Essentially there is a brief passage of the brewery itself before mini-reviews of some of that breweries bottled output, all in Leigh's engaging style articulated in a way that, even though I haven't met him, I feel like I know him. I'm positive that he's the kind of chap that I'd like to spend an evening down the pub with, and I'm sure you will too when you read this book, and if what you're drinking just so happens to come from Yorkshire then so much the better.

Moving upwards in scale from regional beer to that of a whole country, Italy: Beer Country by Bryan Jansing and Paul Vismara, chronicles the rise of Italian craft beer. By talking to the key players the authors reveal how difficult it was to get the movement started in the first place, particularly as their was no legislation for micro-breweries in Italy as there were no micro-breweries in Italy as recently as 1986. I have a passion for Italian beer having visited Rome in 2012, tasting some amazing beer and talking to some really enthusiastic people, but I didn't realise the story behind it and how determination, sheer hard work and a love of good beer and good ingredients had brought the scene so far. There are parallels here with the way that the craft beer movement evolved in the USA but to me this is more personal, probably because it is far more recent but mainly because many of the key characters are quite humble, incredibly focussed and most of all human. If you have any interest in Italian beer, or the craft revolution and evolution then you'll absolutely love this book as much as I do.

Taking a sideways and often irreverent look at the whole craft beer movement is Max Banson and Alan Mcleods The Unbearable Nonsense of Craft Beer: A Rant in nine acts. Puncturing myths and deflating egos this book is a surreal ride, a rant against over seriousness and pomposity, and is the kind of book that I imagine that NateDawg or Glyn Roberts would write should they ever feel the need to do so. I love this book, although it is at times a little off the wall and occasionally hard to follow, because it makes think about myself and my relationship with beer, and particularly because it even quotes Tandleman at one point. There are links to websites along the way which will give you insights into the way the guys think and where they got their information from. It's very cleverly written and quite challenging in places, and if this is the kind of book you like then buy this immediately.

Moving on from the philosophical to something very factual and informative, the next book is Vintage Beer: A Taster's Guide to Brews That Improve over Time by Patrick Dawson. This has everything what you would expect and hope for in a book on this subject, covering the science of ageing, what beer styles age best and how different flavours develop and evolve over time. Whilst you might think that this sounds all a bit academic and dry I assure you that it isn't as the style is engaging and always interesting. I have a considerable amount of beer that I'm cellaring and whilst it was comforting to discover that I was doing quite a few things right, but I did make a few adjustments following some of the recommendations it contained. Part of my reason for ageing beer is to allow it's character to change over time and Patrick Dawson gives pointers as to when would be the optimum time to keep or open the bottles I have. If you have any interest in keeping beer for any length of time then buy this book, you won't be disappointed.

My final book, but by no means the least of the five is by the current Beer Writers of the Year Jessica Boak and Ray Bailey as they are known to the beer drinking community due to their excellent blog. Brew Britannia: The Strange Rebirth Of British Beer is a meticulously researched book that highlights the key players and situations that led us in the UK to where we are now and the current boom in craft beer and independent breweries. I have to confess that I found the beginning a little muddled but they quickly get into their stride and as the story evolves this is pretty much unputdownable, a rolling stone of a book that gathers momentum as it rolls from the early 1960s through to (almost) the present day. Much of the appeal of this book is that most of it is within recent memory, and as someone who has loved beer since the mid-1980s and became quite discerning early in the 1990s it find it incredibly easy to relate to. Hindsight is a wonderful thing and to find out the motivations and machinations as to how some of my earliest beer experiences came into being is a real joy. If you have any interest in beer at all, and why on earth would you be reading these words if you didn't, and if you haven't already got it then you must insist that this book is in your Christmas stocking while there's still time. Then, Christmas evening, pour yourself a beer and settle down to a very good book.

So there you are, my round up of some of the best beer books of the year. I did enjoy quite a few others, but limiting it to five was I thought the fairest and most succinct way to proceed.

Before I open today's beer, there is just time to give you the answers to yesterday's quiz questions:

1. Kriek or sour fruit beer

2. Weinhenstephan

3. Bush Noel

4. Cumbria

5. Lapin Kulta

Congratulations go to Thomas Marshall who after a couple of deliberate (!) false starts got four out of the five spot on. Well done there mate.

Today's beer is from the Backyard Brewhouse based in Walsall in the West Midlands, and a brewery I have to admit that I have not come across before. Since 2008, so their website tells me, Austen Morgan and Michael Bates have been experimenting with different combinations of hops and malts with a vision of creative an innovative and creative business brewing traditional award winning ales. I'm quite anxious to see what this is like so it's time for the best bit, the tasting.

It pours a dark brown with ruby red highlights and a thin bubbly beige head, it has the aroma of bitter dark chocolate, Chantilly cream, liquorice and figs, and it's rather inviting. Smooth with a medium body, there's a tiny tickle of carbonation over the tongue before it releases its toasty liquorice, aniseed and dry black coffee flavours perfect for a day such as this. As it warms the aroma becomes more fruity with raisin creeping into the nose whilst the taste becomes more burnt toasty and bitter with some fig notes gradually appearing, and this is all clean tasting and distinct when often beers of this type can be a messy and jumbled, a real testament to the art of the brewer. The finish is dry and toasty too wit some milk chocolate notes sitting cosily in the middle of the palate, this is a really lovely beer, the kind of gem I like to find amongst the general Christmas beer dross. Get a bottle of this if you're feeling bad this festive season as it will certainly do you good.

Before I give you today's quiz questions, I just want to mention the original artwork in the above picture. It is a commissioned sketch card from artist Roger Plude that I asked for from Nathan Ohlendorf's Dreamers of Darkness set back in 2010. I wanted a wicked Santa and was rather pleased with the result. I thought it went with the beer rather well so decided to include it. Let me know what you think as I may include more festive art that I own over the next few days.

Onto those questions:

1. Seeing as it is the Winter Solstice, which US brewery famously brews a 'Winter Warmer' of that name?

2. And staying with the theme, what is the name of the (5% bottle, 4.3% cask) Christmas pudding-like beer with overtones of raisin liquorice and wild berry fruits brewed by the West Berkshire Brewery?

3. I have mentioned God Jul in a previous question, but Norwegian brewery Nogne O also brew a beer that means 'Peculiar Christmas' in English. What is it called?

4. What style of beer is the wonderfully named '5 Rabbit Huitzi Midwinter Ale' brewed by Illinois brewers 5 Rabbit Cerveceria?

5. And finally, well it is mid-winter, which Suffolk brewery produces the seasonal bitter 'Mid Winter Gold'?

I'll let you look up the answers again as they are quite tricky, so best of luck with those.

And now, as always, the moment you've been dreading.

Yesterday's Christmas cracker joke met with a mixed reception so I'm hoping for the same today.

Are you ready?

Here we go.

What is the most popular wine at Christmas?

Do we have to eat all of these brussels sprouts?

Saturday, 20 December 2014

Advent Calendar - 20th December 2014

Beer Advent Calendar
Five Points Brewing Company - Pale 4.4%
20th December 2014

Five days to go!

And so inevitably after Black Friday, once the hangovers from the night before have worn off, comes mad-spending Saturday. Apparently today is the single biggest spending day of the year and I admit that I had to join the merry (!) throng of happy shoppers up and down the land trying desperately to remember if Aunty Ellen is a size six or seven in a slipper or whether George has already got the latest Script CD. Undecided on both issues we get them both vouchers and let them sort it out for themselves in the New Year sales.

I went to Stratford in east London this afternoon, or more specifically Westfield shopping centre, and mixed it up with the best of them. Thankfully I knew roughly what I wanted and where I wanted to to go, but it was still busy, why would I expect anything less, and I took me a full fifteen minutes walk from one end to the other.

Fortunately a saviour was at hand, an oasis of calm in amongst the chaos of sharp elbows, indecisive choosers and meandering shopping bags, and that haven was Tap East. 

I do like Tap East, even though it can be a bit pricey, but as a bit of a treat and by heaven you need to treat yourself when you're Christmas shopping, it does have some beers that you don't see elsewhere. Now you may recall that on Day Eight of this calendar I extolled the virtues of a Christmas shopping bolt hole and today Tap East fit the bill nicely, but particularly because it happens to have a host of seasonal specials at this time of year. I used it as such last year, and drank Thornbridge Raven, Magic Rock High Wire and De Ranke Pere Noel to help me through, but this time when scanning the taps my eyes immediately fell on Anchor's Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year (Our Special Ale) 2014. 

I can't recall ever having seen this on tap in the UK before, although I'm sure it has been, and I became more than a little excited having only discussed this beer in my Beer Advent only two days ago as I'm as big a fan of the concept and the execution as I am of the beer itself. I already have a bottle of this years vintage stashed away but I simply couldn't resist it. 

Now, I normally wouldn't do a mini review of one beer before the main event, however, with it's flavours of burnt sugar and oodles of toffee caramel it has a real depth of flavour that belies it's initially thin mouth feel and I have to say that it's probably the best recipe for some years. Grab a bottle if you can or, if you're able then get yourself over to Tap East and sample something a little bit special this Christmas and get your celebrations under way the Anchor way.

And now, before today's beer I have to give you the answers to yesterdays questions. How did you get on?

1. Weihnachtsbier

2. Bieres de Noel

3. Avec les Bons Voeux

4. Wassail

5. God Jul

They were a bit tough weren't they? Perhaps a little too tough as there were no correct answers, so without further ado it's time for the beer.

The Five Points Brewing Company from the heart of Hackney in east London, and not a million miles away from where I was shopping earlier on, only brewed their first batch in March 2013 but have gained a reputation for clean flavoured, great tasting beer. I reviewed their Red Rye Ale as part of my Beers of London Series back in the June of that year and closed by saying that they would be a brewery to look out for and I was most definitely right, so let's open that bottle.

Pouring a hazy golden amber with a thin off white head, this beer has a simply dazzling aroma full of peach juice, mango, grapefruit peel and a twist of lemon and lime zest and a faint underlying crisp bread maltiness, it's juicy with a capital 'J'. Cheeky and bubbly over the tongue it makes you smack your lips with pleasure as it's sharp bitterness unleashes a wave of pine accented citrus fruits with peach and satsuma juice, mango and grapefruit, all mixed in with little caramel which lowers it's intensity but makes it more balanced and ultimately a better ber for that. The finish is fruity a gooey, like a soft citrus fudge, smooth and delicious and the best thing is that it lasts for absolutely ages. I have had this beer many many times and it has never ceased to delight me, and while it may not be a Christmas beer it sure is a cracker.

This superb beer it is the last of the beers from my Ales By Mail Advent Calendar that isn't a Christmas one, it's seasonal brews form here on in, you have been warned.

Talking of warnings we have that christmas cracker joke coming up in a minute, but first it's time for today's questions:

1. The family-owned brewery Brouwerij Lindemans of Vlezenbeek, Belgium is famous for which kind of beer.

2. Which brewery, today a science centre and college as well has crowned the Nahrberg Hill since 725 AD, and claims to be the world's oldest?

3. The Brasserie Dubuisson Freres of Belgium, dating back to 1769 brews a seasonal ale called Scaldis Noel in the USA, What is it called in Europe?

4. I reviewed Hardknott's first Christmas beer in an earlier post, but in which county is the brewery based?

5. The Hartwell Brewery of Finland brews it's beer using the icy waters of the Tornio River in the Lapland wilderness but can you name their best best selling brand?

A mixed bunch there, but I hope you're able to get them.

Go on, cheat a bit and look up the answers online, it is Christmas after all.

And now.

To finish.

That joke.

How did Darth Vader know what Luke Skywalker had got him for Christmas?

Because he felt his presents (presence)!

Friday, 19 December 2014

Advent Calendar - 19th December 2014

Beer Advent Calendar
Wold Top Brewery - Wold Top Bitter 3.7%
19th December 2014

And so we've made it to Black Friday. 

The last Friday before Christmas is traditionally the busiest party night of the year as thousands of people who have been working hard all year start their two week Christmas break. Teachers have released their classroom charges back to their own families for the holidays, factories close down for their winter slumber and their workers spill out into towns and cities to join insurance brokers, lawyers, secretaries, and other office workers who are ready to let their hair down for the first time since their summer holidays. They'll be no work on Monday so they have two whole weeks to hope that their colleagues (and bosses) forget how disgracefully they behaved.

For many of us though, myself included, it will be business as usual on Monday and for most of the next fortnight, but despite this there's one rule that I always stick too, one exception that I make every year. I never go to the pub after two o'clock in the afternoon on Black Friday.

Black Friday evening isn't for me, and I'm not being snobbish, aloof or condescending by writing that, it just isn't my night.

I know I'm old and even old-fashioned but when I go out for a drink I want to enjoy it. The beer, the company and the surroundings all have to be conducive to me having a great evening, and on Black Friday they just aren't I'm afraid. 

I popped into my local J D Wetherspoon, the Blue Boar in Billericay, for a quick pint at lunchtime today at around ten to one this afternoon and it was surprisingly quiet. I took my beer, which if you've seen my Untappd check in or twitter post you'll know that I didn't enjoy it much, took a seat near the bar and watched and waited. At two minutes to one it started, a trickle at first, and then suddenly it was a flood and soon, a mere ten minutes after I had walked straight up to the empty bar it was six deep, with loud voices and even louder Christmas jumpers filling the space. I forced my pint of 'twiggy wood varnish' down my throat and left them to it.

I don't want to use the phrase 'amateur drinkers', I prefer to call them 'occasional pub users' and they are very welcome to it as I'm not a killjoy by any means, and if you are one of them I sincerely hope you have a wonderful evening I really do, it's just that I won't be there to enjoy it with you. 

You might be thinking that this is a quite a negative post and not in keeping with spirit of the season but I assure you it isn't. Everyone deserves to have a great time at Christmas, it's my favourite time of the year but also one that I work hardest, and work hard and play hard has always been my motto, but this evening I will be drinking at home. Well, I have got work tomorrow.

Before I move on to today's beer, I need to give you the answers to yesterdays quiz questions. They are:

1. Kolsch

2. Dusseldorf

3. Santa Paws and Hoppy Christmas

4. San Francisco

5. 2010

I had two sets of correct answers today, and quite a few good guesses to some of them, but today's winner, just pipping super quizzer Andy Parker to the post by a matter of minutes today was Richard Hargreaves, better know on twitter as the Adlington Beer Circle. He has supported this calendar blog from day one and his website is well worth a look if you like combining a good walk with a decent pint.

And so it's time for today's beer. 

I have a good feeling about the Wold Top Brewery, and part of it has to do with the fact that this picture of their tasty Shepherd's Watch won me a six bottles of fantastic Carlsberg (yes you read that correctly) beer last Christmas:
Based in Wold Newton near Driffield in the East Riding of Yorkshire, Wold Top Bitter is their flagship beer and also their best seller. I'm looking forward to getting that bottle open.

It pours a mid amber / bronze colour with a thin white head and a soft malty aroma with hints of mango, honey, candied nuts and bread pudding. Light but with a decent level of carbonation that fizzes around the edge of the tongue, there isn't a great deal of flavour here initially I'm sorry to say, it's quite thin and watery, but it is clean tasting and with it's raisin and honey notes it starts to taste considerably darker and fuller as it goes down the glass, and I'm picking up a little of that bread pudding maltiness too. The finish is bitter, dry and crisp, light but with definite echoes of chocolate malt and crushed almonds, and it lasts a long long time. It has to be said that this is a very easy drinking beer as it doesn't challenge the palate at all, but there is a bit more too it than I first thought. I can see why this is there best selling beer too as it has everything that you would want from a session bitter, tasty with a long lasting flavour that builds as you drink it, and a clean crisp finish that I could certainly see myself having a few of if I was out for the evening. It's not bad at all.

Well that was considerably better than I first anticipated, so whilst I go and find where the number 20 is on my Ales By Male Advent Calendar is ready for tomorrow, here are today's quiz questions:

1. What is the name of the Christmas beer style that is a Bavarian speciality?

2. Similarly, what do the French call their strong beers that are brewed in October ready for December consumption?

3. What is name of the Brasserie Dupont beer, a Christmas treat, that was originally brewed and offered to their most loyal customers?

4. Which seasonal drinking salute, meaning "be you healthy" in Old English, can also refer to a hot mulled punch served at Yuletide/

5. Which Christmas beer from Norwegian brewers Nogne O and brewed with Chinook, Columbus and Centennial hops, is one of the highest rated Winter Warmers according to various beer reviewing sites?

I think they're a bit tougher today, perhaps prompting you to do a little research and that's something that I positively encourage as you'll never know what you'll discover. But before you go off to do that I'll leave you with the Christmas cracker joke.

Yesterday's one met with universal disapproval, down on the previous day (according to my Beer O'Clock Show rating) so that shows that I'm doing something right at least!

So without further ado, here is today's gem.

Hold on to your sides people!

Why did the Christmas doughnut seller retire?

He was fed up with the hole business!

Thursday, 18 December 2014

Advent Calendar - 18th December 2014

Beer Advent Calendar
Cotleigh Brewery - Red Nose Reinbeer Christmas Ale 4.5%
18th December 2014

One week to go my friends, that's seven days, one hundred and sixty eight hours, ten thousand and eighty minutes, or even six hundred and four thousand eight hundred seconds if you are so inclined.

The eighteenth of December is a particularly significant day in beer, especially if you are an American, as it was on this day in 1917 that Congress passed the Eighteenth Amendment to the Constitution, the Prohibition Of Liquor. Section one of this amendment reads as follows:

"After one year from the ratification of this article the manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors within, the importation thereof into, or the exportation thereof from the United States and all territory subjuect to the jurisdiction thereof for beverage purposes is hereby prohibited."

This was finally ratified on January 16th, 1919, and was not repealed until December 5th 1933, so raise a glass that you live right here right now and can buy and drink beer without fear of prosecution.

Prohibition was of course responsible for the closure of many of the smaller breweries in the USA, and those that survived were gobbled up by larger breweries eager to expand and consolidate their position. This situation remained fairly unchanged until the mid 1960s when Frederick 'Fritz' Maytag III purchased the failing Anchor Brewing Company and helped kick-start a revolution.

You may well ask why on earth have I mentioned Anchor in this piece about prohibition and Christmas, well the simple answer is that I recently saw something that the brewery tweeted that I shared on twitter. It was quite early in the morning and I thought it merited another mention here in case you missed it.

Every year since 1975 Anchor Brewing have brewed a distinctive Christmas beer called Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. Each year the recipe is unique as is the label artwork which always a tree, mostly Christmas trees but not always. This year is the fortieth year that the beer has been brewed and to commemorate this Anchor have put the labels up on their website in chronological order. This is a beer that I look out for every year, and have had all but one of the last eleven, it really is a Christmas treat. I'll end today's introduction with a link to the website, and you can view all those labels and see what you've been missing right here.

Hopefully that's made you feel a little more Christmassy, I know it has me, so while I've got you feeling suitably festive here the answers to yesterday's quiz questions:

1. Pierre Celis

2. Bock

3. Brasserie du Bocq

4. The Munich Oktoberfest

5. Berliner Weisse

I hope you got those, I got all the answers, excluding the one to question three from various people, but no-one got more than two right so I'm afraid it's another rollover.

Today's beer is, as the more observant of you would have spotted, Cotleigh Brewery's Red Nose Reinbeer. As usual when I want to let you know at little bit more detail about a beer or brewery I will scan the internet to find out some beery nuggets to pass on to you, and this case was no different. The Cotleigh Brewery site lets you know that this beer is brewed using 'Pale, Crystal and Chocolate malts with Goldings, Fuggles and Northdown hops' but it was this review from Denis Borodin's (@1pumplane) blog from his 2013 Christmas Advent Calendar that really caught my eye. So while you enjoy that I'll go and get the beer from my 2014 Ales By Mail Advent Calendar.

It pours a deep dark ruby red, very dark actually but it's definitely red, and head is a rich creamy beige. There isn't much aroma jumping out of this glass and I have to get in really close to detect anything at all, but quite unexpectedly I'm picking up an aroma that most closely resembles a spicy Belgian golden ale, muted and with a hint of chocolate but I am intrigued. It's quite full over the tongue with a gentle prickle of carbonation and the taste is rather sour, like a really soft Flanders Red, with dark berry fruits and and a modicum of chocolate, but it is really really toned down as the the volume switch is barely on and this is a real shame. It's certainly drinkable but I'm having to work hard to pull these flavours out and that's not really what I want from a beer. The finish is like a very malty bread pudding but again it's terribly understated although it is quite tasty. I have to admit to being a little disappointed with this beer and it's all because of it's lack of presence, it doesn't really get going at all and that ultimately makes me feel a little cheated.

So while I go and soak the label off this bottle, I'll let give you today's quiz questions.

1. What is the generic term for the moderately hopped, pale, dry, and often cloudy beer brewed in and around the city of Cologne?

2. And staying with German beer ... which German city was originally home to Altbier brewing?

3. What are the names of the two festive brews that BrewDog is offering in its online shop this Christmas?

4. Which is currently the only United States city to have its own Mikkeller Bar?

5. Since the year 2000, the Goose Island Brewery (now owned by AB-InBev) have brewed a Christmas Ale in all except one of the succeeding years. Which one?

I'm hoping they aren't too difficult and I'm looking forward to some correct answers this evening. As always I wish you the best of luck.

And so, once more it's time for that cracker joke.

Are you ready?


Because here it is:

What do Santa's little helpers learn in nursery school?

The Elfabet!

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Advent Calendar - 17th December 2014

Beer Advent Calendar
Tap It Brewing Company - Pale Ale 6.0%
17th December 2014

One week to Christmas Eve and I wonder what you'll be doing one week from today.

Will you, like me, be going to work wishing you were at home because you still have a million and one other things that you could be doing, but nevertheless you'll still make your way to the pub when you've finished because it would be wrong not to. Maybe you'll be at home franticly wrapping presents, baking mince pies and checking that the turkey is defrosting, a bustling hive of activity helped along by the occasional glass or two of beer, or perhaps you like (!) to leave your shopping to the last minute, enjoying the final pre-Christmas gift buying crush. If that it you though, I do have one question: What on earth were you thinking!?!!

You could of course be incredibly organised, entertaining friends and enjoying the build up to the Big Day, and if this is you then I applaud your planning and judgement skills. I expect that you might have even have sorted out which beer you'll be having and when, and if you have then you certainly won't be alone.

The excellent Beer O'Clock Show podcast will be running their now annual #!2BeersOfXmas again this year encouraging you to pick a beer of your own for a day for twelve days and sharing it by either writing your own blog, leaving a comment on their blog, or just posting it on twitter and/or instagram using the #12BeersOfChristmas and #cheersguys hash tags. The official start day for this is this Saturday the 20th December, however I will be joining in from Christmas Day for twelve days as these posts will take me right up to there. The beauty of this venture is though that you can actually join in whenever you want on any day you want, sharing your beers and experiences of them for others to enjoy.

Online beer club Beer Bods have also got in on the act this year with their 12 Beer Bods Of Christmas beer case. Unlike the Beer O'clock Show they have a selection of twelve beers that you don't know about in advance, but they reveal one each numbered day and are doing a short video that is up on their website to introduce it. If you want to get in on the act for this one though I'm afraid you're a little late as not only did it start on the 13th December but I am reliably informed that it is now sold out. I'm sure if it's a success however that they will do it again next year so you might want to look out for that.

Whatever beer you have over Christmas though do try to make sure it's a good one as there is no substitute for quality, and in this season of excess remember that one memorable beer beats a whole case full of mediocre ones. I hope you'll share your beers on social media or perhaps on Untappd because I'm a (red) nosey so and so I do like to see what everyone else is drinking. I suppose there's only thing to add here, before I move on to the next part of this blog then and that is "Cheers!".

So while you're all off to compile or check (twice) your Christmas beer list, here are the answers to yesterdays questions;

1. St Joseph's Abbey

2. Finland

3. Ken Grossman

4. Lager

5. Teku

There were no five out of fives yesterday I'm afraid so it's another rollover. How will you get on today? The questions are a bit further down, but before all that it's time for today's beer.

The Tap it Brewing Co. is another Californian brewery whose beers have been brought over to the UK by Ales By Mail. Interestingly this beer doesn't appear on their website or even Beer Advocate so it's a bit of an anomaly. Their website is also a bit sketchy on the brewery history front, although I gather that it is family owned, so without further ado I grab the beer and pop it open.

Pouring a pale amber yellow with a thin white head it has a gentle fruity aroma tantalisingly offering the promise of mango, pear and pine but there's also a touch of salinity in there that I find a little odd and I'm wondering if this will be reflected in the taste. It has quite a full mouth feel with a good hit from the carbonation and it immediately explodes like a juicy water balloon filled with mango, lychee and pear juice with a twist of lime and a few drops of pine sap, but this also makes it seem a little sweet, perhaps too cloyingly so for my palate, and I've got the salinity again. This hint of salty water is nagging away at me, so much so that it pushes the other flavours aside in my mind and I'm afraid is spoiling it for me a little. The finish is fully of lime zest, mango and peach juice that feels a little oily, like someone has wrung the remains of a bag of  Simcoe hops into a glass. If you're a hop head and you don't mind your beer a little sweet then I'm sure that you're going to love it, but I'm sorry to say that it isn't doing it for me which is a bit of a shame however I would like to taste more of their beer as these guys certainly know how to brew.

While I'm still struggling with my decision on that beer then, here are today's questions which have a distinctly continental flavour:

1. Who is credited with reviving the witbier style of beer based on the Belgian tradition of using coriander and orange peel at the Hoegaarden brewery?

2.  Which rch and malty dark lager style was originally brewed in the winter in the German town of Einbeck to be consumed by fasting monks as a good source of nourishment?

3. Which Belgian brewery, established in 1858 in the town of Purnode-Yvoir owns the brands Blanche de Namur, Gauloise and St Benoit?

4. "O'zapft is!" is the cry heard when the first barrel is tapped at which world renowned beer festival?

5. Which top fermented, sour and highly carbonated low alcohol wheat beer is typically served in a bowl shaped glass and with the addition of either 'Himbersirup' or 'Waldmeistersirup' in it's native city?

Not the easiest set but I'm sure you're up to it with a little thought and/or research so give it a go.

And so, as always, it is time once more for the inevitable conclusion of my Beer Advent Calendar post.

The moment I know you've all be dreading.

Here is today's cringeworthy Christmas cracker joke.

Which Christmas carol is most commonly heard in the desert?

O camel ye faithful!