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Some Christmas Bottled Beers from 2012

Christmas has been and gone once more, and again I find myself pondering the special beers brewed for this special season. It’s a season that these days many people are as glad to see the back of as they are to welcome. It’s true that Christmas is a time of great pressure for many people. Gifts HAVE to be bought, and what you buy for Bob must be of an equal value to what you buy for Jane. Cards MUST be sent to obscure relations you wouldn’t recognise if you fell over them and to that couple you met on holiday seventeen years ago and haven’t seen since. Masses of food MUST be prepared and ready on time. People MUST be visited and at all time, you MUST look happy and full of joy.

If you’re anything like me, then that final requirement can get a bit stretched. What’s the answer? De-commercialise Christmas and just let everyone have a couple of days off work with their feet up? Sounds tempting, but what are the chances? No, we know the real answer – BEER!

I’ve picked out five beers that I supped over this Christmas, starting with a couple from the Cheshire-based brewery Blakemere, which also brews under the name of Northern.

Blakemere Ho Ho Ho 1 small

Blakemere Ho Ho Ho Hoppy Christmas enters with a high placement on the over-forced pun stakes. A light beer, Ho Ho Ho Hoppy Christmas weighs in at just 3.7%. It’s a mid-yellow in colour and sports only the thinnest of heads. Although there’s no indication on the bottle as to what type of beer this is, it’s a bitter, and a fairly ordinary one at that. The first taste impression is that it’s earthy, with a touch of soap. There is a growing hoppiness towards the finish, but it’s mostly earthy and soapy.

Blakemere Santa's Slide 2 small

A little stronger is Blakemere Santa’s Slide, described on the bottle as a ‘Yuletide Golden Best Bitter’. It’s as well to cover all options, I suppose. This is slightly darker in colour than Ho… etc., being more of a pale orange. The smell is good; hoppy and pithy. The taste delivers a smooth hoppiness with distinct citrus pith. The bitterness is never harsh and the flavours work nicely together to form a nice, rounded beer. Good.

White Horse Rudolph the Red Nosed White Horse Beer small

Ho… etc. is joined in the over-forced pun stakes by White Horse Rudolf the Red Nosed White Horse Beer. Yeah. It’s 4.8% and is a dark red colour, tending to brown. I suppose those with a more poetic view of colours than mine would call it chestnut, Which is quite appropriate for this nutty beer. Warm toffee notes and a good deal of marmalady bitterness join with the nuttiness along with some citrus pith and fruit. Quite a complex, warming taste, and most welcome on a cold December evening.

George Wright Reindeer's Revenge small

George Wright Reindeer’s Revenge is a heftier affair, punching in at 5.1%. This is a lively beer as it pours, forming a big, frothy head, even when poured carefully. There’s loads of hoppy bitterness here with a good side order of grapefruit pith. The hops used are Citra, and have a distinct floral-citrus flavour.  Cracking beer!

Innis & Gunn Winter Treacle Porter 2 small

Finally, I treated myself to an Innis & Gunn Winter Treacle Porter. This beer is oak-aged for 39 days and has treacle added, as you probably guessed from its name. It’s by far the strongest of these beers at 7.4%, and it even comes in a box. It pours a lovely dark red, with a promising aroma of fruity malt. From the first sip, you can tell that this beer is from Innis & Gunn. There’s just something about that unique flavour. It has a surprisingly light touch at the start, but the flavour grows with treacle and molasses and hints of rich fruit. There is quite a noticeable spirituous overtaste, common to many beers of this strength. Throughout the taste, there is an unexpected but engaging dryness. Yum yum!

Although Christmas is now over, it’s still the depths of winter, so I’m still in dark beer mode. More to come…

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Posted by on 7 January, 2013 in Bottled Beer

 

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Christmas Leftovers

My beer cellar is still full of bottles that I bought optimistically before Christmas, imagining that the festive period would be far more fun than it actually was. So I’m now in a drinking-up phase. Here are four of them :-

Shepherd Neame Tins’ Ale certainly wins the prize for the most random use of an apostrophe. Shepherd Neame regularly produce seasonals (Spooks and Warlock’s Broth for Hallowe’en, Up and Under Ale for the rugby last year) . I’m a bit ambivalent about them. Spooks was good, but Warlock’s Broth and Up and Under failed to impress. To be honest, I wasn’t really holding my breath for the 4.0% Tins’ Ale, but it was by no means as ordinary as I had feared it might be. It pours reddish-orange with a thinnish head of medium-sized bubbles. The smell had hops, but was also slightly plasticky. When I was a little lad, I had an Action Man, and the smell of this beer brought the smell of that old toy to mind – plastic, you see. The taste is hoppy and bitter, but only gently so. There is a pleasant malty undertaste. The taste was nice on the burp. Not an outstanding ale,  but a pleasant enough experience.

Next up was Wold Top Shepherd’s Watch, coming in at a respectable 6.0%, this ale is described on the bottle as a ‘Natural Winter Warmer’. It’s a nice dark red colour with a nice lightly brown head. The taste is dark, too. Strongly malty with a hop bitterness that was really quite heavy. The finish is long-lasting and bitter.

I finished off with a couple of bottles from Ridgeway. Bought at the same time as the Wicked Elves, these were clearly marked up for export to the US.

The inelegantly named Santa’s Butt is a 5.0% porter (described as a ‘Winter porter’, whatever that is). The blurb on the label makes light of the fact that a ‘butt’ in English is a large barrel whilst in American English it apparently means ‘bottom’. What larks! The beer is a very dark red with a lovely brown head of tightly compressed bubbles. It is smooth and slightly creamy. The flavour is of roasted dark malt and whilst it isn’t sweet, it just stays shy of being bitter. I would have preferred a little more bitterness here, and overall, I found it slightly low on flavour.

My final Ridgeway leftover was Warm Welcome, described on the bottle as a ‘Nut Browned Ale’. Again, I’m not quite sure what that means. It’s a reddy-brown in colour with a good head. The flavour is strong – perhaps not surprising as this beer has a 6% ABV. It predominantly tastes nutty, but sharp-edged, somehow. There is also plenty of hops in here and hints of autumn berries. And yes, it does actually have the taste of a traditional brown ale. Nuts and brown. Got it.

Beer drunk. Christmas over.

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Posted by on 20 January, 2012 in Bottled Beer

 

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Ridgeway’s Wicked Elves

Christmas is an interesting season for bottled beer, as many brewers produce seasonal ales just for this time of year. None more so than Ridgeway in Oxfordshire. I picked up five themed Ridgeway bottled beers from Booth’s supermarket. Ridgeway regularly produce Christmas specials, but they can be very hard to find, as most are intended for the foreign market, as were these. All were marked as being for export to the USA. How Booth’s got hold of them, I don’t know, but I’m glad they did.

Four of Ridgeway’s Bad Elves

The beers were Bad Elf, at 4.5%, Very Bad Elf at 7.5%, Seriously Bad Elf, at 9.0%, Criminally Bad Elf, at 10.5% and Insanely Bad Elf at 11.2%.

Starting with the lowest ABV, the rather fuzzy label on the bottle of Bad Elf depicts an unattractive elf helping himself to a draught from a huge beer barrel – what’s bad about that? Bad Elf is bottle conditioned and a light orange in colour. The smell is enticing – spicy and hoppy. The initial taste is briefly sweet, quickly followed by a satisfying swelling of very aromatic hop bitterness. The aftertaste is long and dry. Altogether a very satisfying drink, very nice indeed, though I did think it odd that this was classed as a Winter Ale – specifically a Christmas one. The taste is more reminiscent of light, hoppy summer beers.

The second bottle was Very Bad Elf. I was aware that even though I was only on the second bottle in increasing ABV, I had already reached 7.5%, strong by anybody’s measures. The label depicts our elf, with a wicked grin on his face, opening packages clearly marked ‘Do not open until Christmas’. The colour is a mid-orange, bright and attractive. There is a lovely smooth chewy mouthfeel to this beer. A spirituous alcoholic overtaste is also clearly discernible. There are hints (no more) of fruit and toffee, but overall, this beer does not have a huge amount of flavour.

The third bottle tried was Seriously Bad Elf. The again fuzzy label depicts the elf holding a schoolboy catapult, taking aim at a flying sleigh with Christmas baubles. OK, he’s getting a bit naughty now. Seriously Bad Elfis serious indeed, weighing in at a hefty 9%, and is described as an ‘English Double Ale’. These super strong beers tend to be a bit hit and miss in my experience. Some of them provide amongst the most sublime drinking experiences, whilst some just end up being foul. Fortunately, Seriously Bad Elftends more to the former than the latter. This beer has a very similar look to the 4.5% Bad Elf, being only a shade darker orange colour. There is no indication on the bottle that this beer is bottle conditioned, and there was no trace of yeast throw in the bottle. The beer has a slightly thick but very smooth mouthfeel, and the overall flavour is sweet and warming with some nice hoppy bitterness in the midtaste and a nicely rounded finish.

The label on the fourth bottle now shows our hero behind bars in a stripy shirt. Maybe he got caught flinging baubles at Father Christmas. Criminally Bad Elfcomes in at a whopping 10.5%. It is described on the bottle as a ‘Barleywine (sic) Style Ale’. The colour is a similar orangey-red to the previous two, but again a shade darker than Seriously. This ale does not form a good head, what little froth that first appears soon fades away. The mouthfeel is quite thick, but very smooth, almost velvety. This initial taste is cream, which fades and runs into a smoothly sharp finish. It’s excellent, the comfortable way it slips down belies its eye watering ABV – beware!

Three Bad Elves partying with some mates

Finally I reached the summit of elfdom, the 11.5% Insanely Bad Elf. The label now shows our hero sitting on the floor, wearing a straitjacket and drooling unattractively. This bottle is smaller than those for the other four elf beers, just 330ml as opposed to 500ml for the others. There’s a reason for that. Even the smell has a kick. The taste is very strongly alcoholic and is paired with a thick, viscous mouthfeel. The taste (when your heroic taste buds manage to climb over the alcoholic mountain to get to the flavour) is quite bitter and earthy. The aftertaste remains earthy but tends towards dryness. I don’t think I would drink this one out of choice. It’s just too strong and the taste isn’t worth the effort of reaching for. What I would do in the future with this beer is to put it down for a few years, and try it then. I can’t help thinking that this would transform it, perhaps into something quite special.

Altogether this quincunx of ‘Elf’ ales from Ridgeway is a real winner. There’s enough strength to satisfy the dedicated strong ale drinker and enough variety to satisfy anyone! I must point out that I didn’t sample them all on the same day! Well done, Ridgeway. It’s a shame that these beers are principally brewed for export.

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Posted by on 30 December, 2011 in Bottled Beer

 

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